Preparing to Leave a Toxic Relationship Safely

Libby Shively McAvoy
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Leaving an unhealthy relationship can seem impossible, especially when it is abusive, but it is critical to notice the red flags and know when to seek help.

There is a fine line in the difference between a toxic relationship and one that is abusive. All relationships will have disagreements, however, in a toxic relationship, the issue never gets resolved and goes around in circles, or one person walks out and refuses to finish the conversation. In an abusive relationship, one person is typically dominant and controlling and will either emotionally or physically abuse the other person or both. Either way, toxic and abusive relationships are unhealthy and will dim the light of your soul.

Red Flags For When To Seek Help Or Leave The Relationship

1. Your partner has no friends other than you and isolates you from friends and family

2. Hanging out with this person drains your energy

3. Your partner criticizes or calls you names

4. Your partner constantly calls or texts you when you are away from them. There is no space or freedom

5. You are constantly apologizing and do not even know why

6. Nothing you do is ever good enough

7. They speak badly about their ex’s and even their own family

8. There is substance abuse

9. You do not like yourself as much when you are with this person

10. Your friends and family do not like or approve of your partner and voice concern for you

If you are in an unhealthy relationship, it can seem daunting to get out, especially if it has been long-term. There is help available, and you are not alone. The first step is to recognize that the relationship is not healthy. Often, in the case of emotionally abusive relationships, it starts off so subtle and builds that we become numb and unaware of the adverse treatment. I know this was the case for me. It took my mom pointing it out and actually giving me the book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship, How to Recognize It and How to Respond, by Patricia Evans.

I had been physically abused, and that seemed so obvious, but emotional and verbal abuse is more deceptive and manipulative. Emotional and verbal abuse is equally harmful as physical abuse. Although we do not see the wounds, the light in the soul is dimmed each time, and our self-esteem is deeply damaged. Those wounds go far beneath the surface. It took me many years to recover and learn to trust myself and others again after I left my abusive marriage.

We can always change and reinvent our lives. I am living proof. So first, recognize your relationship is unhealthy. The next step is to decide to take your power back. If you are ready to take your power back, no one can ever hurt you again. You are worthy of love and respect. You deserve more.

When you decide you are ready, here are some steps to take to prepare. You may need to do a little research in a few areas. You will want to have your plan in place:

  • If you are married, interview several lawyers and find one that you vibe with. Most will do a free consultation. My therapist recommended a firm that represents women specifically and they had special pricing and ways to work with women who were struggling to leave, so look to see what options are available to you. You can also print legal divorce papers online in most states and represent yourself if you absolutely cannot afford an attorney.
  • If there is any evidence of physical violence or stalking, you will most likely be eligible for a court order of protection. This is much more helpful and much more serious than a restraining order. The police took it very seriously in my case and came very quickly whenever I had any problems. I found it very helpful. I had to get a second order to protect my children and had to show evidence that there was potential harm there too, so they certainly do not give these out lightly. But be aware that it is an option.
  • Build your confidence and self-esteem by reading self-help books, listening to empowering podcasts, joining groups of other inspiring people, and finding hobbies that you enjoy. Start before you leave the relationship. It will make your transition easier.
  • Surround yourself with a good support group of friends and or family, and even join a group on Quora or Facebook so that you connect with other people going through similar situations.
  • Save some money. Do NOT go clear a joint bank account or do anything irrational. Just be sure you are working and stashing a little money into your own bank account. This will give you a small cushion.
  • Finally, once you are prepared and ready, block your partner on all social media accounts and never look back. Leave your phone or email open if you need to communicate for an ongoing divorce trial. If there is no divorce involved, go ahead and block on your phone too. You will likely be trauma-bonded and tempted to return or to accept your partner back. DO NOT. The cycle will continue. Again, I know from personal experience.

Having said all of this about preparing to leave, if there is physical violence, call 911, the domestic violence hotline, or get out during the day and do not go back without a Sheriff escort to get your belongings. If this is the case, I would recommend the approach I took when my ex-husband waterboarded me. My sister and I waited two days until he went out of town on business, and when I dropped the kids at school, she and I went to a divorce lawyer's office. I told my story as I sat sobbing, both ashamed and terrified. The lawyer knew she had to get us in from of a judge for an emergency hearing ASAP, so within an hour we were downtown in the courthouse. I once again had to painfully tell my story. Before I even finished, the judge got up and left the courtroom. I looked at my lawyer in bewilderment at what was happening, and she assured me to hang tight.

The judge returned a few minutes later and said, “This is by far the most appalling case of first-time domestic violence I have ever seen. Usually, it starts off with a black eye or broken arm and escalates, but the only place to go from here is death. I have contacted 241 Kids and the Sheriff to serve your husband. You will get full custody of the kids, and your husband will be escorted out of the house.” I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was relieved, but the court order of protection she granted the kids and me did not make me feel safe in my own home, so we stayed with my parents for a couple months before returning home. Once I gained my confidence, I was ok. I tell you this, so you know that you will be protected. What is most important is your safety and sense of security. This is also incredibly important if there are children involved. Children need to know that you will keep them safe.

I wish you all the best in healthy, happy relationships. Love and respect yourself enough to set and hold boundaries and to know when to walk away.

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Libby is a Personal Development and Relationship coach specializing in emotional intelligence. By blending motivational speaking, leading yoga and wellness retreats, and writing, she has mastered the art of living her best life while helping others.

Cincinnati, OH

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