Adulting: Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Leaving an abusive relationship is difficult; having a step-by-step plan can help.  

Deciding to leave an abusive relationship requires a huge leap. Karina Rutova, assistant director at The Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services, offers the following advice for individuals who might be apprehensive about making a change. She suggests, “Ask yourself, how do you see your life staying with the abusive partner? In five years? In ten years? This might help you make the right decision.”

It is okay to feel overwhelmed by all the details that need to be in place before you can make a change. There are a variety of resources out there to help keep you safe and put you on track to live life without fear of domestic abuse. Here are the most important steps you can take to help you safely leave an abusive relationship. 


STEP 1: Develop a personal safety plan.

Each relationship is different. Because of that, your safety plan should be unique to your specific situation. Don’t go at it alone. Talk to an advocate who is an expert in domestic abuse and can help you develop a personal safety plan. These professionals are trained to help you come up with a plan that keeps your protection a priority. (See Ready to leave? below.)

STEP 2: Think ahead.

Rutova works with many people each week who are in abusive situations. “From my experience, when possible, it is better to leave an abusive situation before the crisis happens, rather than during the crisis,” she says. “It’s good to think in advance about how to safely leave the home. For example, keep important documents handy to grab quickly and keep them with trusted friends or in a rented safety deposit box.” 

STEP 3: Know where you are going to go.


Rutova shares that securing a safe place to stay after you’ve cut ties with the abuser is one of the most important steps, especially because this usually involves advance preparation. “It takes time to rent an apartment even with resources, public benefits may not cover the rent, domestic violence shelters in the area are often at capacity … speaking to an advocate before leaving might .help you to learn about various resources,” she says.  

STEP 4: Determine if a protective order or restraining order is necessary.

These can be very helpful in keeping you and your kids safe. Restraining orders are filed to keep someone from doing something and are commonly seen in divorce cases. Protective orders are used to keep someone safe from a dangerous person. 

An attorney or domestic violence advocate can help you discuss if either of these options is appropriate for you and your specific situation.  

STEP 5: Have a “go bag” ready.

Keep an emergency bag ready that you can use in case you need to make an unexpected quick escape. This should include cash, extra clothing, prescriptions, snacks and toiletries. Store it in a safe place away from your partner, such as at a friend or family member’s house.

Ready to leave? Find help here.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.

The Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services:

Bradley Angle Resource Center:

Call to Safety: 24-hour crisis line: 503-235-5333,

Raphael House of Portland:

West Women’s Shelter:

Brooke Strickland
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