How to Leave an Abusive Relationship: A Guide to Getting Out in One Piece

How to Leave an Abusive Relationship: A Guide to Getting Out in One Piece

Leaving an abusive relationship was one of the best decisions my sister, Jennifer, ever made. Ever. In this post, I’ll share the most important things you should know if you plan to leave one too. 

Thank you to all those who have broken free and then turned around and shared your wisdom with others. Going through this dark time becomes a little easier when you’re standing on the shoulders of brave people who went before you. Let’s get right to it!

Why You Should Leave


I know, I know. It’s not that easy.

If you’re with a narcissistic abuser, you’ve probably already heard the pleas from your family and friends. They question why in the world you would subject yourself to such an awful person who treats you so badly. They make you feel misunderstood, unloved and alone.

That’s because their opinions are based solely on logic. They haven’t felt the emotional tug and thrill of being with him like you have; the excitement, the danger, the compulsion.

There are, in fact, very logical reasons why you’ve stayed in spite of all the abuse.

We’ll get into that soon enough. For now, it seems you’ve come to the crossroads of staying or going. And here’s why you should definitely go:

You’ll live longer – I don’t necessary mean your abuser is going to kill you (that could happen, though). I mean that being in a constant state of hyperarousal, or acute stress response, takes a toll on the body over time.

When you’re always running on the adrenaline (and excitement) of not knowing whether you’ll be “loved” or abused tonight, your body can suffer all sorts of medical consequences – adrenal fatigue, high blood pressure, increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. On top of all this, some victims of physical and emotional abuse go on to commit suicide if they don’t heal.

You’ll minimize psychological issues – Jennifer suffered tremendous bouts of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for several years after her abuse. Not to mention, she lost her sense of healthy boundaries after hers were violated again and again.

The world is a scary place when you genuinely don’t know where you end and another person begins. The longer you stay in the relationship, the longer it takes to recover from these issues.

STDs – If you’re with a narcissist, you must understand that he (0r she) has a pathological condition. His ego and self worth feed off elevating his status, in terms of appearances, money, and sex. Who knows, you might even be the “other girl” in one of his other relationships. And if he is, in fact, getting side action then you’re at risk of picking up whatever he brings home.

Protection for your kids – If you have children, it will be harder to protect them from his bad influences the longer they are around it and the older they get.

World Health Organization

It Will Be Hard, But These Tips Will Help


  1. Figure Out Where You’ll Stay and How You’ll Pay For It – If you rely on him financially, you may need to get creative. Check with close friends and family members who might be willing to give you a room for a little while. Make sure this person is someone who can show some grace and understanding for your situation, and support you rather than nagging you during this important time. (In return, you should be prepared to respect their rules and not bring trouble into their home.) Another option is to find a women’s shelter near you. At first this may seem dire, but this could actually be your best option, as they usually have resources and programs ready-made to help you get back on your feet. (Jennifer stayed in one for 6 weeks after leaving her abuser.)
  2. Block Him and Change All Passwords on Email & Social Media Accounts – A true Narcissist is capable of ANYTHING when he’s trying to keep you in his clutches. Along with changing all passwords, do a factory reset on your devices and install spyware. The especially crafty abuser will figure out that he can install remote spyware on your devices as a way to keep tabs on you. As much as you’ll be tempted to unblock him and see what he’s up to later, you must resist all urges. This is the slippery slope that leads right back to where you are now.
  3. Gather Together Any Documents with Sensitive Information He Could Use Against You – This goes for bank and credit card statements, driver’s licenses and passports. If you’re on any shared financial accounts, remove yourself and open a new one in your name only. Make copies of any documents you may need in the future like apartment lease agreements, utility account numbers, car titles, etc. (or take the originals with you if he doesn’t have a right to them). The goal here is to leave absolutely zero reasons that you would need to be in contact later. (Do this within legal bounds, and if you’re unsure consult an attorney).
  4. Schedule Your First 3 Weeks Down to the Hour – Your mind is going to wonder, and you’ll be tempted to contact him after the break if you’re not careful. Idle time will be your worst enemy for the first 3 weeks, so get a daily planner and fill up every waking hour with activities to occupy your thoughts. If you’re extroverted, you’ll want to have daily time with friends or at public events. If you’re introverted, go to the movies, get books, exercise. Take this time to work on that project you’ve been wanting to do, or rebuild your wardrobe.


This One Is Important


Do NOT Tell Him You’re Planning To Leave – Don’t even think about it. If he finds out, you might get loved-bombed until you lose your fortitude to leave. Or he may start sabotaging your ability to make a clean break. Or (and this is where it gets “serious as a heart attack”), he may resort to violence or even homicide.

Remember, a true Narcissist will go to ANY means to keep using you to feed his ego. This permanent break should be a complete surprise to him, and he should only find out through a one-way communication from you after you’re gone (email, for example). Leaving room for 2-way communication leaves you open to get sucked back in or end up in a violent situation.

I don’t mean to be a downer, but this is a very real threat for some people. If your abuser has been physically violent with you before and / or you think there’s any potential for him to resort to violence once you break the news, then you may want to consider notifying the police department and requesting a “civil standby” (this is when an officer stands by to keep the peace during a civil dispute). Do this if it’s necessary for you to end the relationship in person (although in-person notification should only be a last resort).


Accept The Reality of the Situation


I get it. You want him to know how much he hurt you.

You want to hear him genuinely feel bad and regret all the things he’s done and said to you. And you might even want to wish him well.

But he won’t hold sacred all the time you’ve spent together. There won’t be any true remorse on his part. That’s part of his condition.

You’ll need to find closure without his help.

And don’t cave in when he starts sending you nice notes or flowers. Of course he wants to keep you around. You’ve been his support, his crutch, and his punching bag. You’ve given everything he’s been willing to take, and he still wants it (even after he finds another girl, he’ll still want you around too if he can have you).

Don’t soften up for the purpose of one last conversation to get your closure. It won’t go the way you want it to.


Keep Your Guard Up


In her book How To Do No Contact Like A Boss, Kim Saeed shares from personal experience several ways that a Narcissist could react to finding out his “supply” has slipped away.

“…one can generally expect some or all of the following reactions from the Narcissist:

Pretending this is just another in a long series of quarrels – Though the Narcissist might believe that you’re really serious this time, he will give you the impression that he thinks it’s just another one of your typical “disagreements”, especially if it’s not the first time you’ve moved in with Mom (or with a sibling or friend)…

He might talk about future plans and how ‘when you come back, the two of you will…’ His aim in doing this is to make you feel sorry for him and put himself in a victim’s light, hoping to have you believe that you’ve overreacted to something he did or said.

Rage and Blame Storm – Narcissistic rage results from your threatening his sense of superiority and entitlement. He’s either always considered himself better than you or wanted you to believe he’s better than you, even if he doesn’t believe it himself. Either way, when you leave him, you threaten his ego and he will likely lash out with a verbal attack or blame storm, insisting that all of the problems in the relationship fall on you…

Remember: The rage is not about you, it’s about his perceived loss of power.

Smear Campaign – He will initiate conversations with your family, social circle, and possibly your co-workers which will consist of feigned worry for your mental health and your ‘questionable’ behaviors, to be followed by an attempt to paint you as an evil creature.

False Police Reports – Your ex may try to get back in your head by making formal accusations of unlawful behavior against you. He can also use the charges as a bargaining chip in order to get you back in his life. The filing of false charges doesn’t always happen, but it is a common occurrence; and it is one reason why it’s extremely critical that you involve the police from the start when necessary.

Vindictiveness – There are no limits to what an injured Narcissist is capable of…

  • Filing spiteful lawsuits for things they don’t care about for the sole reason of taking those things away from their former partner (including child custody and sentimental property)
  • Destroying sentimental heirlooms and keepsakes that belong to a former partner
  • Harming family pets
  • Threatening suicide
  • Emotionally abusing children to make their ex-partner stay
  • Slicing car tires and tampering with car engines
  • Breaking into a previously shared residence to destroy things or plant false evidence
  • Planting tracking devices on their ex’s vehicle”

…and the list goes on and on.

These words aren’t intended to scare you, but to make you aware of the possibilities. Heed these words as caution, and use them to help you prepare and strengthen your resolve because the next step can be just hard to take.


You Probably Never Saw This One Coming


Yes, withdrawal.

This may come as a surprise, but withdrawing from your ex is similar to withdrawing from addictive substances, as far as your brain is concerned.

I understand if you feel skeptical about that statement. It doesn’t seem like it should be hard to say “good riddance” to a monster, and being in a relationship is different than doing drugs.

But the fact is…

The average domestic violence victim will leave an abuser 7 times on average before staying away for good.

This is according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline.

(My sister, Jennifer, left 10 times before staying away for good.)

This is because victims become trauma bonded to their abusers (think Stockholm syndrome). The abuser put you on an emotional rollercoaster through gaslighting, control, and trick reward schedules. Your brain received intermittent doses of dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin during this rollercoaster ride, which overexcited your nervous system.

He knew how to play your emotions like a piano, and used the right amount of charm, punishment and excitement to suck you right in and keep you there while he had his way with you.

So, when you start to go without his mind-games, be prepared for the cravings to set in. Resist the temptation to contact him with every fiber of your being. This may lead to bouts of intense fear or depression (no joke, this really is like withdrawing from a chemical substance in many ways). Jennifer had severe depression in the months after leaving her abuser.

It’s common to obsessively ruminate over whatever led to the end of the relationship. This is because of the reward-and-punishment peptides that your brain created over the course of the relationship. This is also why I recommended scheduling the first three weeks of your time down to the hour, so you don’t leave room for your mind to wander.

You’ll reach a point where you can clearly see how undesirable it would be to go back to him, having zero motivation to do so. In order to get to this point, there are some things you should avoid…


Word to the Wise


Pretty please, don’t do any of the following unless you want to undo your hard work…

  1. Don’t leave him on your “friends” list so you can slyly show him how well you’re doing without him by posting pretty pictures. Don’t try to make him jealous or regret leaving you.
  2. Don’t ignore him for a little while as “punishment”, then unblock him and let him back in.
  3. Don’t ask your mutual acquaintances about how he’s doing or whether he’s dating someone else yet.
  4. Don’t tell everyone that you’re leaving him, then secretly communicate with him because you’re too embarrassed that you couldn’t stay away.
  5. Don’t leave open access for him to contact you by phone, text, or social media, and then decide whether or not you want to respond.

If you do any of these, you’re leaving yourself open to failure. And if you do end up back with him you may suffer some sort of “punishment” for leaving. Then you’ll have to start again from square one, but this time he’ll be more privy to your methods 🙁

Rewiring The Brain


Make it passed the first three weeks with no contact and you’ve accomplished a great big milestone!

But you’re not in the clear quite yet.

You’ll have a lot of little things to sort out, like getting used to a new living space, new routines, new people, etc. But to charge forward into long-term success (and not simply stay in survival mode), you’ll need to enter into a healing and recovery phase.

You’ve endured a lot of uncertainty and abuse. You’re like a front-line soldier coming home from war, used to seeing battle daily and constantly scouting for danger. You’ve become hypervigilant. You may even suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Therefore, all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings will bubble up to the surface and you’ll need to process them in a healthy way.

My sister, Jennifer, did a lot of things to help herself sort through this emotional baggage. She attended a recovery program that used Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to learn emotion-regulation (10 years later, she still says this was one of the most helpful things she did to heal). She also had Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, attended Al-Anon and Codependents Anonymous support groups, and started a detailed journal recalling the abuse she endured.

It was particularly helpful for her to write a detailed letter to her abuser articulating her complicated emotions, forgiving him, and then burning the letter (she did NOT give it to him, but used it as an exercise in forgiveness and to sort out her thoughts and feelings).

(Our Resources Page has several other resources and great books that are helpful during this period of healing.)

Resist The Temptation To Get Into Another Relationship Too Quickly

It’s a great idea to take at least 6 months (and perhaps even 12 months or longer) without any romantic interests. That means no dates, no creating or browsing profiles on or any other dating sites, don’t even hang out in clubs or bars.

Your number one priority at this point should be YOU. There’s not an obvious milestone or “rite of passage” you need to reach before it’s okay to date again. It may even be scary for you to date again, at first.

The best advice I’ve heard for dating is to do it according to the Relationship Attachment Model (RAM) developed by Dr. John Van Epp. It’s a simple premise. According to the model, there are 5 steps to a healthy relationship: 1) Know, 2) Trust, 3) Rely, 4) Commit, 5) Touch (sex). You should not enter a new step until you’ve completed the previous step. (I interviewed a program instructor all about it here.)

None of the serious relationships I had lasted before I knew about this model. As luck would have it, a couple weeks after I learned about this model I met my (future) wife, Wendy. I let her know early on that I intended to follow these steps, and she was completely fine with it. In fact, if your partner is not okay with following these steps, it may be a red flag that you should pay attention to.

Elephant In The Room

Now, I need to address the elephant in the room. “Sure, of course…” I can sense a lot of you nodding affirmatively that it makes perfect sense to Know before you Trust, Trust before you Rely, and Rely before you Commit. But who am I to tell YOU not to Touch (have sex) before the other four steps are in place, as if I’m trying to speak from some moral high ground.

To be clear, although most major religions advocate the practice of abstinence before marriage, the argument I’m making is not necessarily a religious one – I’m making it on the grounds that it is one of the most practical and pragmatic things you can do if you want to avoid falling in love with another jerk.

Sex bonds two people together by releasing neurohormones and neurohypophysial hormones (mainly dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin). Here’s an abstract from a scientific journal, and here’s a well-written article that explains how this works (neither of these sources is based on a particular religions’ rules or values).

The point is that when you have sex right away and start an emotional bond with that person, you may start to Rely on someone who’s not Trustworthy! (Sound familiar?!)

Thanks for allowing me to clarify. I truly just want to impress upon you how much sense this model actually makes.

With that out of the way, I leave you with one last tip for getting through this crucial time in one piece…



The best single resource I’ve found to permanently end an abusive relationship.

It has all the info you need to prepare, get out, and stay out, along with private, direct access to the bootcamp creator and a supportive group of other survivors.

The Essential Break Free Bootcamp


Through my research, I found an awesome resource created specifically to help people break free and stay free from toxic relationships.

Introducing The Essential Break Free Bootcamp

Like I mentioned above, people try to leave their abusers 7 times on average before they stay away for good. That means getting sucked back in 6 separate times, on average (my sister, Jennifer, went back 9 times before leaving for good). And each time Jennifer went back to her abuser, that meant another round of punishment for leaving, more trauma-bonding, and he got wiser to her tactics for leaving (so he tried even harder to keep her with him).

If we would have known 10 years ago what this bootcamp teaches, Jennifer might have saved as much as one year of her life. Regardless, we take what we learn the hard way and use it to help other people in our shoes.

Here’s a video I made showing what’s in the bootcamp, in case you’re interested!


Kim Saeed, the bootcamp creator, spent a lot of time putting this together (including lots of research and hard life lessons from being with an abusive ex-husband), so of course it comes with a price. Fortunately, it’s really affordable at $97.00 (and she’ll let you make 3 payments if you need to).

Do you absolutely need this bootcamp?

No, certainly not, but if you’re stuck in a never-ending pattern of pain and hopelessness, it could be one of the best investments you make at this juncture. A couple huge plusses are that 1) it’s a one-time payment (no recurring fees), and 2) it also gets you immediate access to a private group with Kim herself, and others who are going through a similar time in their lives. Kim also leads “live” monthly Q&A calls for anyone in the bootcamp who wants to join. That’s why I’m happy to mention this. It’s hard to find all this at that kind of price.

Additionally, Kim has assured me that she’ll provide your money back if you don’t like it for any reason within 30 days.

(Please note: as an affiliate of this product, I do receive compensation if you decide to purchase through my link. Please also note that I only mention products that I’ve personally reviewed or used, and find useful.)

Brian’s Break Free Bootcamp Bonus

If you’re planning to get this bootcamp through my affiliate link, as a thank you, I’d like to give you my Roadmap To Respect. It’s an infographic that puts some of the information in Kim’s bootcamp (along with my family’s personal experience) into a nice blueprint of 34 things you should do 1-2 weeks before you leave, right before you leave, when you leave, and the first 3 weeks after you leave. This will help you make sure you don’t miss any of the super important details you need to know during this crucial time period.

Again, this is available as a bonus to those who purchase through my affiliate link.

Just simply forward your receipt to and within 24 hours (pending anything crazy!) I’ll forward you a link to download the bonus in full resolution.


Thank You 


I truly hope you enjoyed this post. I spent over 20 hours putting it together and I hope this information will help you get out and move on as smoothly as possible.

If it has helped you in any way, please do me a favor and let me know in the comments section below, and also feel free to share this post on social media.

Keep Moving Forward!