How and When to Leave an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health emotional and verbal abuse can have short-term and long-lasting effects that are just as serious as the effects of physical abuse.

Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). I was within this exact age span when I was involved in an abusive relationship. Therefore, I want to focus on this age group, and also on the early stage of emotional abuse, when it may be easier to leave such a situation. Once you are married and have children with an abuser, things become terribly complex. It is far easier to leave earlier than later in your relationship.

What are some of the signs that you should leave?

  • You feel fear of your partner.

  • You find yourself doing things you don't wish to do because your boyfriend or spouse has bullied you.

  • You feel like you are a criminal for doing normal things that everyone else does like spending time with family or friends.

  • You feel like you have to walk on eggshells as to not upset your partner.

  • Others have noticed a dramatic change in your demeanor, appearance, and self-esteem as a result of being in this relationship.

  • You feel as though you can't do anything right for your partner.

  • You feel guilt, shame, and badly about yourself after spending time with this person.

  • You no longer do things for yourself; you are always doing things for this other person.

  • You feel trapped by him and the situation.

  • You feel disrespected and demeaned by your boyfriend or spouse.

The bottom line is that if he treats you poorly now, this will only continue and could possibly escalate to physical violence. It doesn't get better. I can speak from experience.

I was in my relationship with an emotionally abusive boyfriend for seven years. Near the end he was becoming physically abusive, as well. I wasted so much of my valuable young life with this person who did not respect or cherish me.

Love is never abusive. Love is never controlling.

I hope you will trust your gut and get out of such a situation early on. You cannot change him. You can only change yourself. Part of this change may be to leave.

And now for the hard part.
Once you have made up your mind to get out, how do you do so?

1. Get support. You are going to need all the support you can muster because you can be sure that your abusive partner is not going to make it easy. You might hear apologies, hear pleading that he will change. You might even see tears. Or he may choose to threaten you. When I broke up with my boyfriend, I did it with his family present. Perhaps this was more humiliating for him, but I felt safer this way. I also told my friends and family that I was breaking up with him so they could help me if there was any trouble.

2. Have a place to go. I made sure that I had friends to stay with following our break up. Find a safe place to be and, if at all possible, somewhere he doesn't know about. If you are a teen at home with parents, be sure to tell your parents about your break up.

3. Have a job and/or money if you are not living at home with your parents.When I decided to break up with my boyfriend, I finally had a good job and was able to support myself. It is a really good idea that you reclaim any money that is yours or bank accounts before leaving. It is to your advantage to strive to be financially independent. This will give you a lot more freedom in the long run.

4. Be committed to the break up. Don't be wishy-washy. If you show signs of weakness now, he will pounce on these and manipulate you to coming back to him. Chances are, you have been in this place before, ready to leave, and then he promised he would change. You know from experience that this is highly unlikely to happen. Be strong. You can do this.

5. Be safe. If you have to, change your phone number, your email address, and online passwords. Do what you need to do in order to protect your safety and well being.

I would be lying if I told you that leaving your abusive partner is easy. It is not. I was stalked for some time at my work and at new apartment following my break up. One scary evening my ex-boyfriend showed up outside my apartment building. He had climbed the fire escape, was calling my name, and was trying to look into my windows. My sister called the police and then he finally left me alone.

I feel that if I had left early on as in years before, it would not have escalated into such drama.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it? Don't make the mistakes I made. Get out when you can.


Here are some resources should you need extra assistance with this.
Please do enlist all the help and guidance you can because I know from experience that this is not easy.

  • The National Domestic Hotline:
    1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224. Just because he doesn't hit you, doesn't mean he isn't abusive. If you need help getting away from an abusive boyfriend, call (800) 799-SAFE.

  • The National Teen Abuse Hotline: 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453. This site is a 24-hour resource that utilizes telephone and web-based interactive technology to reach teens and young adults experiencing dating abuse. The peer-to-peer online individual chat function is available from 4 p.m. to midnight and can be accessed from the website.

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."