How To Identify and Safely Leave An Abusive Relationship

Many people don’t realize that October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. There are no pink ribbons or huge media campaigns asking for donations; it is a silent epidemic that affects everyone in some way.

Domestic violence affects not just the survivors of abuse, but our society as a whole. In the United States, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men are victims of relationship abuse. Domestic violence (DV), also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse, or relationship abuse is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.

Below are some warning signs of an abusive relationship, what to do if you feel you may be in one, and how to seek support.

Warning signs of domestic violence

Here are some of the many warning signs of an abusive partner:

Types of domestic violence

The major misconception about domestic violence is that it is only physical abuse, like hitting, slapping or choking; however, that is just one form of DV.

Forms of domestic violence include:

Domestic violence does not discriminate. It happens regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race or economic background.

The following image, known as the “Power and Control Wheel,” helps explain the numerous ways domestic abuse can be perpetrated.

If something in a relationship does not feel right, it probably is not. Abuse is not an argument every now and then where cruel words are exchanged by both partners. It is constant and deliberate behavior by one partner to obtain all power and control over their partner.

Organizations like https://www.thehotline.org/, https://www.loveisrespect.org/  and https://ncadv.org/can provide in depth definitions of abuse, and also have hotlines to speak with a trained specialist who can talk to you about your situation and provide further resources.

Why it’s so hard to leave an abusive relationship

Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy. In most cases the person abusing you is someone you love and care about, and at some point there were many positive aspects of the relationship.

Most abusive relationships have what is called the “cycle of abuse” which continues over and over again. The following diagram explains the cycle, and how it is easy to get caught in this pattern over and over again.

How to leave an abusive relationship

If you are thinking of leaving an abusive relationship, it’s important to build a safety plan, whether you are living with your abuser or not.

Leaving is never easy, and often infuriates the abuser. They often promise they will change, and emotionally manipulate their partner into staying.

Abusers may also say things like “Nobody will ever want you but me,” or “This is all your fault. You make me act like this.”

Unfortunately, after hearing these abusive remarks over and over again you may have started to believe them. Try to be strong, and remember the abuse is not your fault, and you can and will be wanted and loved.

Planning a safe way to leave a relationship will help give you confidence and structure.

Safety plan for leaving an abusive relationship:

If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, you can get the help and support you need.

domestic violence statistics
Image courtesy of https://ncadv.org/

Healing from an abusive relationship

Healing from an abusive relationship can be a difficult process. For many, it entails coming to terms with the reality of the relationship, healing from trauma, and regaining self-love and confidence.

Support is out there, including:

How therapy can help if you are in an abusive relationship

Therapy can provide many supports for survivors of abusive relationships in many ways:

For individuals in abusive relationships, a therapist can provide psychoeducation on relationship abuse, provide a safe and non judgemental space to talk about experiences, and help in connecting them with the help and support they need to leave the relationship.

The reality is that some individuals may not know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, and they may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy. Therapy can help individuals differentiate what an abusive versus  healthy relationship looks like, and help them understand that they do not deserve to be abused in any situation.

Survivors of domestic violence often suffer from mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, low self-worth, and have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  It is very hard for a survivor to be able to trust others, and therapy can help rebuild their sense of self. Many survivors suffer with intense feelings of shame, and do not want to open up to friends and family for fear of judgment.

What to look for in a therapist for help with domestic violence

In looking for a therapist, find someone who understands that domestic violence is about power and control, and has a background working with victims and survivors of DV. In addition, they should have a trauma-informed approach to therapy.

Some individuals think that couples therapy is the answer to domestic violence; however couples therapy is not recommended while the abuse is active. Victims need a safe place for themselves to be as candid and open as possible, and this is not possible with the abuser in the same space.


Love is not about power and control.  Everyone deserves a healthy relationship. However, you might not be sure exactly what that looks like, or need help healing after being in an abusive relationship. It can be hard to talk about abuse, as nobody wants to think  of themselves as a victim.

Please know that you are not alone, and there is help.

Access free hotlines at: thehotline.org, loveisrespect.org, and National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)