9 Things Abusers Do — And Why You Should Leave As Soon As These Signs Of Abuse Appear

Photo: Tero Vesalainen / Shutterstock
sad woman scared on bed wrapped in sheet
Heartbreak

Everyone makes mistakes and we should give people the gift of forgiveness — for ourselves as much as for the sake of the individual who hurt us.

Some romantic partners deserve second chances. After all, no one is perfect, and sometimes it takes tweaking and life lessons to make the love between two people great.

But other times, your boyfriend or girlfriend's actions are so heinous, offensive, and unkind that you can never give them a shot at love again. When bad behavior turns to abuse, a breakup is definitely in order.

Knowing how to break up with an abuser can save your life.

What are the characteristics of an abuser?

Healthy relationships are supposed to make you feel loved and cared for. They are supposed to make you want to be the best person you can possibly be. But sometimes we find ourselves in relationships where we feel like it's the end of the world.

An abuser gets off on putting others below themselves. That could include overpowering them, making them feel worthless, or manipulating them.

Some telltale characteristics of an abuser are being controlling, getting angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs, humiliating you, or destroying property or items you care about, including your self-esteem. 

Abusive behaviors may look like them stopping you from hanging out with people they don't care for, or preventing you from seeing friends and family. If an abuser cuts you off from everyone else besides themselves, it's a good sign your partner is an abuser. 

RELATED: If Your Partner Does These 6 Things, You're Being Emotionally Abused

What are the emotional effects of the abuse on the abuser?

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, "Abusive people believe they have the right to control and restrict their partner’s lives, often either because they believe their own feelings and needs should be the priority in the relationship, or because they enjoy exerting the power that such abuse gives them."

Abuse is often a learned behavior. The abuser either experienced this dynamic at a young age or witnessed it happening in their family. Such people internalized a particular relationship dynamic, namely the roles of "abuser" and "victim."

They are familiar with and fully understand the terror of being the helpless victim from their own childhood experience. As they become adults, they simply turn this relationship dynamic around and start acting out the "abuser" side of the dynamic they have learned.

By choosing to be the aggressor and abuser, they may get their first sense of taking control over their own destiny and not being at the mercy of others.

How to break up with an abuser safely:

The number one way to break up safely is to have another person present at the time.

There are also several step-by-step guides to help those who are ready to leave an abusive relationship, as well as shelters and domestic violence programs established specifically to help those in need. Read on for a list of ways to break up safely at the end of this article. 

RELATED: My Abuser And I Were In Love That Was The Problem

Besides the obvious things like committing dangerous crimes, there are certain signs of an abusive relationship you should never ignore.

1. Sleeping with your friend or someone close to you.

Infidelity happens and, in some cases, forgiveness is a sign of growth for both parties. But if someone sleeps with your close friend? No. This is not someone you should get involved with.

If your partner sleeps with the person closest to you, it's not okay. That's not about cheating, it's about hurting you. That's abuse.

Burn the bridge — for both of them. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

2. Publicly humiliating you.

If your partner tells everyone you had a drug problem and shares deep secrets publicly (and not just with a close best friend) for all to know, burn that bridge.

3. Harming your child.

If you have a child and your spouse or dating partner harms your kid, that is unforgivable. Children are innocents. If this person is abusive to kids, there is no hope for that awful soul.

4. Stalking you.

If someone stalks you, this is scary and not normal or loving. It is a serious situation that needs to be taken care of because your safety is important. 

5. Forcing you to do something sexually.

A partner does not push or force anyone to do something they don't want to do sexually. It doesn't matter how committed you are, if you've done it in the past, or even if you're married. Sexual abuse in marriage can happen, too.

If your partner tries to rig up a threesome or belittle, force, or verbally or physically abuse you to do something you do not want to do, this is never normal. Sex is supposed to be consensual, always. 

Another way they may manipulate you into doing something you don't want to do is through a guilt trip, which, unfortunately, is a form of abuse many overlook.

6. Threatening you with divorce or abandonment.

If your partner threatens you with divorce or to dump you every single time you do something wrong — day after day, after day — that is cruelty.

Do not go back to someone who makes you anxious that they're going to leave you if you do not behave well all the time. That person is clearly obsessed with control, and this is one of the major signs of an abusive relationship.

7. Lying in therapy.

If the two of you go to marriage counseling or couples counseling and your abusive partner is lying in therapy, it's not a good sign. If they can't be honest in a therapeutic setting in which the two of you trying to work things out, that person is in denial.

Walk away unless they are ready to come clean and explain that they are lying.

8. Being verbally abusive.

Obviously, physical abuse is a no-no, but a partner that degrades you by calling you names, or speaks down to you as if you are lesser-than, is worth slamming the door on for good.

Do we all get mad sometimes? Yes. Someone calls you a mean name, but life goes on and that person should apologize and never do that again. None of us are perfect, but verbal abuse is different than having a bad moment.

Verbal abuse can be defined in so many ways, but if someone orders you around, denies your feelings or belittles them, talks down to you, and makes nasty jokes at your expense, run as fast as you can because that is emotional abuse and should not be tolerated.

9. Using you — financially, sexually, or otherwise.

A person who uses you for gain, whether it's for a green card, for money, or for sex, is someone that needs to be cut out of your life. That is not someone who cares about you but only cares about number one — in this case, that is clearly not you.

If you are scared while spending time with your partner behind closed doors because you are not sure what they are going to do or make you do, it's an obvious sign that you should get out as soon as you can.

RELATED: Why Trauma Bonding Keeps People Stuck In Abusive Relationships

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you leave an abusive relationship safely.

1. Decide to leave.

The first step is deciding that you need to leave and that you are ready to do so. There's a very distinct separation between the two.

You can know that you need to leave but may have doubts you can make it on your own, thus keeping you trapped in the relationship. This is normal. You may hope things will change or that you can help your physical or emotional abuser, but history is a good predictor of the future and change doesn't come easy or fast.

But professionals say that if you are having doubts or are unsure if you really want to leave, it may benefit you to seek professional counseling.

The fact that you're even questioning whether your relationship could be toxic is a pretty deep sign it is, but another opinion, especially coming from a professional, may be able to help you come to the decision to take your life into your own hands and leave your abuser behind for good.

Pro tip: Once you've decided to leave, write down all the reasons why and reread it every time you feel your strength wobble. This will help you be confident in your decision to leave.

2. Create a safety plan.

Plans help keep you on track and focused on the end goal. Having a safety plan for the eventual breakup will not only help you stay safe, but also give you the confidence and determination to actually make the split. 

Keep cash and copies of your credit cards, driver's license, passport, health insurance, and any other important documents in a safe place like a safety deposit box at a bank or a friend's house, preferably one your abuser doesn't know.

Store the phone number of your local women's shelter in a safe place in your car, in your work desk, and in a disguised identifier in your cell phone. Better yet, memorize it.

For emotionally abusive relationships where you aren't as concerned with your physical safety, include methods of self-care in your plan and ways to ensure that you won't give in to toxic patterns.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Hey You! Want more of YourTango's best articles, seriously addictive horoscopes and top expert advice? Sign up to get our free daily newsletter!

Once all of these things are secure, you're one step closer to getting back to who you are.

3. Have an escape plan in place.

Make sure you are ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Keep the car fueled up and facing the driveway exit, with the driver’s door unlocked. Also be sure to hide a spare car key where you can get to it quickly.

If you haven't gotten to finishing step 2 before an incident happens where you have to escape right then and there, have a "go bag" packed and readily available. The bag should have money and clothing on hand, just enough to get you to a safe place where you can recollect your thoughts (i.e., a women's shelter or a close friend's house).

It's also extremely important for you to practice escaping quickly and safely. Rehearse your plan so you know exactly what to do if under attack from your abuser.

Make and memorize a list of emergency contacts. Ask several trusted individuals if you can contact them if you need a ride, a place to stay, or help to contact the police.

Pro tip: If you have children or pets, make sure they practice the escape plan also.

4. Get help from any trusted sources.

Leaving an abusive relationship can be more than overwhelming.

It's encouraged that you surround yourself with trusted friends and family members who support your decision and are willing to help. You can also reach out to counseling professionals if you don't have anyone else. 

5. Leave immediately.

The moment you finish taking the precautionary steps to keep you safe, leave. Leave the relationship as soon as you can.

If you live together, leave before your abuser comes home. If they often get physically abusive and you fear for your safety, get help from someone. Have someone present as you leave.

Any opportunity you have to make your escape, take it. Drawing out the process won't make it any easier, and once you leave, the cycle of abuse will be broken, letting you start your path to healing. 

6. Disconnect completely.

Once you've left the nest, cut the cord. That is, you can't look back and you need to get as far away as possible — physically, emotionally, and even digitally. You left the nest, now fly away.

Don't go to a place where your abuser knows where to find you. Make it clear to your workplace that you have left your partner and that under no circumstances are they to tell your partner if you are in or to let them in. You could even ask your boss if they could relocate you to another branch or office to help keep you safe.

Cut off your ex from all social media platforms. Unfriend, unfollow, untag, and block them. Delete anything and everything about them in your phone, computer or tablet, including pictures. If your partner has access to your accounts, change the passwords or delete them altogether and make new ones.

Keeping reminders of them or continuing contact may be detrimental to your emotional health. By getting rid of everything, your short term effects of the abuse — confusion, fear, hopelessness, shame — will eventually fade away.

Whether it's physical or one of the three types of emotional abuse (gaslighting, retaliation, and projection), healing from it can be hard and can take time. Many victims end up with long time emotional and mental health issues like PTSD and extreme anxiety.

Though bruises will fade, abuse leaves deep-rooted scars that take more than a band-aid to patch up. The path of healing is long with many, many steps, but it is possible to heal. Change negative thought patterns and engage in self-care.

But above all, know that it was never your fault and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You will move forward and get back to who you were before the abuse started.

If you believe you may be in an abusive relationship, there is hope and support is available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day. Visit TheHotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

RELATED: 7 Things That Happen When You Finally Break Free From Psychological Harassment & Abuse

Alex Alexander is a frequent contributor to YourTango and has written extensively on love, relationships, and lifestyle topics.