Are You in An Abusive Relationship? Here's How to Safely End It

If you know or suspect you’re in an abusive relationship and are ready to leave, here are some safe steps you can take

If you’re reading this article because you suspect you might be in an abusive relationship, or you know for certain you are and are seeking help, first know that you are taking a courageous step, and that there are resources out there to help you.

The relationships that take place inside your home—from romantic partnerships, to familial ones—should make you feel the safest, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. Rates of domestic abuse have even spiked since the pandemic began.

Kate Koei has a masters in counselling psychology and specializes in supporting people of all cultural backgrounds who have chosen to stay in or leave abusive situations. “Domestic abuse can be experienced by anybody,” she says. “It’s not limited to any person in particular. There’s not a category of people who are abusers, or abused.”

With that truth in mind, enter into the following information knowing that any abuse you’ve suffered is not your fault, was not deserved, and does not reflect your value.

Types and Signs of Domestic Abuse

First, let’s outline what “counts” as abuse, since many downplay their experiences due to associated stigma. “A common thing that people tell themselves is ‘it is not abuse, I'm just hypersensitive’,” says Kate. “Because a lot of times that’s what your abuser will tell you.”

Domestic abuse can be verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, financial, or a combination of these types. It can show up in how someone controls what you wear, who you speak to, if you can practice your religion. Just because you don’t have physical marks doesn’t mean the abuse isn’t serious, though that’s often the barometer for whether abuse is taking place or not. “By the time a person is being physically abused, they have already been psychologically, emotionally abused,” says Kate.

Some signs you might be in an abusive relationship:

  • You feel like you’re walking on eggshells or needing to change who you are to be able to accommodate another person
  • You always find yourself convincing someone or explaining your behaviour
  • You’re being told what to wear, who you can and can’t speak to, or where you can or can’t go
  • You’re afraid of the person
  • You’re being physically harmed
  • You’re being sexually coerced or touched without your consent

If any of the above signs resonate with your experience, know it is not your fault.

How Abusers Work

Abusers use many techniques in an attempt to control and manipulate the people they abuse. Here are some methods you might have experienced.

Belittling and Name Calling

One way abusers shrink people down is through belittling, name calling, and putting others down. “For those who have been emotionally abused,” says Kate, “they have been broken down to a place where they almost feel like they’re nothing.” This treatment makes it easier for an abused person to believe they deserve what they’re experiencing, even though they do not.


Though the more recently popular term is often misused, true gaslighting is a tactic abusers use to make someone else question what they know. This manipulation creates confusion. “They deny, or say you misunderstood, or you’re imagining things,” says Kate. “You’re so confused about what’s happening to you that you question your reality.”


Keeping you away from friends and family, not allowing you to engage with community or social groups like your church or your coworkers, or moving you away from your support system are all ways that abusers attempt to isolate you. “People who abuse you do not want you to be able to check in with other people who will tell you that what you’re experiencing is wrong or will question what's happening to you,” says Kate.

Safe Steps You Can Take to Leave

First, you should know that it takes seven attempts on average to leave an abusive partner, so if you’ve wanted to leave before but couldn’t, or have left before and returned, that is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed about.

The reason it’s so difficult to leave is because the abuser has ensured the abused person relies on them in many ways—for emotional support, financial support, self-worth, and more. But the tactics mentioned above are forms of emotional manipulation to try to convince you that you wouldn't be fine on your own or with anyone else, when that’s not the case.

If you want to leave, here are some steps you can take to do it safely.

  1. Build connections outside of your situation: It’s likely you’ve been isolated, so reconnecting when possible can help you build the support you need to leave. “Find trusted friends, someone who knows what you’re going through and is able to support you,” says Kate.
  2. Gather resources: Part of being no longer dependent is having some resources of your own. “A lot of times for people it’s financial resources because a lot of abusers know their control comes from being able to control the resource a person has,” says Kate.
  3. Develop a safety plan: This is where having a support network comes into play. “Develop codes,” says Kate. “If I call you and I say this, you know my situation is bad.” Your safety plan should also involve considering how you will get out of the home quickly if things escalate and where you will go. If you have one, park your car backed in the driveway and keep the gas tank full. See if a local shelter can provide you with a cell phone or panic button. Gather your important documents – originals, copies of birth certificates, SIN, healthcards, passports, court orders, financial documents – and your computer (which might have copies of these) if you can.

    For help developing a safety plan: is a free app designed to help help with safety and well-being for individuals who have experienced abuse from current or past spouse, partner, boy/girlfriend. It’s private, secure, personalized, & backed by research.

  4. Prepare children: Though it might seem better to shield children from this kind of conversation, explaining what’s happening can be beneficial to them. “A lot of people do not know that their children see and may understand what is happening,” says Kate. “Have that conversation and reassure children of safety.”
  5. Do your homework: If you’re going to leave, you need somewhere to go. For women and children, there are resources available that include emergency shelter. There are fewer resources for men, however, so if you’re a man in a domestically violent situation, this research stage is even more integral to your safety plan. Call domestic abuse crisis lines for help securing shelter.
  6. Trust Yourself: There are so many feelings you might be experiencing if you’re in or trying to leave an abusive situation. The one feeling you should listen to above all is your own intuition.

    “Trust yourself, trust your intuition,” says Kate. “Know how courageous you are to make the choice to leave a situation. Acknowledge that it’s a process to arrive, to leave, and to rediscover yourself but all of us have the internal resources to get through the situation we’re in.”

    And remember that nothing you’ve experienced is deserved, nor is it your fault. “Everyone’s in control of their own feelings and actions,” says Kate. “This person needed to make a different choice. Just because they haven’t been able to doesn't make it your problem.”

If you are experiencing domestic abuse of any kind, seek help and support from trusted loved ones and professionals.


Kate Koei

Kate Koei is a Certified Canadian Counsellor (CCC) in Calgary helping individuals, couples and families understand and work through challenges that diminish their wellbeing. Koei has worked with a broad range of issues including anxiety and depression, chronic pain, cultural adjustment challenges, domestic violence, grief & loss and more. You can begin working with her by using her Inkblot Referral Code: GKHBCPHA.