After Leaving Your Abusive Relationship: Emotions to Expect

After leaving your abusive relationship, no one can predict your emotions exactly. But after some time of mentoring survivors, I’ve found many similarities between other survivor’s emotional experiences and my own. Fear of the unknown may be a factor in whether or not someone leaves their abuser. So I hope this post gives you a heads up about the emotions you might experience after leaving your abusive relationship.

After Leaving My Abusive Relationship, He Was Still There

Leaving an abusive relationship didn’t immediately change my life. I was gone, but I hadn’t left him. I obsessed over him and our marriage. I imagined conversations we might have the next time we met. I woke to his voice only to find he was not in the house. My heart raced around the time he would normally return home from work.

My old routines remained. I continued to fear doing something wrong that he would discover. I cleaned the house, bought his favorite foods, and budgeted the money he sent me for four despite having only three of us in the house (our kids and me). When he called, I was afraid not to answer. When he emailed, I emailed right back hoping I met his time schedule for responding.

I continued to behave as if he would come home any second. I lived in chaos, attempting to attend to an abusive husband who no longer lived in our home.

Retraining Myself After Leaving the Abusive Relationship

About 6 weeks after we split, I noticed how much time I spent waiting on his next move. I decided that I would no longer put off doing what I needed to do just in case he decided to contact me. This was not easy, and it didn’t happen overnight.

I trained myself to wait before answering or returning his calls and emails. I trained myself to recognize and cut his words out of my vocabulary. I trained myself to exude confidence when I saw him. I trained myself to react calmly to his insults and manipulations (see How Did You Brainwash Me?).

The hardest part about retraining myself to not react to his antics was realizing just how many of his opinions and actions I’d adopted as my own. Take for example his look of disgust when he saw the laundry basket sitting at the foot of the bed, clean clothes folded but not put away. When I saw that look, I hustled to get those clothes in their drawers.

So to retrain myself, I left a laundry basket on the bed for a full week. I lived out of that laundry basket. At the end of the week, the sky hadn’t fallen and no one was seriously injured. I started to feel better about ignoring housework to focus on other, more important issues (like how to support myself after the divorce).

Real Change Came After Leaving My Abusive Relationship

Once I forced my ex-abuser out of my head (or at least forced him out of a good bit of it), I could concentrate on the important things. For one, deciding how to support myself was scary! I didn’t have clue one as to where to begin. I didn’t want to work my life away as someone’s employee, but bit by bit, I began to realize that being an employee temporarily was probably the quickest way to an income. I didn’t know how to become an employee! Truly – I didn’t.

I found out about a class at the Small Business Association and took it. I learned that I had skills and how to document them on a resume. I learned how to look for suitable work, and I followed the advice from the class. I got a job doing something I loved to do, and took it despite its drawbacks.

Key Is To Keep Ex-Abuser At A Distance

During this time I kept him out of my plans. I didn’t tell him what I was doing. I didn’t share my thoughts or plans with him. I viewed him as our children’s father, someone who shared their lives with me, but he was no longer invited to peer into the rest of my life.

I desperately missed having someone with whom to share my hopes and fears, but I knew that sharing with my ex would only end in him twisting my words into a knife to thrust into my back. I called my sister more often. I went out with an old friend. I met a man and we had lunch. In short, I broke my isolation and forced myself to find other outlets for my needs.

About 6 or 7 months after I’d left that abusive marriage, my ex showed up at my house at 10 o’clock one night. He looked sad, but wouldn’t say why he was there. He wanted to come inside. I had detached myself enough to know that allowing him inside was the worst thing I could do. I told him that I had company, that it wasn’t a good time to visit.

He left and peeled out of my driveway in a flash.

I felt good. I really did! I took a look around: I had a job, I had a house. I had enough income to feed myself, our boys, and my cats. I had friends and family who checked in on me and whom I called just for fun. I wasn’t all the way healed, but I was a lot closer to it than I could have imagined half a year ago.

You can be happier, too. Be patient with yourself, but don’t look back to your abuser for comfort. When you find yourself second-guessing your decision to leave, think about the crap you used to tolerate and ask yourself if you want your abuser’s manipulative behaviors back in your life.

It’s normal to want to retreat, but it’s also normal to overcome abuse. You can do it.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so please do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized. This post is part of my story and my abuser was male.

You can also find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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114 Responses to After Leaving Your Abusive Relationship: Emotions to Expect

  1. It may feel like weakness, but really it is just your brain wanting what’s familiar. No matter how good you feel now that he’s gone, your brain wants you somewhere familiar so it doesn’t have to work so hard. Like you said, when he was there, the sick feeling was always there, too. In a weird way, your brain “misses” that sick feeling. It misses the emotion that used to fill its time.

    You (and the rest of us who have left) go through that, and we feel it as a feeling of “missing him” when in reality, it’s just your brain trying to get you somewhere familiar. Given time, your brain will rewire itself to accept the happiness and peace. And thank goodness, when that happens, you will be so relieved that your brain craves health instead of dysfunction.

    Tell your brain to shut up and let you do the navigating for a while.

  2. Robyn says:

    Thank you for writing this its is as if you have taken my thoughts my actions and feelings that I have experience over these last 6months and put them onto paper especially the retraining part that took me a while to get the strength to do but I’m proud of how far I’ve come and although the feeling of being alone is still here I know I’m not and with time my circle will grow the most upsetting part for me now is the realisation he never really loved me or our children I think that’s what is hurting the most the guilt I feel for them is unbearable & even though I know we’re better off without him it doesn’t make it hurt any less thank you for sharing this it really does help

  3. Debra Roberts says:

    I had an an awful time with two abusers who both abused me it was a mother and son team so this felt much worse than just the son it’s a long time ago now but I still have visions about the abuse it really brings me down.

  4. duduzile says:

    hi I need help

  5. mbalenhle says:

    hi I really need help in an abusive relationship I want to leave but its not that easy because my fiancé has paid the lobola and we have a baby boy his turning two year ,he have kids we staying with them (2)
    I don’t have a problem with the kids but where they are wrong I punish them,he becomes angry and wants to make decisions for me like play my role or tell me what to,his not supportive last time they broke at my mums house and they told me who did that when I tried to ask him to drop me at my mums house and look for those guys because I know their corners he refused ,I saw his ex girlfriend call in his phone he denied when I tell him its fine im going home move on with her im not the who fights for a guy he told me the true I even listened to their conversation then he apologised,last year august he was proposing my friend eish…December 2014 0n the 23rd he gave me a hot clap at news café nje …

    the reason im staying with him its because I fall pregnant 2014 and paid dowry(lobola) I wasn’t ready for that but scared of my parents and other thing im the only child at home,now competly changed, Im busy looking for a job but no luck ive diploma in boilermaking and Samtrac and I want to leave this relationship but its not easy because my mum said you have to be strong and remember they paid lobola if you just leave they gonna want it backyou don’t just do as you please…

    now im trying to find something that I will use it against him guess what I don’t find anything and now im tired like I cant stand for this im emotionaly hurt at my (25)age experiencing this its not easy

  6. Hi duduzile,

    The best place to find help is They have a chat service and a free phone number to call. Please use it.

  7. Rasheedah says:

    Hi. I’m a 39 year old woman currently in the process. I have been physically, emotionally, and financially abused. During our time together I finished a two year degree. (Diploma folded up in a box. I was made to believe that my accomplishments were trash. He had been in prison most of his adult life. So, yes I lived as his jail mate. I’ve tried to leave over 7 times. I have friends who have been very patient with me. I have finally decided that I deserve to be happy. No more being a slave. I’m leaving my state with two bags of belongings. I finally accepted the help of a long time friend who struggled to keep in contact with me. I have a one way ticket to freedom. I finally began to watch him verses complain or reason with him about his disrespect and lack of love. I really began to see him for what he really was, a master manipulator. Thank you all for sharing your stories it helps with dealing with the ” fear of the unknown”. As long as you draw breathe you have a chance to escape. Don’t give up on yourself!

  8. lovingmyself says:

    Hello, I am 20 years old and I just left an abusive relationship after about 3 and half years together. we have a tenth month old daughter which has made it very hard to leave. I didn’t want to be alone while pregnant or being a single mother and I think it’s that fear of not knowing what was going to happen to me and my daughter is what kept me from leaving. My mom is out of the picture(She ran off with a new fiance and he got her into drugs) I’ve been on my own since I was 18, but I’m still only 20 and had no one to talk to I felt Isolated. he made sure that I had no one to talk to, or that I felt I had no one but him. He isolated me from my family. They hated me for staying with someone who would treat me this way, and for not getting our daughter away from him. He is an alcoholic and for months if not the last year and a half maybe two. I have been supporting his addiction. He has the password to my online banking and all my pin numbers(so he would take my card and buy alcohol whenever he wanted) it made it to where we could not afford rent cause he had spent all his money and most of mine. We had to borrow money from his parents in order to pay our last months rent. We were going to sign another lease together, but his parent thought we should find someplace cheaper. I’m so glad they did, cause I decided then to start looking for a place with a girlfriend of mine.
    He’s been trying everything he can think of to get me back. He tried to suicide card, the jealous card, the I can take your daughter away card cause my parents make more money then your dad who’s living off disability. (we both temporarily moved into our parents. it’s been a few days now) Now he’s threatening to move away to Santa Barbara where he has a friend living there already. saying I will have to take care of Sky all by myself, which is what I want, but I” already be sharing rent to an apartment that is on the higher end of my price range, and now I have to afford day care… I work Mon-Fri 7am-4pm My daughter is at home currently with my older sister who is visiting, but I need to make other arrangements and I’m scared, I have no authority figure to tell me what to do. I’m supposed to know because I’m someones mom, but I need a little guidance in the right direction.

    ANY help or advice at all would be great!

    P.s. I didn’t go into detail about the abuse, but lets just say he’s not someone I want anyone else to be with. Unless he gets MAJOR help! I’ve had three concussions cause of him and my two front teeth got knocked halfway out. I triangle chip. He hit me while pregnant and in front of my daughter and while I’ve been holding her. I’ve left so many times, but I always end up going back to him. I think it was so hard cause I lived with him this whole time and we would wake up and he would act as if nothing had happened. half the time he blacks out and doesn’t remember anything and cries like a baby asking for forgiveness cause he doesn’t remember and would never really do that or mean that. For some reason I’d always go back! and it makes me feel like a terrible mother! I don’t want this to affect my daughter negatively. She’s the happiest baby I’ve ever met and just a pure angel. I’d like to keep her that way.

    anyways, this is longer then I wanted it to be.

    Thanks in advance for anyone who responds!it is GREATLY appreciated.

  9. Christina says:

    I was married to a man for 20 years about 2 months into our marriage he was first verbally abusive then came the physical abuse about 5 1/2 years ago we divorced. about 2 1/2 years ago i started dating and man it was horrible then on a fluke thing I met this wonderful man that treats me like a queen. he proprosed last christmas and we got married sept 2, 2016. but I was fine with our relaionship we had been living together for about a year and half but something in me thought to myself what am I doing have I lost my mind. I became withdrawn and started seeing a therapist we got married but there are times that old bad memories pop up and I think that my wonderful new husband is unfortunatly getting the but end of that stick how do i get over it and not treat my new woderful man or make him feel like helives in the shadow of my ex husband??

  10. Erin says:

    My abuser has been to prison 4 times for domestic violence this last incident hediddnt get locked up . I asked him to leave . But its so hard i feel like i cant move forward like i just cant.. i love him but i hate him . I just dontveven know what to do any more im so alone to my kids i try and be happy but im broken .. ive tried dating but i cant even let b anyone touch me it makes me b feel sick .. i feel so stupid at the start i called called him but ive stoped im so scared sucide keeps coming to my mind but i have two kids .. im sorry just feel the worst

  11. michelle says:

    I just left my after 22 years of verbal abusive relationship. I have left several time before and returned back to this very toxic relationship. I feels so weak to this man. I find that my life is just a big circle u always end back in the same place.I feel like I just wasted half of my life doing nothing. confused and scared that he will try to talk his way back in my life. I know I deserve a better life then living I confusion now knowing what is going to set him off. I just prayer that the lord give my the strength that I need stay strong and not go back.

  12. Loveiskind says:

    There are a lot of similarities between our abusers. I moved from the town that he lives but I made the mistake of inviting him to my new house. This was in July. Now it’s November. There has been 5 different times that he has put his hands on me. This last time was the worst. He almost killed me. He was very intoxicated but that is no excuse.
    You mention there is physical abuse. It may not happen everyday, but it’s only going to get worse. I tried to get him to leave over the span of three days. I was counting down the hours until he had to go to court. I kept telling myself “I only have to survive this 5 more hours” It was a nightmare. There is nothing you can say or do that will help him. He needs serious therapy which is a process. The guidance I’m giving you is to make a plan(I’m happy you have your sister and friend) separate from him, once you make that commitment, do not listen to his false promises that he has changed..him getting healthy will take a long time if he decides to get help. Once you do get away from the relationship, you will go through a broad range of emotions. Be patient with yourself, love yourself, care for yourself, and your daughter. Also, counseling for survivors of domestic violence will help.

    I see you posted over a month ago. I hope you read this. Remember, it is not your fault, you cannot save him, and you do not deserve any abuse no matter the situation. Also it only gets worse. Please get out a sap. Good luck to you. God bless

  13. Rose says:

    I left, first week of July now it’s November. I was unfortunately tolerating and so scared of the emotional and financial abuse. I always rationalized the negative behaviour and insults. I Believed that he was always right and I was crazy.
    But now, I love myself alot. Took my gals with me .I love and miss him but I would rather be happy, instead, of thinking that am crazy and blaming myself.
    Ladies, you can do it. Love/Respect/Believe in
    yourselves first

  14. Emma says:

    This has helped me and is a comfort. I got myself out of what I think was an emotionally abusive relationship and have had no contact for 8 weeks until a moment of weakness this wkend. I felt weak and craved him and what he was to me at the time and contacted him. I know I won’t see him and probably won’t do that again but it shocked me that I’d come so far then had a big set back which almost let him into my head again. I am still struggling to work out if he really was that bad, if it was abuse, or if it came from a good place but was just so intense at times. I don’t want to be wrong about him and to have missed being truly loved. This is how he has made me feel

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