December 2012 _ I’m not a doctor, therapist or educator. I’m just a survivor who wants to help others get out of the pain of abuse. So here is what I did, and it worked for me:
1. Get into therapy, alone, not with your abuser. It must be a great therapist. There are a lot of bad ones. It must be someone who really cares about you and shows it. It must be someone who knows something about personality disorders and abuse. It must be someone who will listen, but also give you advice. I also highly recommend a woman. If she doesn’t cut it, change doctors and keep changing until you find someone you trust.
2. Find an attorney who has experience dealing with abusers and is willing to fight in court if necessary. Ask a lot of questions and spend a lot of time interviewing at least three different attorneys. You will not want to, but it really, really matters in the future.
3. Begin to build depth in your life outside of your relationship. Join a gym. Take classes. Go to church. Get involved. You won’t want to, or your abuser won’t want you to. But you need to do it, so find a way. I went to college and learned a new career. I also was making a lot of friends.
4. Create independence in your life. Get a job. Open a savings account in your name. Get a car, even a used one. You will have a very hard time leaving if you are 100% dependent on your partner. Again, you won’t want to, but you need to. I got a job, bought a new car with the money I earned, opened my own bank account, got a cell phone. Once I started, I was moving quickly to get it. My ex was complacent because we had been married for so long. He didn’t really take notice until it was too late. The last thing I did was buy the car and I put it only in my name. I can’t remember what I told him to get away with it, but do it. He was starting to catch on that I was growing past him, but by then, it didn’t matter.
5. Speak to the attorney and make the exit plan with the attorney BEFORE you speak to your partner. You need to keep him in the dark, completely. Do NOT tell him anything. Don’t try to get his attention by threatening to leave. And frankly, if you are doing this to hope he will change, then don’t do it. You aren’t ready. You need to be willing to look out for only you and your kids at this point. You are trying to get out safely and you must keep that from him.
6. Have a plan of where you are going to live. In your home and ask him to leave or move out. I made a plan to leave the city with the kids and put our home on the market. I had everything worked out before I told my husband. I had worked it out with the attorney first. I had a job lined up in the new city and schools for the kids before I ever said anything to my husband.
7. Lie to your partner rather than confront him about what you are doing. I told my husband that we should look at the new city as a possible place to live in order to explain my plans. I could only keep so much to myself. I showed him all the pluses of the city and the great schools for the kids. He agreed that it was a wonderful place. I started telling friends that we might move there, then that we were moving there, and so on so that I could make it a decision that we both made ahead of any divorce. These games are painful, but necessary for your survival. My husband bought into the move before I told him I wanted a divorce.
8. Get full custody of the kids. It is very, very important to get as much about the children in writing and upfront! Do not lie to yourself that your husband wouldn’t ever use the kids against you, or that your children are somehow off limits as pawns to your husband. Remember, this is a person who used you over and over again to get what he wanted. Shouldn’t you have been off limits? He will use the kids. Maybe not at first, but he will. My ex-husband sued me 6 years after our divorce for custody. He lost, but not before 8 months of hell as we prepared for trial. It was the worse 8 months of my life. It was only because I had the sense to get full custody in the first place that it ended OK. But, in my state the custody laws changed and put my kids in real danger. But, again, I learned my lesson and got a VERY detailed court order about the children, the time they spend with us, and so one …. it is 12 pages of details! And I have had to use those details time and time again to keep my ex-husband to stick to the boundaries.
9. Be prepared. Read blogs like this one. Read about divorce and the laws in your state. Get to be an expert on it all. You won’t want to, but even good attorneys will give you so much time. You must be your own advocate.
10. Call the police and speak to someone about your ex-husband and what he is capable of. They won’t likely do anything about it. But, you will be on the record in case he does something. Take pictures of bruises. Better yet, if your husband is in the apology phase of his illness, get him to write you a letter stating it. I had dozens of such letters and it saved me in court! He admitted his abuse.