How to Prepare to Leave an Abusive Relationship
Content warning: this article makes references to abusive relationships, particularly those where financial abuse is in play. If you are experiencing financial (or any kind of) abuse, there is help out there for you. You are not alone, and you are not to blame. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. Reach out to organizations like Purple Purse and the National Network to End Domestic Violence for information, resources, and support.
I want to start this article by saying that I am not an expert when it comes to abusive relationships. I haven’t worked in this field and I haven’t experienced abusive relationships myself. So I will do my best in this piece, but if I miss the mark, please let me know. If you have additional pieces of advice, please share in the comments. I also want to reiterate that you should reach out to advocates working in this field for additional support. See a list of those resources at the bottom of this piece. Plus, you should always take the actions that you feel will keep you the most safe. If you feel that it’s not safe to leave, do what is best for you. And please, please reach out for support.
I’ve written over the last two weeks about which financial hurdles keep women from leaving abusive relationships and what financial abuse might look like. But this week, I want to talk about strategy when it comes to leaving an abusive relationship. This is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good place to start.
Understand Your Financial Standing
This is especially important if you are married to your abuser. If you plan to leave the marriage and file for divorce, it’s helpful to know the financial facts before you leave, because you can use this information during the divorce proceedings to make sure you get your fair share. Make a list of all of your bank accounts (individual and joint), including the account numbers and balances, your credit cards and other debts, and any investment accounts. It might be even better to get screenshots of the accounts as proof of what is available to you.
Collect Important Documents
Making a fresh start in your life requires you to have access to all of your important documents. Your identification is a big piece of Plus, if you want to open new accounts, travel, or apply for loans, you’ll need identification. Make a plan to start rounding up documents such as:
Birth certificate and those of your children
Social security card and those of your children
Driver’s license or other ID
Car title and registration
Rental lease agreement or mortgage/deed information
Bank account numbers
Investment account numbers
If you don’t think you can safely collect these items without your abuser noticing, you should at least take pictures or make copies of them.
Start Saving Money
I’m a big believer that money is a key to freedom. In fact, one of the big reasons I decided to start my business is that I want to help women have the financial literacy and resources they need in order to build financial stability so that they can make their own decisions. And as I wrote over the last two weeks, money can be a big hurdle when it comes to getting free from abusive relationships. But as much as you can safely, it’s important to start setting aside money and saving it so that you can afford to leave the relationship. It’s also important, especially if you’re married, to maintain access to shared assets. Open up a bank account in your own name only, preferably at a bank that is not connected to any accounts you share with your abuser. Start saving money or moving money from your existing accounts into that account so that only you have access to it.
Change Your Passwords
If the passwords on your financial accounts, email accounts, and social media accounts are known by your abuser or saved on devices, it’s a good idea to change those passwords. If you leave and your abuser still has access to these important accounts, they could wreak havoc, or worse, track your movements. Change your passwords and remove the password storage option on your accounts. Related to this, if you’re worried that your abuser is monitoring your computer or phone use, you should try to use devices that they don’t have access to. This could be a computer at a public library or the computer or phone of a friend.
Reach Out to Loved Ones
In many abusive relationships, abusers use isolation as a tactic to have complete control over their victims. This can often harm relationships that victims had with family members, friends, and other loved ones. If this has happened to you, you might think that your loved ones don’t want to hear from you. You might think that they don’t want to help you. I guarantee you that there are people out there who miss you, who love you, who are worried about you, and who want to support you. As you’re preparing to leave an abusive relationship, start reaching out to your loved ones. Let them know that you miss them, that you love them, that you need them. You might be surprised to learn how many people out there want to help you. This is especially important if you know that you’ll need somewhere to stay once you leave. Once you contact loved ones, ask several of them if you can contact them if you need a ride, a place to stay, or help contacting the police. To take it one step further, it’s recommended that you memorize the phone numbers of a few people in case you don’t have access to your cell phone when you need them.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I am not an expert when it comes to leaving abusive relationships. It’s so important that you have the information, advice, and support that will keep you as safe as possible while you make this decision. If you can, try to involve an expert while you’re preparing. See below for organizations that you can reach out to.
Resources for support: