What to do if you are in an Abusive Relationship

Brenda and I went to school together and I attended her wedding way back when. She glowed with happiness as people pinned money to her wedding gown at the reception.

It all looked so perfect, but I didn’t know she’d be stuck in an abusive relationship for years.

Brenda stayed stuck because she felt unworthy and like the abuse was her fault. She forgave and forgot countless times, hoping things would get better. They didn’t.  

Her husband was addicted to pornography. Brenda broke the videos when she found them. He watched porn at work or other people’s homes. She found condoms in his truck.

Taught to stick things through, Brenda tried harder to please her abusive husband. And then it all became normal – walking on eggshells, trying to please, living a lie so the violence wouldn’t happen again.  

It took her years to get to the point where she could even acknowledge the abuse.

One day she locked herself and her two little girls in her car to protect herself from her husband. He had filled a pillowcase with heavy objects, intending to beat her and her children with it.

She called the police, but her husband, being a charmer, sweet talked them and had them chatting and laughing in no time.  They convinced her not to lay a charge against her husband.

After that incident Brenda wanted to report her husband many times, but each time changed her mind at the last minute. She planned to divorce her husband, but she subconsciously waited for her kids to get a bit older so they could understand and handle the divorce better. That was a lie. Divorce affects a child, no matter their age.

What qualifies as abuse?

How do you know what behaviour is abusive and what is not?

The Free Dictionary defines abusive behaviour like this:

A general term for various behaviours which may be aggressive, coercive or controlling, destructive, harassing, intimidating, isolating, or threatening, that a batterer or abuser may use to control a domestic partner, child, or other victim.

How to break free from an abusive relationship

If you or someone you care about is in an abusive relationship, there are ways to break free. You do not have to stay stuck.

See the abuse for what it is

Unless you acknowledge that the abuse exists, you will stay stuck. It may be hard to call abuse by its name because you feel afraid of the person abusing you, or you may love the person.

Men may stay stuck in abusive relationships because they are embarrassed to admit that a woman is abusing them. Don’t minimise the abuse. Call it what it is. If you are not sure that you are being abused, read Common Signs of Domestic Abuse.

Talk to someone you trust

 Family members, friends, a pastor or counsellor can help and advise you.  Surround yourself with people who will support you. It is not a sign of weakness or failure to get help.

Ending a significant relationship is never easy, but if you have been isolated from family and friends, beaten down, controlled, and threatened it’s going to be even harder. You need all the support you can get.

Distance yourself from the abuse

 If you or your children are in physical danger, plan to get away from the abusive situation as soon as possible. Don’t underestimate the emotional and spiritual damage that is happening as well. These are just as valid reasons to remove yourself from the situation. You will never heal emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically if you remain in the abusive situation.

If you’re trying to decide whether to stay or leave, you may be feeling confused, uncertain, frightened, and torn. You may be hoping your situation will change or afraid of how your partner will react if he or she discovers you are trying to leave. You may fluctuate between desperately wanting to get away and wanting to hang on to the relationship.

You may blame yourself for the abuse or feel embarrassed that you’ve stayed in spite of it. Don’t allow confusion, guilt, or self-blame to trap you. The only thing that matters is your safety.

You may have to be secretive about getting away if your partner is controlling every aspect of your life. This is not wrong.  

Once you are free from the situation, cut all ties with your abuser (as far as possible). Don’t check their social media status. Steer clear of people who are friends with your ex. Don’t keep re-exposing yourself to the toxicity of the relationship.

Build yourself up

There are a number of things you can do to get strong and healthy again:

  • Address the underlying issues that led you to being in a dysfunctional relationship. What happened in your childhood that set you up for the situation you are now in?

Brenda recognises that her childhood set her up to be abused. Her mom was very submissive to her dad. She set the example by being calm and quiet while her father shouted and swore at her. Her father also physically abused Brenda, and even though she stood up against him, she learned to feel comfortable around a man in “control”. She subconsciously looked for that kind of treatment later in life. It felt “normal”.

  • Learn your value in Christ. Meditate on Christ’s sacrifice for you. Ask Him to reveal to you what you mean to Him. This will give you the courage to start establishing boundaries.
  • Learn what true love really looks like. If your parents had an unhealthy relationship then an abusive dynamic may feel normal and comforting to you. This is not real love. Study the Bible. Read books. Talk to happy couples. Search the internet. Watch YouTube videos. Educate yourself!
  • Go for counselling. It will help you process the trauma of what you have been through and help you get strong again. If you don’t, those experiences will remain a part of you and affect how you relate to people. Burying the past does not erase it.
  • Learn to redraw your boundaries. Take back your “no”. You don’t have to do everything others expect of you. You don’t have to tolerate a toxic situation. Learn that it’s okay (and good) to walk away from some things.
  • Focus on your interests. Do some things that you love. Start a new hobby. Visit new places. Get into the garden.
  • Retrain yourself to see yourself as a survivor not a victim. You do have control over your life now. You can choose how to respond to situations and others don’t control your every move anymore.
  • Be patient and give yourself time. Healing does not happen overnight. You will have good days and bad days, but the good days will increase and the bad days will decrease.

If you are being abused, remember:

  • You are not to blame for being abused or mistreated.
  • You are not responsible for another person’s actions and choices.
  • You have the right to be treated with respect. You do not have to earn it.
  • You and your children have the right to a safe and happy life.
  • You are not alone. There are people that will help you.

Signs your abuser is not changing:

  • He minimises the abuse or denies how serious it really was.
  • He continues to blame others for his behaviour.
  • He claims you are the one who is abusive.
  • He pressures you to go to couple’s counselling.
  • He tells you that you owe him another chance.
  • You have to push him to stay in treatment.
  • He says he can’t change unless you stay with him and support him.
  • He tries to get sympathy from you, your children, or your family and friends.
  • He expects something from you in exchange for getting help.
  • He pressures you to make decisions about the relationship. [i]

For a thorough guide on how to deal with an abusive situation, please read How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship.

Back to Brenda’s story

Thankfully, Brenda’s husband’s work took him away from home regularly. These times apart helped her to detach herself from him. She began praying that God would strengthen her to break free from her husband.

Finally, at age 27, her husband threw Brenda around in the garage. He threw an air conditioner onto her, bashing and bruising her severely.

She realised her life, and her kid’s lives, were in danger, and her anger toward him helped her leave.

It took Brenda a long time to break free and her journey since then has been an up and down one of recognising what set her up for her bad choices and healing from those things as well as from the abuse.  

If you are in an abusive relationship don’t put off getting the help you need. If you know someone in an abusive relationship, share this post with them.

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has three grown kids and is married to her best friend, Richard. She started this website as a platform to help families, and specifically women, to take control of their lives and grow themselves spiritually, mentally & emotionally, and to discover their God-given purpose and live it out with confidence. She is a trained Life Coach and has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). She is a certified SYMBIS (Save Your Marriage Before It Starts) facilitator. She lives in sunny South Africa.

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