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  • Writer's pictureChristina Neri, LCSW

How to Leave a Toxic and Abusive Relationship?

Updated: Jan 17

An estimated 1 in 4 women have experienced emotional abuse from a partner since age 15, including 6.1% by a current partner. And 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, “Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors that are meant to control, isolate, or frighten you.


This may present in romantic relationships as threats, insults, constant monitoring, excessive jealousy, manipulation, humiliation, intimidation, dismissiveness, among others. Sometimes emotional abuse is more obvious, like a partner yelling at you or calling you names. Other times it can be more subtle, like your partner acting jealous of your friends or not wanting you to hang out with someone of another gender.” And legally physical abuse is defined as, “Any intentional act causing injury or trauma to another person or animal by way of bodily contact.”


Brown duffel bag by a white chair

With how very common emotional and physical abuse is we do not do a great job as a society at large to bring light to this behavior by identifying it and providing healthy skills to be able to exit. Unfortunately, all too often people deteriorate in self-esteem, mental health, and in relationships at the hands of their abuser. Or even worse, they die at the hands of their abuser. This is for a variety of reasons including that some partners are not even aware they are in abusive relationship dynamics, they are too fearful to leave, or they do not have the financial means to walk away. Ultimately the question becomes how can one overcome these obstacles potentially saving their own life and their sanity?


Firstly, be open about your relationship to others that are trusted sources of support. Supportive friends and family can help us see dynamics in a way we could be minimizing or missing all together. If possible contact a professional counselor for couples counseling. All the research suggests this is the best way to intervene with emotional and physical abuse. In these safe relationships you can process your thoughts, fears, & make plans to take care of yourself. I have helped countless individuals accomplish there.


Secondly, begin making a safety & exit plan. This should include boundaries. Boundaries serve to protect ourselves and others, some of which do not need to be communicated to others, but rather serve as a guide for oneself internally. On average, a victim will try to leave an abusive relationship a total of seven times before they are successful. The most dangerous time for victims is when trying to leave, so it is important to remain vigilant. For example, you may decide on a date to leave and this need not be communicated to your partner. It could be helpful to communicate it to a trusted safe person who can support you with encouragement & accountability. In terms of an exit plan this is also something that should not be communicated to your partner, kept to yourself, or shared with a safe person.


This plan should include a way to save money without the abusive partner knowing, perhaps cash with a trusted safe person or in a separate bank account. Several banks allow accounts to be opened online and have awareness of abuse victims’ needs to be discreet. This may first begin discreetly with having or getting a job that is stable and consistent. It could also be helpful to withdraw small amounts of cash every time you shop somewhere that offers you cash-out with a card transaction. Withdrawing small amounts of $10 to $20 each time quickly adds up, giving you some cash on hand for when you leave. It is also wise to keep cash in separate places instead of all in one location.


It is essential to have a place you can go to upon leaving, preferably one that your abuser is not aware of. This could be a friend or family members’ home, a shelter, or even just a low cost gym facility to be able to shower, charge your phone, & have a safe landing for a time frame. Keep an overnight bag either in your car or with your safe person/people. Include at least one outfit for yourself and toiletries.


Most significantly keep receiving support go to the local Police station and tell them you’ve just left an abusive relationship. Provide them with a description of your abuser and any vehicle they drive with the registration number.


To ensure both emotional & physical abuse completely stops it is wise to have no contact with your abuser. You have permission to screen calls, texts, place them on block, or change your number all together. This is never easy. Lean on supportive safe people in your life to begin to move on. You are worthy of being in a relationship that is safe, respectful, & loving.

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