What's the Timeline to Leave an Abuser?

September 30, 2011 Kellie Jo Holly

Once victims realize they're being abused, many of us immediately think, "I've gotta get out of here!" And the pressure's on the victim to DO something about the situation. Right now.

We know abuse victims often return to their abuser many times before leaving (if they do leave). We know our family, friends, and society tells us to "Get Out Now!" We know we want to leave. We know we fear the abuser on many levels as much as we fear being without them. We know that leaving is an option . . . but at what cost?

Leaving an abuser is not always an immediately viable option, but everyone outside of ourselves (and our abuser) seems to think you must leave NOW. When you realize your partner abuses you, the only answer supported by others is you packing your bags and walking away into the "good for me" sunrise. And we victims buy into that idea, and that's when a new kind of self-punishment begins.

Staying Strategies: It's Okay to Stay (?!)

selfpunishmentI've got news for everyone of you who is afraid to leave your abusive relationship right now. It is okay to stay. You can stay in the relationship and strengthen your understanding of abuse and your skill of detaching from it. It is okay to give yourself time to create a leaving strategy - one that will work for you (in the case of physical abuse there is not as much time).

The last thing you want to do is fall into "Oh My God I'm Such A Failure, I Can't Even Leave!" mental self-flagellation. Yes, you can leave, when you're ready. If you're not ready, then you're not ready! Giving yourself time to plan your departure is a realistic solution.

And, I hate to say it, but finding a way to stay while working within the confines of your relationship is also an option. Come on, don't look at me with your mouth hanging open. We all know of 60 and 70 year old people who never left their abusive mates and proclaim to all the world that they wouldn't know what to do without them.

Staying forever is possible. Planning a staying strategy is an option. You could also create a Long-Term Plan if you're not ready to leave right now but see the need to leave on the horizon.

But First, Create Emergency Plans and a Safety Plan

Right off the bat, I'm going to tell you that my Staying Strategy did not work. After my staying strategy began falling apart, my long-term plan didn't work either. We've all attempted a staying strategy, so I'm not going to discuss it it. But the long-term plan could work, in theory.

My long-term plan involved me not tolerating abuse of any kind. At first, I thought I would give him a chance to figure out where his mistakes were (ha!). I created emergency plans based on new boundaries I set for myself. Having boundaries will not go over well with your abuser, so you'll need emergency plans to help support the new idea that you mean what you say.

An emergency plan supports your boundary. If you say, "I won't listen to you while you call me names," then you need a way to back it up. Your emergency plan lays out all the ways you could back up that statement (go to another room, put on headphones/music, drive away, etc.). Emergency plans allow you to leave temporarily if you must.

Most likely, after enacting one of your emergency plans, you will find that your return home is unpleasant. Your abuser, instead of calming down, may have riled themselves up. If you sense for a second that your abuser could lay their hands on you, then you've got to have a safety plan to aid your escape.

Safety plans involve things like hiding a car key, having a bag packed and a friend ready to help or the number to the people who can get you into a safe house. They're more involved than emergency plans for good reason.

But, after preparing the emergency plans and a solid safety plan, you're free to enact your long-term staying strategy.

Long-Term Plans for Abusive Relationships

In essence, your long-term plan IS your emergency and safety plan with a deadline. You must find a way to protect yourself from the abuse while living in the same house with your abuser. Keep in mind that a long-term plan will take an emotional and physical toll on you; but we already know about that after having stayed as long as we have, so I won't go into it.

Your long term plan involves a time-line. In my case, I was a stay-at-home mom with two years of college and little (no) job experience. I planned to go back to school (despite what he said), enter into a career, and then, if my strategy to help him see the error of his ways was unsuccessful, leave him. I hoped I wouldn't have to leave, but I planned to do so if needed. I gave myself a three year time-line.

Like I said, my long-term plan didn't work. You see, after making my plans and sticking to my boundaries, I began to look at our relationship in a different way. It was less important what he thought he controlled because I felt more in control of myself. I felt my support system firmly with me. And the night he put his hands on me, I left for good because I had told him that I would.

The point of this is to tell you that the only way to change your mind, the only way to relinquish your fear, is to find your courage to put your foot down. This happens bit by bit, one small step at a time. Your time-line to leave is different from mine and all other peoples' plans. It's yours, it's special, and it's okay to honor it.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2011, September 30). What's the Timeline to Leave an Abuser?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

Rayelle Bishop
December, 12 2015 at 9:11 pm

I am in an emotionally abusive relationship. He has had a lot of girls that he flirts with. And he has tried to do stuff with one infront of me. Plus, I am encouraged to interract with men. But I get the shaft later. I also received a text from him a while back. He told me to meet with him. It was our favorite place at nite. When I walked towards the beach, I heard moaning and two girls laughing. I cried since. And he has sprained my wrist three times in bed, choked me once, and jabbed my ring into my eye, using my finger. I went to the e.r. Then, one of his friends rapped and threatened me. He has got the police turned on me. I am without a liscense, car and I'm trying to finish school. He has told me that he would put me in a psych ward. And he calls me stupid, crazy, psycho, psychotic and pathetic. And I would be left in a group home, where another emotional abuser first left me, before my new bf took me to stay. I am also in a small community. I am broke. He has a lot of police friends.

June, 12 2012 at 3:53 am

I had a timeline of 5 years Maximum before leaving my abusive husband. My Abuser had a timeline of his own of 3 years in which he would try & make me a submissive wife & "mother of his child" after which if he couldn't have his ideal wife - he would get a 2nd wife which I declared I would never tolerate and so he left me to seek the new wife & "child".
A personal timeline will help clear the mind, boost confidence/assertiveness and allow you to see/feel the "light at the end of the tunnel" making the abuse seem external of you (environmental impact) rather than internal (i.e. abuser affecting your emotions/actions) where it impacts you more.
I guess what I'm trying to say is it helps you to detach yourself.

Karen R.
October, 2 2011 at 4:41 pm

This post was extremely timely because I have analyzed and analyzed my situation, confided in friends and yet at the end of the day I'm still here. I have been in an abusive marriage for over 18 years. I have shamed myself about it because although I don't feel it is a healthy choice for me, I am not ready to leave. This post gives me grace as I am patient with myself and not beat myself up.

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