These stages of leaving an abusive relationship aren’t fixed. Rather, women tend to move back and forth between stages before they leave a man who abuses them. Knowing what the stages are can help you prepare you to leave an abuser.
If a man is abusing you, read The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself by Beverly Engel. Emotional abuse is often hard to detect and accept; it helps to have an objective perspective on the abusive relationship.
These five stages of abuse below are based on research. It’s important to remember it’s a woman’s “fault” that she’s staying in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship. Leaving is one of the hardest things she’ll ever do. Now matter how much you know about how to leave an abusive relationship, leaving an abuser is rarely easy. It may help to learn about the specific stages that some women go through before leaving an abusive man.
Here’s what Tina Turner says about how to leave an abusive relationship: “Sometimes you’ve got to let everything go – purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything . . . whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.” Tina Turner was abused by her husband for 16 years
Letting go of a man you love, even when you’re in an abusive relationship, is one of the hardest things you’ll do. One of the most important things is to learn why you’re staying with him — what’s holding you back. Here’s what research shows about the stages of abuse and how to leave an abusive relationship.
5 Stages Women Go Through Before Leaving an Abusive Relationship
According to a University of Illinois journal article, abused woman go through a five-step process of leaving abusive relationships. Below are the fives stages, based doctoral candidate Lyndal Khaw’s dissertation work at the U of I.
Stages 1 and 2 of leaving a man who abuses. “In the first two stages, women begin to disconnect emotionally from their relationships,” said Khaw. You hear them say things like, ‘I started not to care for him anymore’.”
Stage 3 of leaving an abusive relationship. In this stage of leaving an abusive relationship, women go through a collection of episodes of abuse. They start to notice the effects on their children. “Women make preparations to leave, such as finding a place to stay or secretly saving up money,” she said. “This stage is important for women as they switch from thinking about leaving an abusive relationship to actually doing something about it.”
Stage 4 – going back to the abusive relationship. “Then, at Stage 4, when women take action, we see a lot of what we call ‘back and forthing’ because when women leave, the emotions often come back,” said Jennifer Hardesty, a U of I assistant professor of human and community development. “They need clarity. They want to be physically and emotionally connected again.”
If your partner says he abuses you because you make him depressed, read How to Break Up With Someone Who is Depressed.
Stage 5 of leaving an abuser. Being gone for six months or more marks the last stage on how to leave an abusive relationships. “But even then they may have boundary ambiguity if their ex-spouse won’t let them go. With continued contact through court-ordered child visitation, the potential for ongoing abuse remains as well as continued confusion over the abuser’s role in the woman’s life.”
“Leaving an abusive relationship is much more complex than just deciding to change, and it involves more than a woman’s prioritizing her safety,” said Hardesty. “Other actors are involved. The abuser makes decisions that affect a woman’s movement through the stages. And children can be a powerful influence in motivating a woman to get out of a relationship and in pulling her back in.”
Is a man abusing you? Visit the Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233.
Encouragement to leave a man who abuses
Read How to Move Out Without Your Husband Finding Out. This is a very important article for women who want to leave a man who abuses them! It’s written by a woman who left her abuser.
“Don’t wait until everything is just right,” says Mark Victor Hansen, author of the Chicken Soup series, including Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul: Your Personal, Portable Support Group with Stories of Healing, Hope, Love and Resilience. “It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.”
If you can’t let go, read my article about letting go of someone you love.
Are you ready to share your story of living with – or leaving – a man who abuses? I welcome your comments below. Writing about your life can give you clarity and insight. If you need help with these stages of an abusive relationship, please call the domestic violence helpline – I listed the number above. I can’t give advice on the stages of leaving an abusive man.
A public service announcement from Verizon: Through HopeLine, the general public can help prevent domestic violence by donating no-longer-used wireless phones and accessories in any condition from any service provider at any Verizon Wireless Communications Store. Wireless phones given to HopeLine are refurbished and provided to local domestic violence agencies or local government and law enforcement agencies for use with their domestic violence clients – complete with 3,000 minutes of wireless service and text-messaging service. Donated phones can help victims of abuse feel safer and less isolated by giving them a way to call emergency or support services, employers, family and friends. Phone donations given locally benefit victims of abuse within that geographic area. To learn more, go to Hopeline from Verizon.
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.