Staying out of an abusive relationship: an essential To Do list

Photo by orangeacid

Photo by orangeacid

Right now, my abusive ex is violating his restraining order by hanging around places I may go, and calling me. Despite being arrested for breaching the order, he continues to do this. Why? I believe its because he is trying to trigger the bounce-back effect yet again. In the past, he knew which buttons to press to wear me down and get me to return to him.

But now, it’s different. It isn’t working. Not because he has changed – but because I have. So, this got me thinking. What am I doing differently? How is this helping me to stay strong, and may this help others?

With that in mind, here’s my To Do list for anyone seeking to make that final break from an abuser. Some of these things may not be easy, but they have worked for me and I’m glad I did them.

I’d love to hear from others, too – what worked for you?

An Essential TO DO List

Go ‘no contact’: delete his number, block his emails, do not ask his friends about him, or allow your family to pass on messages from him. I really mean it! I know after living with an abuser this can be extremely painful. You are used to being in contact with him around the clock, and now I’m asking you to go cold turkey. You may be worried about him – especially if you’ve been in a co-dependent relationship – or, you may miss him desperately.

Photo by Hvnly

Photo by Hvnly

But, trust me: an occasional call or email will not soften the blow of your leaving. You are giving him a direct line to Manipulation Central – and he won’t hesitate to use it for guilt trips, threats, or expressions of love as he tries to blast that door firmly open again.

Even if you have children, you can still maintain no contact. Child contact arrangements should be made through your lawyers – tell him this, and stick to it.

Recognise emotional blackmail as an extension of his abuse. Threats or attempts to commit suicide are common amongst abusers, who may also declare that they can’t function without you. He will tell you he can’t eat, or dress himself. He can’t muster the energy to get out of bed. He’s lost his job. He is about to be made homeless. He has cancer. He drunk-dials you, sobbing.

Don’t buy into it. Do not offer him sympathy. Do not feel sorry for him, or worry about him (or, if you do – don’t tell him that you do!) You need to know that it is not your job to fix his life: it is his life and he needs to take responsibility for it. It is liberating when you realise that you are not responsible for him.

In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Start a journal – or even a blog. Abuse causes significant trauma that needs to be processed. Writing is great therapy, and you will learn a lot about yourself in the process. Since I started blogging, what I have learned about the dynamics of abuse has helped me enormously. Knowledge is power!

Photo by juliejordanscott

Photo by juliejordanscott

Get to know others who have been where you are. Reach out to other survivors through your local domestic violence service, or online. Sharing your experiences with other people who understand the abuse dynamic is entirely empowering. You won’t have confused questions like ‘What do you mean, you still love him? How can you?’ Other survivors know how complex our feelings are when trying to break free.

Spend an evening drafting a Memory List. You know all those horrible, painful memories of the abuse that you’ve shoved to the back closet of your mind? Well, I’m afraid it’s time to bring those skeletons out of the closet. Write down every bad thing you can think of about your abuser and what he did to you. Record every memory.

Yes, it will be hard. You may feel sick. You may cry buckets. But, please bear with me, because next time you start feeling nostalgic about ‘the good times’ you can pull out your list and read at least three entries. Doing this, you are re-programming yourself to see the relationship how it really was – not how you dreamed it could have been.

Reach out to your family and friends. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship, you may have lost touch with friends and fallen out with family. Your man will have worked hard to isolate you – this is your chance to repair your support network. It may be difficult, but you need to be honest. Most of us are uncomfortable talking about abuse, but you have nothing to be embarrassed about.

Do things for you. Remember the days, before you met him, when  you could buy that pair of shoes without worrying about taking them home? When you could go for lunch with your girlfriends without fielding his continual calls? When you had time to go to the gym, or read a book in bed? The last time you belly-laughed? Do them all, and relish the heady feeling!

Photo by geishaboy500

Photo by geishaboy500

Treasure the simple things and celebrate your successes. Every day that you are out of an abusive relationship is a triumph. Too many women never make it. So, count the days if you have to – and celebrate the small steps in the right direction as well as the big milestones. Accept that some days will be harder than others. Don’t feel guilty, and don’t kick yourself for any mistakes. You are on a journey – the most important of your life, and you get to decide which route to take.

You are safe. You are free. You will be happy, and stronger than ever before.

© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14


29 responses to “Staying out of an abusive relationship: an essential To Do list

  1. As a male seeking advice and knowledge while in a suspect relationship, I find your linguistic assumptions of male guilt to be misguided.


      • The fact that the article refers to the abuser as male and the abusee as female. I thought it was a great article. I’m currently escaping an emotionally abusive relationship with another woman. I just transpose the pronouns. KidneyMan, I recommend you do the same. The author is clearly speaking from her experience, and not casting judgement on all males.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you so much. .I have left an abusive relationship and it’s been so helpful in understanding why and has given me the courage to continue living without him


  3. He tells me it’s all my fault.. tht i shouldn’t be asking him where he’s been. Or where did he get money to buy beer. He says if I don’t ask questions there won’t be any trouble.
    Is this true?.. is it wrong to ask him questions like this?


    • It’s not wrong to ask him questions like that. If he’s telling you it’s your fault, *he* is in the wrong. Domestic abuse, if that’s what’s happening, is the perpetrator’s fault because they choose to behave that way. Most try to avoid responsibility by blaming their victim.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. He was my best friend for 10 years. I
    trusted him and he always protected me and helped me. Then, when HE decided he wanted more, I did everything to please him. I moved in after 3 years, knowing he was “moody” but never suspected anything else. He went from complimenting me to making me feel like an idiot. I had to place the kitchen chairs a certain way, cut a tomato a certain way, wear my hair up or in a ponytail, my nails had to be a certain colour, I had to ask permission to vacuum, put the dishwasher on, use the washing machine, he said I washed my clothes too much, when I nodded my head to something, he said only morons do that.. He would not meet my son for 5 years, told me who I was allowed to talk to, how many days I was allowed to work, and I was not allowed to receive phone calls during our time together. Sex was a daily obligation, sometimes 2 -3 times, and if I did not feel well, I felt even worse, because he would accuse me of being a drama queen, a hypochondriac because he was worried that HIS needs would not be met that day. He called me all kinds of disgusting names , criticized my driving, etc. I helped him with all his medical problems…he was addicted to ativan and I helped him (under a doctor’s supervision) to get off it. I helped him get a pyschiatrist and when I could not take it anymore, I also went for help and that is when I understood that I was a victim of conjugal violence I could not believe it. I had kept a journal of how I felt,how he treated me. I finally confronted him and he wanted to fix this. I helped him find an anti-violence counsellor….and then I left.

    After almost two months, he phoned me…he was suffering and I realized he was suicidal. So I dropped everything and took him to the hospital. They kept him a week.

    Anytime, he did not feel well, I ran to his rescue……But I knew that at 67 years old, it is a long, hard road to change…He still argued with me over the most insignificant things…..still wanted me to spend all my time with him….he does not know where I live….and it finally came to a head 2 weeks ago when he asked me to stay overnight with him, no pressure. I said I would be happy to spend the two days with him, but I did not feel comfortable to stay over. He said I should do what I want, and then stopped talking to me…we were on the phone and I was on my way home….20 minutes of dead air! This behaviour was so disturbing, and made me so uncomfortable….made me realize how dangerous he is.

    He apologized two days later….I told him I do not want to see or speak to him. Only contact by email. Over the last couple of years, I realized he is becoming mentally unstable, so he is on medication to stabilize his mood and for him to sleep. He is still angry, and I have told him nothing has changed. He is jealous that I read, jealous that I write (my personal therapy), jealous that I go for long walks, jealous I work part-time, etc.

    So I have distanced myself and no longer run to him. He is upset because he feels I owe him something, and no longer wants to listen to how he makes me feel or how I felt when I lived with him. He is lying all the time, and even tells me I cannot believe anything he says.

    I see now that it is highly unlikely he will change. It is easier for him to use violence to get what he wants. But I have set up boundaries and he says now that I am the controlling one…sure, when I resist HIS control, he calls it control!

    I am so disappointed that he did this to me again…but I keep reading and writing, and realizing that I should not feel sorry for anyone who deliberately hurts me. I see I cannot help him.. no matter how hard I have tried. As he is trying to change, I am the one who suffers the most when he makes a “mistake” and reverts back to character. I suffer his temper and distress caused by it. This process of change seems a whole lot like the cycle of abuse.

    My freedom is more important than his anger.

    He has expressed his undying love for me….I told him that love to him means possession, ownership, and obsession. He should want to earn my love, instead of demand it.

    I continue to go for individual counselling and a support group. I take baby steps everyday……He has made me feel numb, empty and has turned me off completely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My dear Sparkle xoxo So much of this I can relate to. You don’t need this. It’s hard to understand how someone we love can treat us so badly. You sound like a wonderful and most loyal person. He doesn’t deserve you in any shape, fashion, or form. I was only with my abuser a few months and he has run my life into the ground. So I can only imagine the horror of going through this for years. I’m glad you shared your story. Here’s mine
      Much Love xox


  5. Thank you for this article. I just got out abusive marriage two months ago and I’m determined to never go back. He hasn’t tried to get me back yet, but he’s threatened suicide, blames me for our separation, and has bashed me to anyone that will listen, especially on facebook. I’ve lost a lot of friends and I feel so alone right now, but I’m getting back to the woman I was before him and know that even this feeling is better than the feeling I had when I was with him. In time, people will see the real him. For now, I’m concentrating on building up my own self esteem again and getting stronger so that I never feel weak enough to go back.


    • I’m so sorry that you’ve gone through all that, but so happy you’ve made the clear decision to end it and move forward. I know from personal experience how lonely it can feel, so just want to reassure you that you’re absolutely on the right track. I promise you it will get better. Hang on in there.


  6. Thanks for your Essential To Do List. I lost it and am glad I persisted until I found it again, and I really appreciate the way you explain your reasons for each point made.

    I haven’t had just one psychopath experience. i married a peaceful, pleasant but in retrospect stunningly selfish greedy man, hard to believe he is real inside that pleasant persona.

    Apart from that experience I have been the ‘patsy’ of two awful life-ruining psychopaths, and it started before that with an emotionally immature young man who just wanted my attention, engaged with me, and then expected to just walk away, done and dusted, and on to the next. I think he was ill prepared for life, as was I, but I sure ended up lost and confused. My take home message from that was: If they engage with you and then just walk-do not follow, physically or emotionally. Walk away and keep looking ahead.Thanks and best wishes.


  7. It’s hard to accept that you’ve been in an abusive relationship. A friend of mine sends me articles to read about various techniques I’ve been at the mercy of, like ‘hoovering’ since I left him, the promise that he sees everything differently now. I left him 15 months ago after 20 years together and he still won’t leave me alone. Despite this, I feel much happier inside, not wondering every day what mood he’ll be in and for how long I’ll get the silent treatment for when I want to do something for me. I do however feel very numb and empty, like I don’t feel anything inside. I now couldn’t imagine being with another man as I feel I have nothing left to give


  8. Thank you for your blog, I had never been able to label what I was going through nor have anyone understand why I can’t just get mad, stay mad & leave.I too have been numb, It’s so hard to explain to someone who has never experienced what the rest of us have here. I know now that I am not crazy. I have been in my relationship for more than 20 years. We are currently separated and I have filed for divorce. I know being away from him is the best thing for me. However, I feel like this is a sick addiction. My spouse has made all the decisions over the last 20 years. I didn’t realize that every time I stopped doing something, because it wasn’t good enough I was technically handing over more power each time. I went to the grocery store the other day so scared. This is crazy fear..the grocery store!! Fear that I may buy the wrong product or pay to much for an item. No matter what I do never feeling like I can measure up to his perfectionist mentality,
    The pressure to be intimate though there was no affection there. His drugs, drinking and overdosing has taken it’s toll. I won’t go into the gritty details here, but just to say I can relate to everyone’s story here. I can’t imagine dating after this is all over. The thought of it makes me sick to my stomach. I hope in time this will eventually pass to. I am working on finding the person I used to be who loved laughter & the simple things in life. I no longer want to have to explain every expression on my face and “what do I mean” when I say the sky is blue. It simply means the sky is blue today.


  9. Hi, I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I am so glad I found this post. As I write this I am sobbing. I am trying to break up with my “boyfriend”,but I started putting boundaries about two weeks ago and now won’t call me. He spent the 2 nights with his ex in a hotel, last week, and now calls me late at night. Like 2-3 am to cry about not wanting to loose me. We have never gone all the way, and when we are about to, he shuts me down. I been in this situation a year and three months. I want to leave so badly, its stressing me out. I have lost close friends. All my close friends have abandoned me. I now realize it is a trauma bond, and it relives abusive scenarios as a child… I feel so lonely. I have no one to talk to, and my mom is tired of hearing my problems. This February I will have been in therapy three years. In these last couple of years I have done so well, but this guy has come to really test me. In five weeks I am will have graduated from Education. I have been in university in and out for seven years. I finally got it together emotionally to continue. My students mean the world to me. Their smiles, their joys, even their failures. As a child the school system failed me, miserably. Years of sexual abuse went undetected. I was invisible, I had no voice. Even when I acted out, there was no further questioning. If you read this, thank you for reading. My goal is to get through this, to be a strong, resilient women. I don’t want my experience to be in vain. Many students today are suffering, and their time in classrooms is wasted in trying to make them comply instead of helping them. I understand so much right now, am I going to try it. .Thank you to the creator of the blog, you have reallly made an impact on me today. God, creator, whomever you believe in, bless you and give you strength to continue helping us.


  10. Hell Lonely Fighting I live in the U.K. And I am so sorry to hear of your pain please be strong now because you can waste so many years in a destructive relationship and you will be a shadow of your former self. You are still young and can find somebody who will treat you well. I too have spoken to people who don’t get it, they do not understand the complexities of traumatic bonding or they are just impatient with your incapacity to move on and get on with it.

    I have been in an abusive relationship for 12 years, We have separated yet again and four months later I am still missing him I’m so depressed and crying all the time. I have no close friendships as I have become totally isolated due to my relationship all I have is my pet dog whom I adore and I think she is the only reason I am still here.

    I have been imagining my ex is with one of our friends who would pop round when I wasn’t there taking him cupcakes and he stood me and a friend up at a restaurant because she called round when she was upset and they drank wine. I am devastated by this thought but of late he hasn’t tried to contact me and this is why I think something is going on. I believe I am suffering from traumatic bonding and cannot believe I feel so dreadful especially when I felt so euphoric when I ended the relationship. I did so because I had become ill and he had no empathy whatsoever, I ended up in hospital within the following 24 hours and he accused me of attention seeking!!!

    I lost my mother two years ago and following her funeral he started a relationship with someone else without informing me because he didn’t have my attention. This also devastated me and yet I went back because I loved him so much and still do and I feel he and his family were all I had left. I just want to be over it and want the pain to go and just don’t know which way to turn or where to get help.


    • Lucy, call a woman’s shelter. They have a 24/7 helpline. They also have group support and individual counseling. You will not feel so alone. They are specially trained in domestic violence and will be able to help like no one else can. They changed my life. They taught me that the love I was seeking from others, had to come from ME! I learned all about the Cycle of Violence, respect, and boundaries.

      You deserve to be healthy and happy. Never forget that. You are worth it.


  11. Thankyou Jacqueline I have had really good support from a DV support agency in the past but feel I cannot use their helpline as I am now out of that relationship and someone else may need them more desperately than me. I just feel so alone, distressed and depressed and at present don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. I am concerned as the traumatic bonding is so acute I worry about my sanity. I don’t want to have him in my head space at all it’s killing me thinking about him and a possible new partner all the time, why should he be ok when I am suffering so much. I feel that I may need a clinical psychologist or someone to help me with these issues, although I understand them I can’t seem to resolve them on my own, as much as I want to.


    • Of course you can still use the helpline, Lucy! I did, and I had already left my partner months before. You are still going through the grieving of the relationship, and the emotions that accompany it. I had been to other therapists as well, but the only place that truly understood whatt I was going through was the Shelter.

      I know that it is to have him in your head all the time. I never thought I could get him out, but I did!

      Please believe me that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, that your life is not over. I urge you to make that phone call. You will be glad you did, Sweetie.

      Hugs to you.


    • Of course you can still use the helpline, Lucy! I did, and I had already left my partner months before. You are still going through the grieving of the relationship, and the emotions that accompany it. I had been to other therapists as well, but the only place that truly understood what I was going through was the Shelter.

      I know what it is to have him in your head all the time. I never thought I could get him out, but I did!

      Please believe me that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, that your life is not over. I urge you to make that phone call. You will be glad you did, Sweetie.

      Hugs to you.


  12. Hi Jacqueline, how did you get him out of your head ? Was it just a matter of time, It is just over four months since I got him to leave. I felt so relieved at the time and that lasted for several weeks and then I crashed, and have found it so painful since, it doesn’t help that I am not at work due to sickness so I have more time to dwell on things even though I try to keep busy…


    • I am so happy and proud of you Lucy!!! Please, when you have a chance, let me know how it went with the Shelter.

      He had been in my head for so so long, that I did not think I could ever get him out. I was only working 5 hours a week at the time, so thoughts of him continued to consume me. I started to read all of Lundy Bancroft’s books and make notes. I kept writing all my feelings, I went for long walks in nature, and did little things for myself, as I had neglected ME for years. There were times I missed him terribly and felt so empty, so alone without him. But I was remembering the way he was in the beginning, not this stranger. It took time, with the help of the Shelter and slowly coming out of my comfort zone, reintegrating myself with baby steps back into life….I suddenly realized I was focusing on ME and everything else BUT him!!! He was no longer the focus. What a relief that was!

      You are only 4 months of being away from him. You are still grieving the loss of your relationship. Give it time. One baby step at a time.


  13. Jacqueline I also want to say a BIG thankyou for your support and I will contact the helpline as you suggest, and hugs back.


  14. Pingback: Escape from Abuse - SwanWaters·

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