Are you stuck in one of these stages of leaving an abusive relationship? Here’s why it takes time to leave a man who is abusing you, and how you can get help. I also share some interesting research from Michigan State University about on how reading the book and watching the movie Fifty Shades of Grey affects women.
These five stages of abuse are based on research from the University of Illinois. It’s important to remember it’s never a woman’s fault if she stays in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship. If you’re being abused, leaving is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. No matter how much you know about how to leave an abusive relationship, leaving a man who abuses, criticizes, or hurts you is never easy.
Learning about the stages of leaving an abusive relationship may help you make difficult decisions in your life. It may help to learn about the specific stages that some women go through before leaving an abusive man, so you can see your situation more clearly. If you aren’t sure if your boyfriend or husband is verbally abusing you, read 5 Signs of Verbally Abusive Relationships.
Women tend to move back and forth between stages before they actually leave a man who is abusing them. Knowing what the stages are can help you prepare you to end a relationship that is abusive and unhealthy.
Here’s what Tina Turner says about leaving 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, until she finally realized she had a CHOICE! She was not powerless or helpless — and either are you.
Letting go of a man you love, even when you’re in an abusive relationship, may be 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.
At the end of this article, I’ll share books that can help with leaving an abusive relationship and starting over. You are NOT powerless or helps. You do have a choice!
First, here’s what research shows about the stages of abuse and how to leave an abusive relationship.
5 Stages of 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: starting not to care for him anymore
“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’.”
If you’re in this stage, you might start feeling less and less connected to your boyfriend or husband. You may feel like you can live without him, that you don’t need him to survive, and that you are worth being treated like a valuable, lovable woman. You might start seeing your husband or boyfriend with different eyes, and you might start disconnecting in ways that surprise you. This is the first and second stage of leaving an abusive relationship.
Stage 3: noticing the effects of abusive relationships
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.”
Leaving a man who is abusing you isn’t easy. It takes strength and courage to decide to leave, because you’re not only struggling with the reasons breaking up is hard to do…you may also be dealing with self-esteem and self-image issues. Women in abusive relationships don’t always have high self-esteem or self-confidence, and this makes leaving a relationship more difficult.
I wrote How to Let Go of Someone You Love to help women leave relationships that aren’t healthy or good. It’s my first and most bestselling ebook; I interviewed counselors and relationship experts about how to move on after losing a loved one.
One of the reasons it’s so difficult to leave a man who isn’t good for you is because you love him. Losing love is painful. If you can learn how to let go, you’ll decrease the chances of going back to an abusive relationship.
Stage 4: going back to the 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.”
You love him. You want to hold on to what you had, which makes leaving a relationship difficult. And, your husband or boyfriend may be telling you that he loves you, he’ll change, and he won’t hurt you again. Many women go back to their partners after leaving an abusive relationship. Sometimes it takes several attempts to break up before it actually “takes.”
Stage 5: actually leaving an abusive relationship
Being gone for six months or more marks the last stage on how to leave abusive relationships. “But even then they may have boundary ambiguity if their ex-spouse won’t let them go,” say the researchers. “With continued contact through court-ordered child visitation, the potential for ongoing abuse remains, as does 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 you prioritizing your safety. Hardesty says, “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.”
As you might know from personal experience, there are many factors that make leaving an abusive relationship difficult. The most important thing is to reach out for help. Find support. You’re being brave and courageous by searching for tips on how to leave a relationship when you’re being abused! Now, it’s time to take the next step and learn where you can go.
Help Leaving an Abusive Relationship
Are you in love with a man who is abusing you? Visit the Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233. Start gathering information about how to deal with his anger and outbursts, and how to protect yourself.
“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. 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.”
Do you want to understand your partner? Read Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.
“One of the prevalent features of life with an angry or controlling partner is that he frequently tells you what you should think and tries to get you to doubt or devalue your own perceptions and beliefs,” writes Lundy in Why Does He Do That? “I don’t want to re-create that unhealthy dynamic. So the most important thing to remember as you read this book is to listen carefully to what I am saying, but always to think for yourself.”
The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself by Beverly Engel is another good book to help you leave an abusive relationship. Emotional abuse is often hard to detect and accept; it helps to have an objective perspective about what it is and how to deal with it.
You might also want to read How to Move Out Without Your Husband Finding Out. This is a very important article for women who are considering leaving an abusive relationship. It’s written by a woman who left her abuser, who wants to help other women get free.
If you want to talk about your experience with living with or leaving a man who is abusive, please share below. I welcome your comments, big and little! Writing about your relationship can give you clarity and insight.
Do you need help with these stages of leaving an abusive relationship? Start by calling the domestic violence helpline – I listed the number and website above.
If you aren’t sure if you’re in an abusive relationship, read 5 Signs of an Abusive Boyfriend.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.
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