Practical Guidance to Leaving an Abusive Marriage

Wedding_No_RingsBirmingham Maple Clinic’s Kate K. Smith writes about abusive marriages and provides guidance to survivors about how to leave them and build a new future for themselves. 

1. It is important to recognize that you cannot get of an abusive marriage alone. It takes careful planning and the support and help of a few people you can trust. Ideally, you’ll have the support of a therapist who has an expertise in this area, family members and friends. You cannot do it alone! Many women are to afraid to leave an abuser. There is a great deal of shame and embarrassment. Do not stay silent. Domestic abuse and domestic violence is a silent disease. Work to find your voice. Do not hide behind the abuse. Trust yourself and build a circle of people you trust around you. They can advocate for you and be your life line.

Document all abusive behavior and keep it in a safe place. Do not store it in an electronic device.

Make a safety plan with a professional. This will include, but not stop at, copying documents, making extra sets of keys, preparing legal documents, packing a small bag, and making contact lists.

Use resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233) and a local women’s domestic shelter.

Your actual departure will need to be slowly orchestrated and rehearsed with safety and support resources well informed and ready to help in the process.

Attend support groups for women in a abusive relationships. This will validate your feelings and reality and empower you to leave.

Read about abusive relationships. (see references at the end of this article).

2. One of the most difficult obstacles is working with the shame that comes with being in an abusive relationship – Waking up to the truth that you are in an abusive marriage. Once you have left the relationship, the biggest obstacle is NOT RETURNING! I have worked with women who have left the marriage and then gone back. They typically do not return to treatment due to the shame and embarrassment of having to report this.

Shared assets can complicate leaving and is a common obstacle.

His family or friends, thinking you are the crazy one, can also be an obstacle.

Trauma bonding (being bonded to the abuser) is an obstacle that makes leaving difficult. Many emotions are tied up in staying and leaving.

If you have pets, your love for them can create inner conflict and you may have fears of leaving them or concerns about what would happen if you take them with you.

The abuser will be manipulative and often try to find a way to reconciliation. There is no negotiating with an abuser. They are often masters of emotional manipulation.

Stalking is common, as is harassment, both covert and overt. You might find it necessary to seek a Personal Protection Order (PPO).

3. What is often times overlooked is the reality that the victim in an abusive relationship is a trauma victim and the real work begins after they have left. Do not think of yourself as a victim, once you decide to leave. Think of yourself as a survivor.

Do your utmost to ensure you have left nothing behind that the abuser can use to blackmail you. However, recognize that no matter what you may have overlooked, the abuser can not take away your integrity or your true self. The self love is with you.


Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft
The Human Magnet Syndrome, Ross Rosenberg
How To Break Your Addiction to a Person, Howard Halpern
Women Who Love Too Much, Robin Norwood

Kate K. Smith, MA LLP
Birmingham Maple Clinic
Troy, Michigan, USA

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