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5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship

You’ll understand why women stay with emotionally or physically violent men when you read through these five stages of leaving an abusive relationship. If you’re stuck in one of these stages, you are 100% normal! Here’s why it takes time to leave a man who abuses, and how you can get help. I also share some interesting research from Michigan State University about how Fifty Shades of Grey has affected women women.

These five stages of fleeing abuse are based on research from the University of Illinois. It’s important to remember it’s never a woman’s fault if she stays in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship. If you’re being abused, leaving is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. No matter how much you know about how to leave an abusive relationship, leaving a man who abuses, criticizes, or hurts you is never easy.

Learning about the stages of leaving an abusive relationship may help you make difficult decisions in your life. It may help to learn about the specific stages that some women go through before leaving an abusive man, so you can see your situation more clearly. If you aren’t sure if your boyfriend or husband is verbally abusing you, read 5 Signs of Verbally Abusive Relationships.

Women tend to move back and forth between stages before they actually leave a man who is abusing them. Knowing what the stages are can help you prepare you to end a relationship that is abusive and unhealthy.

Here’s what Tina Turner says about leaving an abusive relationship:

“Sometimes you’ve got to let everything go – purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything . . . whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.”

Tina Turner was abused by her husband for 16 years, until she finally realized she had a CHOICE! She was not powerless or helpless — and either are you.

Letting go of a man you love, even when you’re in an abusive relationship, may be one of the hardest things you’ll do. One of the most important things is to learn why you’re staying with him — what’s holding you back.

At the end of this article, I’ll share books that can help with leaving an abusive relationship and starting over. You are NOT powerless or helps. You do have a choice!

First, here’s what research shows about the stages of abuse and how to leave an abusive relationship.

5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship

According to a University of Illinois journal article, abused woman go through a five-step process of leaving abusive relationships. Below are the fives stages, based doctoral candidate Lyndal Khaw’s dissertation work at the U of I.

Stages 1 and 2: starting not to care for him anymore

“In the first two stages, women begin to disconnect emotionally from their relationships,” said Khaw. You hear them say things like, ‘I started not to care for him anymore’.”

5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship

5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship

If you’re in this stage, you might start feeling less and less connected to your boyfriend or husband. You may feel like you can live without him, that you don’t need him to survive, and that you are worth being treated like a valuable, lovable woman. You might start seeing your husband or boyfriend with different eyes, and you might start disconnecting in ways that surprise you. This is the first and second stage of leaving an abusive relationship.

In stages one and two, you’re starting to admit that you’re dealing with more than the warning signs of a bad relationship.

Stage 3: noticing the effects of abusive relationships

In this stage of leaving an abusive relationship, women go through a collection of episodes of abuse. They start to notice the effects on their children.

“Women make preparations to leave, such as finding a place to stay or secretly saving up money,” she said. “This stage is important for women as they switch from thinking about leaving an abusive relationship to actually doing something about it.”

Leaving a man who is abusing you isn’t easy. It takes strength and courage to decide to leave, because you’re not only struggling with the reasons breaking up is hard to do…you may also be dealing with self-esteem and self-image issues. Women in abusive relationships don’t always have high self-esteem or self-confidence, and this makes leaving a relationship more difficult.

leaving an abusive relationshipI wrote How to Let Go of Someone You Love to help women leave relationships that aren’t healthy or good. It’s my first and most bestselling ebook; I interviewed counselors and relationship experts about how to move on after losing a loved one.

One of the reasons it’s so difficult to leave a man who isn’t good for you is because you love him. Losing love is painful. If you can learn how to let go, you’ll decrease the chances of going back to an abusive relationship.

Stage 4: going back to the relationship

“Then, at Stage 4, when women take action, we see a lot of what we call ‘back and forthing’ because when women leave, the emotions often come back,” said Jennifer Hardesty, a U of I assistant professor of human and community development. “They need clarity. They want to be physically and emotionally connected again.”

You love him. You want to hold on to what you had, which makes leaving a relationship difficult. And, your husband or boyfriend may be telling you that he loves you, he’ll change, and he won’t hurt you again. Many women go back to their partners after leaving an abusive relationship. Sometimes it takes several attempts to break up before it actually “takes.”

If you’re not ready to leave, read How to Guard Your Heart in a Relationship.

Stage 5: actually leaving an abusive relationship

Being gone for six months or more marks the last stage on how to leave abusive relationships. “But even then they may have boundary ambiguity if their ex-spouse won’t let them go,” say the researchers. “With continued contact through court-ordered child visitation, the potential for ongoing abuse remains, as does continued confusion over the abuser’s role in the woman’s life.”

Leaving an abusive relationship is much more complex than just deciding to change, and it involves more than you prioritizing your safety. Hardesty says, “Other actors are involved. The abuser makes decisions that affect a woman’s movement through the stages. And children can be a powerful influence in motivating a woman to get out of a relationship and in pulling her back in.”

As you might know from personal experience, there are many factors that make leaving an abusive relationship difficult. The most important thing is to reach out for help. Find support. You’re being brave and courageous by searching for tips on how to leave a relationship when you’re being abused! Now, it’s time to take the next step and learn where you can go.

Help Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Are you in love with a man who is abusing you? Visit the Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233. Start gathering information about how to deal with his anger and outbursts, and how to protect yourself.
“Don’t wait until everything is just right,” says Mark Victor Hansen, author of the Chicken Soup series, including Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul: Your Personal, Portable Support Group with Stories of Healing, Hope, Love and Resilience. “It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.

leaving an abusive relationshipDo you want to understand your partner? Read Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

“One of the prevalent features of life with an angry or controlling partner is that he frequently tells you what you should think and tries to get you to doubt or devalue your own perceptions and beliefs,” writes Lundy in Why Does He Do That? “I don’t want to re-create that unhealthy dynamic. So the most important thing to remember as you read [this book] is to listen carefully to what I am saying, but always to think for yourself.”

The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself by Beverly Engel is another good book to help you leave an abusive relationship. Emotional abuse is often hard to detect and accept; it helps to have an objective perspective about what it is and how to deal with it.

You might also want to read How to End a Relationship When You’re Scared to Be Alone. This is a very important article for women who are considering leaving an abusive relationship. It’s written by a woman who left her abuser, who wants to help other women get free.

If you want to talk about your experience with living with or leaving a man who abuses, please share below. I welcome your comments, big and little! Writing about your life can give you clarity and insight.

Do you need help with these stages of leaving an abusive relationship? Please call the domestic violence helpline – I listed the number and website above. I can’t give advice on leaving an abusive relationship because I don’t know your situation or circumstances. I read every comment, but I can’t offer counselling or advice.
If you aren’t sure if you’re in an abusive relationship, read 5 Signs of an Abusive Boyfriend.

Research on Abusive Relationships and 50 Shades of Grey

A Michigan State University researcher found that young adult women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are more likely than women who don’t read the book or watch the movie to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner. This new study also shows that women who read all three books in the bestselling Fifty Shades series are at increased risk of binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.

Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship

All those risks (binge drinking, multiple sex partners, eating disorders) are associated with being in an abusive relationship, much like the lead character Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Grey.

“If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating before reading Fifty Shades of Grey, the book might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma,” said Amy Bonomi, the study’s lead investigator, chairperson and professor at the university’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. She adds that the trilogy of Fifty Shades books may have led the research participants to engage in those risky health and lifestyle behaviors.

This research study appears in the Journal of Women’s Health, and is one of the first to investigate the relationship between health risks and reading popular fiction about violence against women. Past research has associated violent television programs with violence and antisocial behaviors in real life. Research also shows that reading glamour and fashion magazines for women is connected to an obsession with body image.

What does this mean for you? Perhaps leaving an abusive relationship is even more difficult if you’re a fan of the Fifty Shades of Grey books and movie. If your husband or partner watches a lot of violent tv shows, then he may be more likely to continue his abusive patterns of behavior towards you.

Bonomi says that depicting violence against women isn’t a problem if it challenges or even condemns abuse against women. But if movies, tv shows, and books send the message that violence is acceptable, then abusive relationships may increase.

A public service announcement for women leaving an abusive relationship

Through Verizon’s HopeLine program, the general public can help prevent domestic violence by donating no-longer-used wireless phones and accessories in any condition from any service provider at any Verizon Wireless Communications Store.

Wireless phones given to HopeLine are refurbished and provided to local domestic violence agencies or local government and law enforcement agencies for use with their domestic violence clients – complete with 3,000 minutes of wireless service and text-messaging service. Donated phones can help victims of abuse feel safer and less isolated by giving them a way to call emergency or support services, employers, family and friends. This can help women through the stages of leaving abusive relationships. Phone donations given locally benefit victims of abuse within that geographic area. To learn more, go to Hopeline from Verizon.


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395 thoughts on “5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship”

  1. I went to the link that took me to your link on abusive relationships and it was spot on, as far as two friends I’ve had who were in abusive relationships (one literally escaped with her life and lived out of her car). There are such complex psychological things at work in some of these relationships – I am grateful that my first serious relationship was never abusive, and I hope I am never caught in such a relationship.

  2. I am in a verbally abusive relationship right now and I want to leave so badly but have no idea what to do. I have 4 kids, 3 with him and the oldest from when I was a teenager. I have money saved but don’t know what to do. Can I try to rent a place of our own and run away? I work as an independent contractor and usually they want an actual pay stub. I called the cops on him Christmas Eve morning when he came home drunk arguing with me while my 6, and 3 year old were asleep in bed with me. They were woken up by him yelling and pushing me to the hall way, grabbing me by my wrist so I couldn’t get to my phone, threw my phone, I grabbed my kids and seen his phone and grabbed it to call the cops but stupid me, I agreed to just have him leave for the day instead of having him go to jail. My kids were all so sad to see him go and scared by what they saw and hear.
    I feel helpless and don’t know what to do now. I feel like I lost my chance to get rid of him finally.