Since I left my abusive marriage nearly 10 years ago (read about my story here), I have met several women and one young man who were working towards getting out of their abusive marriages. While I am not an expert, nor am I a therapist, I have some thoughts and ideas for others looking to get out of an unsafe, abusive or controlling situation. Many of these ideas and tips are things that I did myself to work towards getting out.
1. Get Spiritually Reflective.
Pray, pray, pray. I spent several weeks on my knees begging God to make the way clear. As I previously shared in my testimony (When Your Husband Is Your Rapist), God and I had several long talks before I made the decision that I needed to get out for my safety, my daughter’s safety and my mental health.
2. Get Educated.
Go to the library and check out some books on abuse, rape, or whatever your situation is. My eyes were opened as I read in detail, from books and articles, things that were said to me verbatim by my then-husband (also referred to as “he” or “him” in this article). Reading some of the information freaked me out a little and made me think that these abusive and controlling men must pass around notes in the locker room, because it seems like abusers do and say many of the same things in their efforts to control, demean and isolate the people they prey upon. Ultimately, it made me feel less alone, more supported and better equipped to make the decision to get out.
3. Get Space Daily.
Try to get away to a safe place from your abuser for even a few hours each day to clear your head. This could be at school, work, church or even a coffee shop. Once in my desperation of being turned upside down by him (one of the books I read called it “crazy-making”), I lied and told him that I needed to take a walk. He said he was too busy in the house to care for our daughter in my absence so I called my mom to come over and care for my baby girl. My dad dropped my mom off at the house, pretending that he had to run an errand. Dad drove up the street and met me at a restaurant just so I could talk to someone, cry and breathe in safety. My dad did not know all of the details of my situation, but he knew that I was in a crisis, was falling apart and needed someone just to sit with me. That hour of relief helped to settle me for a few hours so I could be a parent to my daughter.
4. Get Detailed.
Write down the abuse details, past or present. Keep the notebook in a safe place. It helped me to begin to separate the smart, beautiful, faithful, funny, personable and kind person I was from the way that he described me—dumb, ugly, lazy, mean-spirited, bully—to name a few. There was even a time that I could not safely keep record of these things so I called a trusted friend and had her write them down for me.
5. Get Connected.
Work to reconnect with family, friends and others whom your abuser has pushed out of your life. The day after I decided to get out of my toxic marriage, I remember calling my brother, who had been demeaned by my abusive spouse. My brother told me he loved me. He honored my decision. He volunteered to reserve, pick up and drive the moving truck. As a side note, my brother also made me an encouraging CD of songs to get me through the next weeks, which I still have and play from time to time. (Thanks, bro!) The friends that I reconnected with were also the ones I called on to help me move my things out of his house. One friend told me she “was honored that I would ask her” to help me. I knew how dangerous this move would be so the thought of someone being honored to protect me helped immensely.
6. Get Legal Advice.
If you can, consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. I was scared to do this because the man I was married to told me that if I ever left him, he would call the police and tell them I had kidnapped our daughter. I needed to hear from a lawyer that I could leave that house, take my daughter with me and still be within my rights. This may be clear to those of you who have not been in abuse like this, but the depth of my confusion was revealed here. The lawyer told me to be calm on the phone with him when he figured out that we had left, let him know I and our baby were safe and that he could contact us by phone only.
7. Get Organized.
Once you have decided that you need to get out, start making plans. Here are some things to think about gathering and taking somewhere safe before the move. I had a box with a lid that I kept hidden from him and would place things I needed when he was not there. When I could, I would take the box or the contents, often hidden under a baby blanket, to my parents’ house, before my final move.
- Documentation: Make copies of documents like mortgages, bank statements, tax returns, canceled checks, all joint accounts with account numbers, phone numbers, cell phone plans, etc. I even made copies of the receipts from one of his affairs, just in case I needed them.
- Keepsakes and things that belong to you: Trust me on this one, if you want something or need to have it, you must take it now. The odds are you will never get it back from your abuser after you have left. My family still makes jokes about the garlic press I left there and will never see again.
- Cancel all joint banking or credit card accounts the moment you are safe. I had a friend who did not do this and her ex maxed out the joint credit cards before she knew anything about it. She had to pay half of that amount in the divorce settlement.
8. Get Your Own Accounts.
Get your own bank account before you leave, and password protect it. I had set up my own account a week before I left. The banker who helped me was so uplifting to me, as his mom had to flee from his dad when he was little. I’ll never forget his face, which was filled with righteous anger, as he was setting up my accounts and encouraging me to get away and never look back. Have your work checks deposited in your new account as possible. Determine if you can transfer some of your/joint money into your personal account right after you leave. I took half of what was in our joint account, and I was not sorry.
9. Get Password Protected.
Consider doing this with cell phone accounts, checking accounts, and credit cards. I did not know about this service until weeks later, and he was able to call into the bank and order a check card from my new account sent to his address. By God’s grace, I caught it and had the card canceled right away. I still have all of my accounts password protected for this very reason.
10. Get Packing or Make a List of What will be Moved.
Decide what you need to take with you—quickly. Be organized and ready to go the instant your abuser leaves the house the day of your move. I spent every minute he was not home for the two weeks I was planning my getaway getting ready, packing up what I could keep hidden, making note of what needed to come with me and my baby and what I could leave behind. When my friends came, I walked through each room and told them what needed to go in the truck. If it is not safe for you to take some of your things, keep the big picture in mind. Staying safe and alive (in my case) took precedence.
11. Get Moving.
Find a date and time that you know your abuser will be out of the house for several hours. As soon as they leave, make your phone call to your helpers to come now. Mine were down the street waiting in their cars for him to leave. As a side note, some of the people I have helped have wanted to face their abuser and tell them what they were doing, why they were leaving and/or they want to dignify the marriage and say a formal goodbye, prior to moving. I urge you to never do this. Get out and get safe first and decide later whether to talk to the abuser again.
12. Get Wise about Your Neighbors.
You need to decide if you can trust your neighbors with knowing that you are moving. Mine were so fleeced by him and caught up in his lies that I could not trust them. I just prayed that they wouldn’t call him when the moving truck pulled up and tell him what was going on. I knew that if he found out and came home he would have killed me. I was blessed, and the neighbors did not notice the truck or the stuff leaving the house. Thank you, Jesus!
13. Get the Children to a Safe Place Before you Move-out.
If you have kids, find someone you trust to take them somewhere fun and safe while you get out. Then have them meet you after it is all over. A friend took my baby and kept her safe, happy and fed while I was escaping.
14. Get One or Two Safe Houses.
I moved in with my parents after I moved out, but I had two other places/homes where I knew I could hide with my baby, and he would never find us. Only one other person knew where these houses were—even to this day. As it turned out, I needed one of the safe houses hours after I left as he figured out that I had gone before I thought he would. He called and threatened that he was coming for my daughter and me. I was scared there and shook for an hour in fear, but I knew that he wouldn’t find us, which was hugely comforting in all the stress.
15. Get Professional Counseling.
You will feel almost euphoric for a few weeks after getting out, but that euphoria will wear off, and in my case, it was not pretty. I was finding myself in the undertow of depression and post-traumatic stress. I needed professional help for turning the world right-side-up, working through the lies, the rape and objectification. I have an acquaintance who did not get help after getting out of a situation similar to mine, and she is still having post-traumatic stress episodes more than ten years later. Time does not heal all wounds.
16. Get Walking.
My last piece of advice, go for a walk outside every day after getting out. The fresh air cleaned out the clutter of mental trash and it helped me to remember what my body needed—basic care and attention.
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