How to Exit an Abusive Relationship Safely

Tips for Creating a Safety Plan

a woman in her car, backing out of her driveway, looking distraught and upset.

Verywell / Laura Porter

If you're in an abusive relationship and thinking about leaving, it's important that you thoroughly think through how you will protect yourself from additional harm.

Depending on your situation, you might be considering leaving—or maybe you're already in the process of leaving. Maybe you haven't even considered the possibility of ending the relationship but you just want more information.

Whatever your current situation looks like, safety planning is a very personalized process. After all no two relationships are alike and you know the dynamics of the relationship better than anyone else.

Still, there are some basic points that you need to consider as you put your plan into place. Here is an overview of the key points you may want to consider.

What Is a Safety Plan?

In general, a safety plan is a personalized and practical plan on how to remain safe in an abusive relationship while preparing to leave when the timing is right and safe to do so.

Safety planning requires carefully thinking through possible scenarios and determining how best to cope with the abuse, tell friends and family members, and reach out for legal assistance.

What's more, an effective safety plan will include ideas on how to support yourself and stay safe once you have exited the relationship. Overall, a good safety plan will have all the vital information you need as well as help walk you through different scenarios.

Although some of the information you include in a safety plan may seem obvious at the time, it's important to remember that your brain often doesn't work as effectively when you are faced with a crisis.

Consequently, it may be difficult to remember important numbers, addresses, and information when you are focused on staying safe and surviving. Having a safety plan in place is a way to protect yourself if things escalate in your relationship.

Staying Safe in an Abusive Relationship

Although most people assume that safety plans are specifically designed for leaving an abusive relationship, that's not the case.

In fact, many people who live with abusive people need to know how to stay safe while they're in the relationship until they have the strength, courage, and resources to safely leave the relationship.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers suggestions on how to stay safe while still in a relationship with an abusive person.

Identify Safe Spaces in Your Home

Think about parts of your house that don't have any weapons or things that could be used as weapons. Additionally, you should identify areas that have a way out if needed like a window or a door.

Talk to Trusted Neighbors

If you have a neighbor you can trust, talk to them about what you're experiencing. Together, identify a code word or signal that you can use if you need help. Decide together what the neighbor's next steps would be if you use that word or signal like calling 9-1-1 or picking up your kids.

Teach Your Kids How to Get Help

Make sure your kids know that they should never intervene in any type of violence. Talk to them about the importance of safely leaving the house and going to a neighbor's if they are old enough. Teach them how to call 9-1-1 as well.

Make a Habit of Keeping the Car Fueled and Ready

Abusive situations are unpredictable. Consequently, you never know when you might have to leave suddenly. As a result, your gas tank should always be filled with gas and ready to go. Consider leaving all the doors locked except the driver's side door. This way, you won't have to unlock the door first before getting inside.

Keep an Extra Set of Keys in a Safe Place

Because abusive people often take a victim's keys to keep them from leaving, you need to put an extra set of keys in a safe place so that you can access them in an emergency. You also should try to keep your cell phone with you at all times if possible. You should also know where the nearest public phone is located.

Avoid Wearing Scarves and Long Jewelry

During an abusive encounter, things that are around your neck can be used to strangle you. Even if you think your partner would never go that far, it's important to take precautions.

Planning for Your Emotional Safety

Many people who have been victimized by abuse indicate that the emotional scars from the emotional abuse and verbal abuse are sometimes the hardest to overcome.

For this reason, it's extremely important that you plan to take care of yourself emotionally. Here are some ways that you can protect your mental health.

Surround Yourself With Supportive People

When you're dealing with abuse, it's important to have one or two family members or friends that you can talk to, especially because abusive people often try to isolate those that they victimize.

Ideally, the people you surround yourself with will be able to recognize the signs of abuse and offer wisdom and support. Also, make sure the people you confide in are willing to allow you to make your own choices at your own pace, instead of trying to fix your situation or rescue you.

Identify and Work Toward Goals

Although there are times when you will have to leave an abusive relationship without a plan, it's important to set some goals so that you can be on your own. This might mean learning new skills so that you can find a job. Or, it might mean taking classes.

Whatever route you take, working toward becoming independent and self-supporting can be extremely empowering.

Find a Peaceful Place For Yourself

Dealing with abuse on a consistent basis can be overwhelming, stressful, and emotionally draining. Identify a place where you can go to relax and think. Some examples might include a park, the library, or a coffee shop. The key is that whatever place you choose, you are able to find some peace and unwind.

Practice Self-Care Consistently

Taking care of yourself is important to your health and well-being. Consequently, it's important to do what you can to care for your body and your mind. This might include taking a hot shower, making time for prayer or meditation, and spending some time journaling. Other options include reading, watching a good movie, or exercising.

Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Although many people will urge you to "just leave" the relationship, especially if the abuse is escalating, you most likely know from experience that this is not an easy task. Aside from putting your personal safety at risk, you also are probably considering your children and your pets if you have them.

What's more, leaving an abuser is dangerous. After all, the abuser is losing control over you and the relationship and will often escalate the violence in order to make you stay.

In fact, the likelihood of a person being seriously injured or killed while trying to leave increases exponentially. For this reason, you need to carefully plan how you will leave the relationship ensuring you have the strength, courage, and resources to make it happen.

Before You Leave

Leaving an abusive relationship for good takes planning and preparation. However, if the abuse or violence escalates before you have time to completely prepare, don't hesitate to get yourself to safety.

You can always handle these details at a later date. The key is that you keep yourself safe and free of harm. If you have time to develop a safety plan, here are some things to consider.

Keep Proof of the Abuse

If you have been injured, you will want to keep photos of the abuse as well as copies of any police reports. Likewise, you should keep a journal of all the verbal abuse as well. Make sure you include dates, times, details of what occurred, and any witnesses to the abuse.

Know Where You Can Get Help

Research to determine who you can call when you need help. In other words, find the telephone numbers and websites for local shelters and hotlines. You also might want to find out where and when local support groups meet. Having resources available to you when you need them is an important part of safety planning.

Acquire Job Skills

If you eventually plan to leave the person who abuses you, you will need to be able to support yourself financially. If you do not already have a job that allows you to accomplish this, you may want to look into taking some additional classes or acquiring job skills that will help you become more employable.

Set Money Aside

Although financial abuse is often part of an abusive relationship, it's important to set aside some money if you can safely do so, so that you can pay for food, gas and lodging when you initially leave.

If it's not safe to keep the money in your home, ask a trusted family member to keep it for you. Or, get a safety deposit box at your local bank where you can keep cash. Just remember, that if you have to leave at night or over the weekend, you may not be able to access the money.

Locate and Assemble Important Documents

When you are planning to leave an abusive person, it's important to have access to all your important documents. So, you want to keep all these things in one place.

For instance, keep your social security card, passport, birth certificate, and marriage license in a place where you can access them quickly. (You also may want to keep copies of them at a trusted family member's house in case the abusive person destroys them).

Likewise, you should have copies of your insurance cards, car registration, lease or mortgage agreement, and bank statements as well.

Organize Important Phone Numbers

Even though you may think that there is no way you will forget your mother's phone number or your best friend's number, when you are anxious and scared, this could very well happen. Keep a list of all your important numbers in your car and in your wallet. This way, if the abuser takes your phone, you still have the numbers listed in several other locations.

After You Leave

Once you leave the relationship, you need to realize that your risk of harm or injury does not go away. In fact, you might be at a greater risk. So, it's important to take steps to keep yourself as safe as possible. Here are some suggestions on things you may want to consider doing.

Change Your Phone Number

Once you have left the relationship, you may want to consider changing your number. Unless kids are involved, you want to make it difficult for the abusive person to contact you again.

Alter Your Work Hours and Your Route to Work

Abusive people often resort to stalking or may try to intercept you if they know your routine. For this reason, you should change all of your predictable routines. Ask for a different schedule at work and change up the way you get there. You don't want to have any predictable patterns in your life that make it easy for the abusive person to find you.

Use Different Stores and Social Spots

As hard as it might be, you need to start shopping in different stores and going out with friends in different locations. Abusive people will often look for you in places that you frequent. So, you want to be sure you are changing things up. Doing so will keep you safer.

Alert the School of Your Situation

If you have children, you need to be sure that their schools are aware of your volatile situation. Too many times abusive people will come to the school to get the kids without permission. Likewise, they might take the kids without permission and hold them as an excuse to see you. When this happens, this is usually an extremely dangerous situation. So do not be afraid to get the police involved.

Tell Your Coworkers About the Abuse

You don't have to share all the details, but it's important that your coworkers know that you just left a dangerous relationship. This way, if the abusive person shows up at work, your coworkers will know that the situation is likely to escalate. Letting them know is as much for your safety as it is theirs.

Replace Wooden Doors With Steel Ones

Most likely, the abusive person in your life is going to figure out where you live. If you can, try to have wooden doors replaced with steel ones and install a security system if you can. You also may want to consider motion sensor lights that come on anytime someone comes near your home. This will help deter the abuser from hiding in the shadows and waiting for you.

Investigate the Legal System

Talk to your local police department to determine if you can get a restraining order against the person who abused you. They also may be able to offer other suggestions that can help keep you safe.

A Word From Verywell

When you are in an abusive relationship, it's normal to feel overwhelmed, frightened, and hopeless. But safety planning can empower you and give you some sense of control over your situation. Take your time and really think through what you can do to stay safe now and in the future.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates. You also can text LOVEIS to 22522 as well. The advocates who volunteer with these organizations have been trained in how to assist people who need help escaping from abusive situations. It's likely they can help you identify additional ways to stay safe.

You need to know that you are not alone and there are people always available to assist you.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nicholls T, Pritchard M, Reeves KA, Hilterman E. Risk assessment in intimate partner violence: A systematic review of contemporary approaches. Partner Abuse. 2013;4(1). doi:10.1891/1946-6560.4.1.76

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert. She's also the former editor of Columbus Parent and has countless years of experience writing and researching health and social issues.