1 in 3 women experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lives.
1 in 4 men will experience the same.
You may already be a part of this staggering statistic. Perhaps you fear a friend will be, soon.
Maybe—like most of us—you have clicked on this article because the “A” word, in many ways, rings of taboo in our culture. Curiosity, a dash of fear, and some common sense brought you here.
Whatever the case, I’m here to talk about the “A” word, and I mean to talk about it in force.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, I’m writing this for you.
I wish I could welcome you into more comfortable lodgings. There aren’t enough windows here, I know. The tablecloth needs ironing. I don’t want to talk about what’s in the closet.
At the very least, I’ll make you a cup of tea. I keep lots of options on hand for this very reason. Have a seat.
You may still be in this relationship. You may already be out.
Regardless, you are now part of a beautiful third. More women than you realize have been here. You may wish to brush this statement aside. After all, statistics can quickly dry out matters like this.
But I want you to know that in the weeks, months, and years ahead, you will train yourself to not be surprised when your therapist, your yoga teacher, your professor, and your neighbor all tell you that they have been here, too.
You will start to count the women in your life who have not been abused, assaulted, or otherwise victimized.
The beauty of this lies in community. You are part of a thriving, empowered, healing third.
And, oh yes, I’ve been here, too. I know exactly what this feels like.
Right now, this may not seem to matter. If I’m excited for you, it’s because I’m eager for you to realize how loud the voices of this third are. We don’t whisper here. We shout.
You matter more.
Some will say that women are natural empaths.
This means that we are apt to give in social situations, to be emotionally responsive, and to deliver satisfying rebuttals.
Not all women are like this. Not all men are, either.
The first time my partner left bruises on my wrists, I told myself that our love mattered more.
I had somehow committed a grave error, and I would do my utmost to reverse it. In the grand scheme of things, a small bruise hardly mattered.
It’s more difficult to say that you are above the bruises. It’s harder to lay claim to what matters to you—namely, your well-being, your future, your imperfectly perfect self.
Not all abusive relationships are physical. Some of the most devastating abusive relationships are emotionally violent, in which one partner manipulates and deceives to diminish and control the other.
No matter what bruises you have tolerated—and are tolerating—you are more important.
Whether you choose to stay or to go, at the end of the day, your life should come out on top.
Talk to an objective party.
You may have already reached out to family members, friends, or colleagues about this. Perhaps you are afraid to say the word “abuse.” Perhaps you’ve already heard it from worried besties or concerned uncles.
These people love you and are here for you. But consulting an objective party can give you valuable insight into what comes next (and where you are now).
An objective party is someone who does not know you or your partner beyond basic details.
Begin by calling a domestic violence hotline. I did. The woman on the phone was kind and she listened patiently from her non-profit office somewhere in some city.
I realized when I called her that I wanted her to say “abuse” so that I could have a reason to leave. I wanted this neutral voice to say, Yes. It’s time to go.
In that wanting, I already had my answer. The woman did not tell me that I was in an abusive relationship, but she acknowledged “red flags.” That was what I needed to hear.
Craft an escape plan.
Before you say it, I’m not overreacting.
19% of domestic violence involves a weapon. And some of these incidents are fatal.
Having an idea, even a vague notion, of what an exit might look like is crucial. Even if your partner is not physically abusive, this does not preclude violence.
Your escape plan is your life insurance, even if the situation does not seem immediately dangerous.
And, speaking of insurance, you should have a medical plan in place, too. Seriously. Learn more here.
Your escape plan should be as specific as possible. Begin by identifying a domestic violence shelter near you. This is particularly valuable for women with children or other dependents.
Compile an “escape bag” with essentials, including official identification documents, toiletries, a change of clothes, an extra phone and charger, cash, and any valuables.
For some women, this may not be feasible, so, at the very least, mentally practice gathering essentials prior to departure.
(I kept mine locked in my car.)
Familiarize yourself with any apartment complex or building exits. Know how to connect with your local emergency providers or sheriff’s department. Identify transportation solutions.
Above all, know who to call. Choose that one emergency contact who can be there for you if you need to flee. This could be a domestic violence hotline.
Read this book.
I wish I had read this book when I was in the midst of my abusive relationship. I felt as if I was reading my partner’s biography.
It is particularly useful for women who are unsure if their partner really is “abusive.” It became my bible in the months of healing after leaving my partner.
Enough said. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover.
The abuse is never “gone.”
When I did confront my partner about his abuse, I nursed the flicker of a hope that we could untangle this together. I believed all this was part and parcel of typical domestic miscommunication.
However, these confrontations only nurtured the cycle of abuse further. My partner refused to acknowledge his actions, and many of these conversations resulted in physical violence.
Abusers can seek therapy and other psychological assistance to relinquish abusive tendencies. However, the number of individuals who successfully emerge from such programs is frighteningly small.
Abusive relationships are, I’m afraid, always abusive. Partners may dance in and out of abusive behavior, but the tenor will remain the same.
I say this in case you are thinking about staying. I pass no judgment. I get it—that desire to be with the one you love is overwhelming, unique, nuanced.
However, if you’ve noticed the patterns of abuse, those patterns are likely not circumstantial. They are the trademark of an inevitable, difficult future.
Oh, and you won’t be able to change it. Don’t think about trying, like I did.
This will change your life.
I’m here writing this to you, from my heart, because my life was changed by this. I can tell you that in many ways, it has been changed for the better.
Your timeline is different from mine. Perhaps you’re already changing. Perhaps change has yet to come.
All I can say is to open your heart to this change. Lean into it—try to grow. It will teach you if you let it.
And it’s going to be okay.
Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Embrace yourself.
Rinse and repeat. You are worthy.
Help is here.
Besides the innumerable hotlines out there, help is available. All it takes is one conversation, text, or thought.
But receiving that help has to come from you. Although I had so many people in my life telling me to “get out,” I didn’t until I felt confident in doing so.
This is about you, lady. But the good news is, we’re all cheering you on. Me most of all.