In understanding how to leave an abusive relationship, I am going to talk here about the physical things to do. However, I believe the mental preparation is fundamental and of paramount importance. Without the mental fortitude to undertake what you are getting ready to do, you can expect to struggle and suffer much more than if you understand psychological abuse, how it works and what specifically was done to you.
With that in mind, I have written specifically about the mental preparation and the things you need to understand in this article about how to leave a controlling husband. This article lays out the dynamics present in controlling and manipulative relationships and also looks at the nature of controlling people. It also points out important factors about the state you will be in because of the abuse in the relationship. If you want to take a few minutes to read that article, go ahead, I will wait...!
Finished? Great, let's press on.
Here I will list things to do to both prepare for, and execute, your exit. I will do it in this way. I will point out some idea or belief that is important in dealing with a manipulator or abusive person and then I will link this to things to do. In this way you not only get a list of suggested things to do (and not do!), but also you get the reasoning behind why you do it.
You can, of course, choose to do the things or not. I list the things here (in no particular order) that have worked for me and for my clients. Some of the items may not fit your particular situation and some of the things you simply may not be able to do for the reasons that I explained in the article that you just read. (You did read it, didn't you?)
I am also going to assume that you are dealing with a psychopath or a narcissist in this article, and not just someone who is somewhat jealous or 'fixed in their ways'. (You can read about the signs of a controlling spouse here.)
They are not going to change.
Giving them 'another chance' is a waste of time. In all the time you have been together, they have not changed. Any promises to change now are just more lies. Once you are thinking of leaving, any other path is a waste of your life. Once you make the decision to leave, do not deviate from that, ever, irrespective of what they say or do. Going to therapy is usually a mistake because things get worse for you. Do not give any importance to advice from 'friends' of your partner or people who do not know what he or she is really like.
They are all the time manipulating you.
Discussing separating or divorce with you partner is counterproductive. Everything they say and do is to control you. If you let them know what you are thinking, they have the opportunity to do things to change your mind. And changing your mind will be detrimental for you. They already have a lot of information about you and can read you like a book. They know how to press your buttons. As soon as you start thinking about leaving, they will know there is something different about you. (They cannot read your mind! Your answers and physical gestures will give them clues that something is up no matter how hard you try and hide it.) When they realize that they are losing control a typical ploy is to make friends with you again. They will start being nice. Because of the nature of the relationship, you will be tempted to think that perhaps things are not so bad and give them the benefit of the doubt. You can never do that with a psychopath or narcissist. Do not discuss separating with them if you can help it.
They have been taking advantage of you since day 1.
Now it's time to protect yourself and your property. Anything important to you like photos, paperwork jewelery, etc. needs to be protected. If relevant, bank account details need to be copied or the originals taken and put away where the manipulator cannot get them. Then make copies of the copies. Much easier to make copies of the copies than to lose everything and have to get the originals from scratch. Paperwork of this nature is very valuable in court cases.
Protect yourself by not discussing things with your partner, although you have basically been programmed to reveal everything to him or her. Do, however, talk to family and friends, people you can trust not to tell your partner, about what your plans are. You need help and encouragement from friendly people right now.
Professional help from an expert in mind control and psychopathy is invaluable. They will help to smooth things out, explain your contradictory thoughts and feelings, help you to avoid the pitfalls and give you options in terms of dealing with what the psychopath is doing to you.
Any kindness on your part is seen as weakness by them.
You can try and treat your partner with kid gloves in the hope that they will go easy on you. And you will lose. You are in a power struggle with a psychopath. They are determined to win. They know they are losing control of you and they are not going to give you an inch.
So you have to take things. If you want something you have to take it and not ask for permission. If you have access to money in joint accounts or even access to the psychopaths accounts, take what you can. I know this is incredibly difficult because you have been programmed to be afraid of the psychopath and trained not to do anything to cross him or her. (This is where working with an expert is very useful. They help to get rid of the fear and guilt that a psychopath uses to control you). In a divorce situation for example, it's much (much!) easier to give money back to the psychopath than to try and extract money that is rightfully yours from the psychopath.
The same with furniture, jewelery and other objects. If you don't take it straight away, don't expect that the psychopath is just going to hand it over later on because 'it's only fair'. The psychopath or narcissist is not going to play fair. He or she hasn't been playing fair since the day you met and they are not about to start now, especially since you started this war between you (according to them!)
The same idea applies to giving in to their demands now in the hope of getting your needs met later. They will take now and they will try and take from you later. Don't give away anything without getting something in return right now. Having said that...
You can't negotiate with them.
You have been trying for years and it hasn't worked. In divorce cases, attempts at mediation will be used against you in certain ways. The psychopath gets you in a room with him again and will proceed to abuse you all over again. So insist on not being in the same room. The best thing you can do, if possible, is to avoid mediation altogether and go straight to court.
Having a lawyer between you and him is a good idea. It's much harder for him to directly abuse you through your lawyer. Once the lawyers are involved, have no contact with him unless absolutely necessary. If there are kids involved or you work directly together then you have to obviously have some contact, but limit it to stuff about the kids. And even then communicate only about the barest necessities, that is, about transfers or illnesses. Trying to co-parent with a psychopath is very time consuming for little return and only allows him to abuse you further. Any attempts by him to engage you about such things should be ignored and he should be told to go through your lawyer. Have your lawyer tell him this!
No contact with someone like this is the ideal. I say ideal because it is very, very difficult for a victim to go no contact with the abuser initially, especially if the pseudopersonality is still in place. Again, working with an expert speeds up the undoing of the pseudopersonality and makes no contact much easier. The important thing here is that every contact you have with the manipulator gives them a chance to abuse you, reinforce their selfish ideas and beliefs in your head and it generally slows down your own recovery. Hearing their voice and reading their texts will often be enough to upset you and gets your head spinning. As I say, as much as is humanly possible, no contact is by far and away the best option for you.
Never underestimate a psychopath or a narcissist.
These people are much more devious and sly than you ever will be. They will pull all sorts of dirty tricks, they are prepared to do the most horrible things, things you would never consider doing. Not only do they do damage with these things, but an important factor here is that normal, healthy people will spend hours wondering how someone could do some of the things that the psychopath does. This keeps the psychopath in the victim's head and distracts the victim from doing the things they need to do. Did I mention working with an expert? Understanding these types goes a long way to minimizing the damage they do.
You don't owe them.
This manipulator has been taking from you from the moment they set eyes on you. But they make you feel that it is a privilege to be with them. They lead you to believe that you owe them.
The fact is that you do not. You do not even owe them an explanation. In terms of leaving, you can leave unannounced or you can let them know your intentions. It's often easier to leave unannounced. That way they don't have the chance to stop you and they don't have the opportunity to talk to you to try and change your mind. And remember they are very good at that. More than one person has gone to tell their sociopathic partner that they are leaving only to have the sociopath convince them to stay. You need to be very careful here.
If you are going to tell them that you are leaving or that you are throwing them out, have a couple of friends with you when you do it. And tell your friends not to leave you alone with the psychopath under any circumstances.
You don't owe the psychopath any reasons for your departure. They already know!! Any pleading with you is simply a ploy to engage you in conversation again and to keep the conversation going. This is dangerous for you! Very dangerous!!
They cause chaos in victims' lives.
Very often the manipulator does and says things to upset you. They don't care about the lies they are telling. They know what actually happened. They just want to upset you. They want to emotionally destabilize you. Recognize that this is a tactic and let them have at it.
Keep a diary or a journal for yourself. It will help clarify your thoughts as well as keep things in order for you. Such notes can often prove very useful in court as well as for your own education/recovery in the future.
Coming up to big dates, for example, dates for mediation or court, you can expect that they will ramp up their antics. As much as possible, keep your distance and only respond to anything that is imperative. You do not have to respond to everything they do. Trying to keep up with everything they throw at you is a total waste of your time and it's what they want you to do.
Aim for what you want
Decide what you want to achieve. I know that is a bit tricky, but do the best you can. Make a list of your goals if you need to. Then keep them in mind while the the abuser is doing their thing. If you get sidetracked, just remind yourself what the goals are. Anything the abuser says or does that has nothing to do with your goals you can ignore. It's not worth communicating about if it does not directly get you what you want.
Financial dependence is one of the common ways that an abuser will maintain control over a victim. The victim is left in a situation where they have no 'running away' money.
As soon as you recognize what is going on, it's important that you start to save money in whatever way you can. If that is impossible, and in many cases it actually is, then you have to depend on friends or family until you start to earn money yourself. This may mean borrowing money or just staying with family and allowing them to feed you and so on as a temporary measure.
In situations where you have access to funds, in whatever form, take as much as you can. I know this is a very difficult thing to do because of the power imbalance in the relationship and the fear you have of the manipulator. However, you are going to need money, the abuser owes you and chances are that the abuser spent much more money in the relationship than you ever did. If you don't take it, three or four months down the line you are going to wish that you had done so. Better to be living with money than with regret.
Remember you can always help yourself to things that you can sell later. This is another valid way to generate funds for yourself. The same thing applies as with the money, you may feel that you should not take it, or that you can't because the abuser will be upset. Remember this is part of the manipulation and the sooner you break the pattern the better off you will be. As much as you can, you need to push yourself through the fear and take what you need so that you will have some finances for after the breakup.
If the children are not those of the abuser, you tell your children exactly what the abuser is like and they never see him or her again. This is by far and away the best approach. Trying to shield them by telling them to just forget everything will cause problems later because they have also lived through abuse. If you don't distinguish normal, healthy relationships from abusive relationships, how will they learn? If you make out that an abusive relationship was acceptable, this is asking for trouble. Children need information about what went on so they can make sense of their experiences and very importantly, so that they can recognize abusers in the future.
If the children are those of the abuser, there are two common situations. The first is the easiest in the long run and it's where the abuser disappears and doesn’t want to know about the partner or the children. Of course, this is devastating at the start, where it's almost impossible to figure how how anyone can be so cold as to not want to spend time with their kids. However, life is easier without a psychopath continuing to abuse everyone at every turn. The children need to understand the nature of their abusive parent and they also need to undo their own pseudopersonality so they are not vulnerable to abusers in the future.
The second scenario is where the psychopath or narcissist continues to abuse the children as well as uses the children as a weapon against the spouse. This complicates life a lot for all concerned, except the abuser of course! The psychopath may try and turn the children against the other parent as punishment for leaving the relationship. They will usually extract information from the children about their ex and use the children in all sorts of ways to punish the ex.
What's the solution? The short answer is to get professional help. But not from any therapist, from one who specifically understands mind control and psychopathy.
The children need to be educated about the true nature of the abuser. They need to undo their pseudopersonality, too. They need to come to terms with the fact that one parent does not love them, is tricking them, is lying to them and is basically abusing them. They need to learn to see through the manipulative and controlling tactics of the abuser so that they don’t end up in abusive relationships themselves later in life.
Working with the children while figuring out how to leave an abusive relationship yourself is an enormous task. There is no step by step guide. It's messy, it's complicated. Get professional help, you are going to need it.
Rest and sleep is vital. The psychopath will try and keep you busy. You need to stop and rest as much as you can.
Eat regularly. Again, this is a basic human requirement. Don't ignore this.
Take exercise or spend time doing your hobby or take time out to treat yourself. You will have trouble switching off and stopping your head from spinning no matter what you do. But at least taking some time out every now and then to pay attention to something else is worth the effort.
Lean on others. You need a lot of help, support and encouragement. Take it when you can, but from people you can trust. Be very wary of going to strangers for such things. If you are taking steps to leave an abusive relationship, you are in a very vulnerable position, and if you bump into a stranger who also happens to be another abuser, talking to them about your troubles will only give them all the information they need to pick up where the last demon left off. I can't stress this enough. Be careful about what you reveal about yourself and to whom you are revealing it.
If you haven't read the article about mentally preparing yourself, now is a good time to do so. The article is here.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
Do you think that you might be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that the group you are in may be a cult?
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