If You Leave
Leaving does not mean your partner will stop being abusive. In fact, they may become more abusive as you attempt to leave. They may be so afraid of “losing” you that they will increase any threats to hurt you, the children or themselves. You are the best judge of how dangerous your situation may become if you attempt to leave.You may also feel overwhelmed by financial concerns – including where you will live and how you will afford to take care of yourself and your children. Thinking about economic survival can be discouraging and frightening. The domestic violence/sexual assault program in your area can help you sort through the many challenges you have ahead and can help you get the emotional and financial support you may need.
If you have made a decision to leave permanently, allow yourself to feel the natural grief at the loss of your relationship. No matter how bad it was, there were good things too, and it was a very important part of your life. Leaving is often a process. Many survivors who have been battered leave and return several times before permanently separating from the relationship. Be patient with yourself. You may feel emotions of loss, sadness, and depression. Accept these feelings as natural and allow yourself to experience them. If you find yourself thinking, “I’m stupid to care after what I’ve been through” or “I shouldn’t feel this way,” remind yourself, “it’s okay for me to be feeling this way now.”
Building a strong support system is essential when freeing yourself from a violent relationship and when making a healthy transition to being a survivor. The support could include:
concerned family and friends (they may need to do some reading or talk to an advocate to better understand your experience) an advocate from a domestic violence/sexual assault program, a mental health counselor (if you choose to seek counseling), a member of the clergy or spiritual leader, a support group or your children. You have been strong enough to keep your family together under difficult circumstances. Now, with the help of a support system you can become strong enough to build a life without violence.
While there are certainly many additional questions and considerations you may face while you decide to stay or leave, these are a beginning. It may also be helpful to list the positives and negatives, or pros and cons of both staying and leaving. Questions other women have asked are:
What do I gain by staying/leaving?
What do my children gain by living in a violent home?
What are my expectations for the future? How can I work to get them?
What am I willing to do without necessary – material things, my health, my emotional stability, my self-esteem, etc.?
What is the price I’ve been paying to stay in this relationship?
How will staying/leaving affect me one year/five years from now?
What do I value? What do I want and need from myself and others?
If You Stay
If you decide at this time to stay with your abusive partner, there are some things you can try to make your situation better and to protect yourself and your children. Contact the domestic violence/sexual assault program in your area. They can provide emotional support, peer counseling, safe emergency housing, information, and other services while you are in the relationship, as well as if you decide to leave.
Build as strong support system as your partner will allow. Whenever possible, get involved with people and activities outside your home and encourage your children to do so. Be kind to yourself! Develop a positive way of looking at yourself and talking to yourself. Use affirmations to counter the negative comments you get from the abuser. Allow yourself time for doing this you enjoy.
Make an escape plan. Since it is likely you will be abused again, having an escape plan can make the difference between being severely injured or killed and avoiding such a tragedy. A plan may include: Learn non-violent means of disciplining your children. Since children often model adult behavior, it is very important you teach your children non-violent problem solving. There are resources in your community that can support you and provide you with suggestions.
Be honest with your children. They are probably very aware that something is not right. Help them to understand that hitting someone is wrong and that they are not responsible for the abuser’s behavior. They need to know that staying does not mean the violence is okay.A place to hide a set of car keys.A hidden emergency fund. Even if you can only manage to save one or two dollars at a time, begin building an emergency fund for the time when you may need some cash to get away. Pack a suitcase with a couple changes of clothes for yourself and your family and leave it with a trusted friend or hide it where your partner won’t find it. If possible, include copies of birth certificates, social security cards, and other legal papers for everyone in the family who will flee. You may need them. Also gather financial records, e.g., rent, mortgage, utility receipts, insurance cards, and checking and/or savings account books. If packing a suitcase isn’t possible, fill one drawer of your dresser with items you will need.Develop a plan for calling the police in an emergency. Older children might be coached to get to a phone or get to the neighbors if you cannot reach the phone. Some women even work out signals with understanding neighbors. Know where you can go and how you will get there in case you have to leave suddenly. Know where you can go and how you will get there in case you have to leave suddenly. Make arrangements for sheltering your pets or call the local domestic violence shelter, they can help.
When you are in immediate danger, get out! You can always return the next day if you wish. Planning for your safety and recognizing your options can help you protect yourself and your children. The domestic violence/sexual assault program in your area can offer you assistance with many of these services and volunteer advocates are available 24 hours a day.
Remember that you can change your mind and decide to leave at any time. Choosing to stay may seem the best option to you now, but if that changes, do not hesitate or feel guilty. You have a right to change your mind!
- Adapted from Breaking the Silence booklet, Nebraska Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition