Recognize the Pattern & Seek Help!
Yes, this could very well have been step one. The idea here is to secure yourself and other key things so that you don’t lose them or let your abusive partner (AP) destroy them.
Here’s the short version:
- Physical safety: Secure any and all firearms, preferably removing them from the home.
- Important documents. Copy or store tax returns, bank statements, old letters from family and friends, birthday cards, photos, etc.
- Digital goods. Save photos and videos of the kids, the draft of your screenplay, any work documents, etc. Backup your phone ASAP.
- Passwords. Change ALL passwords (as safely as possible), particularly shared email accounts, cloud storage sites, online banking, etc.
- Reputation. This is a tough one. If your AP has begun a smear campaign, consider sending some thoughtful, respectful emails or texts to friends, neighbors, coworkers, or other colleagues to assure them that they may not be getting the full story.
- Personal keepsakes. Anything with emotional value should be secured however possible. Old baseball cards, your grandmother’s jewelry, the coffee mug your kid made in 1st grade, etc.
Keep reading for more detailed explanations.
Imagine your house catches fire. You have only a few seconds to get yourself and the kids out, and there’s no time to go searching for the stuff you know you will miss when it’s gone. Obviously, in an emergency, your life is far more important than any particular object. But you’re in a unique position right now. As you read this, you may be considering your escape from an abusive relationship, and you may have the opportunity to begin saving some of these valuable items before the figurative fire burns everything else around you.
Some of these things are considerations I read about before my escape, and some of them are things that I was unable to save because I did not act quickly enough. A month or two after you leave, you may be kicking yourself because you suddenly remembered something of great personal significance that you left behind. Please don’t do that to yourself; take a few minutes and look at this list, and you may avoid the regret that I am currently fighting.
As many of you have already discovered, your AP is prone to some scary violent outbursts. In these moments, your physical safety may have been in question, or you may have worried that she would turn her wrath on your favorite shirt or the guitar your father gave you. Whatever you have witnessed, you know the sick feeling of dread that precedes each episode. What next? How is she going to raise the stakes this time?
I have received a number of disturbing threats (some vague, some immediate) to my person and to my possessions. I have looked down the barrel of a gun, I have wrestled away sharp instruments, I have dodged heavy, blunt, airborne objects. I have watched beloved photographs burn, I have watched birthday and Christmas gifts destroyed and discarded, I have searched in vain for precious artifacts that are lost to the digital void. Out of these domestic horrors, though, I can produce a few words that may help you engineer a better outcome than my own.
If you have ANY firearms in your home, find a way to secure them immediately. Do not wait for this one; you never know what will set her off and what she is capable of if she gets a hold of a deadly weapon. Do you think murder-suicide situations are usually planned in advance? I have no data to back me up, but I feel that it’s safe to assume that most cases of such drastic violence are the result of sudden, passionate anger colliding with conveniently located weapons.
The best option is to get rid of the weapons entirely. If that is not possible, at the very minimum you should make sure that all ammunition is stored separately, and that all weapons are basically inoperable. Even if this only buys you a minute or so, that could be the difference between another scary episode and an outright tragedy.
As soon as you can safely do so, make copies of your tax returns, bank statements, credit card bills, and any other relevant financial documents. If possible, store the originals somewhere away from the house to avoid their destruction. Paper burns very easily, after all.
Likewise, store and/or copy old letters from family and friends, birthday cards, photos, and other memorabilia. These are exactly the kinds of things your AP would love to destroy in front of you as punishment for whatever crime you may or may not have committed.
If you can’t physically save them, at least try and take pictures of them. Also, there are a variety of apps that you can use to turn paper documents into PDF files by scanning or photographing them with your phone.
When you are trying to finalize the paperwork for a divorce, and your AP’s attorney hammers you with a huge pile of discovery requests, you’re going to want access to all those records.
Right now, or at the next possible moment, back up your phone. You have no idea when or where disaster can strike, either a technological failure or the vindictive force that is your AP. How many pictures do you have of your kids on your phone? How many videos of your favorite memories? These can be wiped out in devastatingly quick fashion, and they are simply not recoverable without backing up your phone.
Likewise, make sure you have stored copies of everything that is important to you in the digital world. If you work from home or have important documents of any kind saved to your computer, they are in jeopardy. Upload them to a cloud account or save them to a USB drive or SD card that only you know about.
These may not seem like priorities right now, but when will they be? When your ex is setting your woodworking project on fire in the driveway? Or throwing your family photos out the second floor window? Or soaking your suits in a bathtub full of bleach-water? No, when she goes berserk, you don’t need to worry about her smashing your laptop or hiding your phone. Save these things while you have a chance to do so carefully.
Sure, at the time it made perfect sense for you to merge your bank accounts or set up a joint email. You may even have the cute little married couple moniker as your Facebook name (Jennifer David Smith). Guess what? If she knows your email or Facebook password, she probably knows them all. Like everyone else, you have one or two passwords that you use for everything, and you probably can’t remember all of the different services that are protected by them. Amazon, Netflix, Youtube, work email, bank account, PayPal, eBay, iTunes, Zappos, Credit Karma, etc, etc, etc. So much of your life depends on web-based programs that all operate under a handful of passwords that she knows. What happens when she changes the password on your credit card so you can’t see how much she’s spending?
This particular issue is a very difficult one to solve because so many aspects of your life are mixed together with hers. The goal is to change ALL passwords (as safely as possible), particularly shared email accounts, cloud storage sites, online banking, etc. However, if she figures out what you are doing before you actually leave, she may try to retaliate or stop you.
One possible solution is to begin by securing certain files that may be sensitive. For example, make sure you have not created a Google document with incriminating information about possible apartments to rent or friends to stay with. Also, don’t use your own browser or YouTube account to look up things about abuse or divorce. Use the privacy features on your browser to keep from tipping her off.
Finally, I recommend creating a new password (or maybe a couple of different ones) now. Make sure they aren’t something she could easily guess, but you need to be able to remember them. This way, if you have to leave suddenly, you can change all your passwords as quickly as possible without having to create one on the spot.
This is another tough one. One of the most fun consequences of leaving an AP is the smear campaign. She will gladly spread all kinds of information about you, whether it is true or not, in order to sully your name. The more people she can infect with her poison, the easier it will be to manipulate you further. Sadly, I don’t know of too many antidotes for this. The only two possibilities that I found to be effective so far are:
- Honesty: Make sure you are being honest with yourself and other people about who you really are. If you try to tell your friends that you are the victim of abuse by badmouthing the AP or behaving in crazy ways yourself, you will just confirm her gossip about you. If you refuse to admit that you aren’t completely perfect and come across as narcissistic yourself, then your family and coworkers may actually believe what they are hearing about you. RISE ABOVE. No matter what she says or does, you have to behave like an adult.
- Direct communication: If your AP has spread lies about you, I don’t think you are required to sit idly by and take it. When she mails your best friend a copy of all the “mean” texts you sent to her, tell him what’s going on. When she shows up at your job and tells everyone what a selfish jerk you are, take a minute to write an email or sit down with each person and explain the situation. Keep it very brief and light on the details. You don’t want to come across as defensive, but you also don’t want to imply your guilt with an air of shameful silence. In one of the worst possible scenarios, she may contact your children’s teacher(s) and inform them of your monstrous misdeeds. The same applies: send an email or even have a phone conversation to reassure them that you are their for your kid(s) and would like to keep a line of communication open.
Just remember to pick your battles carefully. Your AP may sling mud by the bucketful, but you can’t engage in most of those encounters. If she is being downright slanderous, you have the right to defend yourself to the affected parties. However, you have to accept the possibility that you are going to lose a few friends in this process.
In the heat of battle, nothing is sacred. That coffee mug your kid made for you in 1st grade is perfect ammunition in the hand of an AP.
“If you don’t apologize RIGHT NOW, I’ll smash this cup! You don’t deserve it anyway! You’re not even a father!”
Likewise, your favorite shirt or the picture of you and your friends fishing or the birthday card from your sister become weapons of emotional devastation. In my experience, the AP is likely to try and inflict pain as a response to her own suffering. If that means destroying a precious object of yours, so be it. Like I said, nothing is sacred.
If these objects are lying around your home, begin collecting them and storing them in a place where they can’t be easily held hostage during a meltdown. I assure you, you do not want to see the evil gleam in her eye as she smashes your late father’s guitar or throws your old photos in the fireplace. It may not seem like an imminent threat, but I’m telling you, she is capable of anything to prevent losing control over you. Do not gamble with the irreplaceable artifacts of your life; protect them now and enjoy them later.
I am grateful to have parents who love and support me, who always made sure I knew that I was important and that they were proud of me. I am grateful to have siblings who were instrumental in my escape from an abusive relationship and constant sources of love and laughter. I am grateful to have friends who know me for who I am, who have given me hope and strength, who laugh at my stupid jokes. I am grateful to have children who are smart, beautiful, funny, amazing, talented, and kind, who make me proud every day. The men and women in my life are all wonderful people, imperfect as they are, and I would not be who I am or where I am without them. And even though my ex-wife is a very sick woman who has no idea the harm she is doing to her children by alienating them from me, I am grateful to her for bringing those children into the world.
The Principles and Protocols of Reunification Work
‘Of all the reforms put forward by the Family Justice Review … the least successful has been that relating to private law disputes concerning children.’ So said Lord Justice McFarlane in the course of a speech to the NAGALRO Annual Conference the other day.
Why Do Narcissists Enjoy Conflict and Drama?
I talked about abuse and made you uncomfortable? Good.
A few weeks ago, I read this post (via Stop asking me ‘what about men?’ — victimfocus) about the obnoxious trend of men accusing women of sexism for focusing their attention on issues relating to women. It must be very frustrating to express a belief or champion a cause only to have people accuse you of being insensitive to other, equally worthy causes. To stand up and say “violence against women is bad!” is not even close to saying “violence against men doesn’t happen or doesn’t matter!” Such an interpretation is inexplicable to me.
Though “whataboutery” infects all areas of social discourse, this particular article touched a nerve in me for some reason. A little over a month ago, I began GTFO to help male victims of abuse. This is an underrepresented group, and I believe that I can make a valuable contribution to them. At no point did I consider the victimization of women to be any less important nor any less worthy of support. In fact, most of the writers I began following immediately after creating this blog are women. Instead of asking them “what about men,” I am standing beside them and offering that perspective myself. We are all on the same side: helping victims of abuse find recovery and healing.
Would you ask a pediatrician why he didn’t pursue geriatric medicine, or an optometrist why she didn’t pursue oncology? No, these people chose their fields for a variety of reasons, and they are each valuable in their own ways. If a woman raises her voice to fight for other women, then we should all cheer her on because she is actually doing something to solve important problems. Perhaps the man who asks “what about…” could better spend his time and energy by saying, “Yes, domestic abuse is a problem. Let me join you in that fight by offering my voice to help men.”
My final thought about women is a relatively recent epiphany. I don’t suppose this a secret or a surprise to anyone, but all manner of political, social, and religious structures have relegated women to subservient positions. The reason for this seems, at least in many cases, to arise from the role of women as child-bearers. Their value as people has often depended on their ability to give birth, and thus many cultures have treated them almost like slaves.
What I recently realized, however, is that this is entirely backwards. Why isn’t every mother raised up in honor for the essentially magical ability to give birth? How did men in the ancient world not marvel and wonder at their wives for creating new life? Their entire civilizations literally relied on the women who bore their children.
Yes, I know that plenty of cultures have places of high honor for the female aspect of nature (goddesses of fertility, for example). However, women have been exchanged as property, denied basic rights of citizenship, silenced as hysterical creatures, and treated with disdain around much of the world and throughout most of history. Though I know enough about the world to understand the supposed justifications for this, I am frankly baffled by it.
I am not saying that women are naturally superior to men or that men should automatically bow to them. What I’m saying is that men and women are both vital parts of society. Consider a farmer who raises livestock. Where does his stock come from? From the union of a bull and a cow, not from either one individually. Both are necessary, both are valuable. This is the crux of equality; they are not the same, but they are both equally important.
At this point, I should probably clarify something. I am not actually comparing women to cows (well, I kind of did, but that’s not the point). The analogy is merely to illustrate how people have different strengths and abilities and purposes, and those differences are what makes the whole process work. Likewise, I am obviously not saying that a woman’s value is only related to her fertility. A woman who cannot have children or simply chooses not to is no less important than any other; her value is defined by who she is, not by her womb.
The author of the victimfocus blog is doing some important work, and though I cannot endorse everything she’s written because I haven’t read it all, the very fact that she is fighting for victims of abuse means that she is my ally. We may be targeting two different audiences, but we are working towards the same goal. What about that could possibly be bad?
Once you recognize and understand that you are in an abusive relationship, you can begin wrapping your mind around the possibility of actually leaving. No doubt you have fantasized about it many times, but you’ve reached the point where imagining must turn into planning. These next few posts will try to walk you through some of the things that you should consider as you make your preparations.
Step 1 is to document everything. If you have already started, that’s great; keep it up. Try not to leave any gaps because you never know how much you will need to make your case should it become necessary. Here are a few suggestions (which, by the way, must be offered with my standard disclaimer: I’m not an expert in anything. Please take these as recommendations based on my own experiences, and remember that everything must be tailored to your own personal circumstances.)
EDIT: In the interest of presenting information that can be quickly and easily absorbed, I will give a brief list of ideas first. After that, if you care to read further, be my guest.
- Keep a journal. Record all relevant details of your partner’s abusive behaviors. Be clear, be specific, and be objective.
- Take pictures. Use your camera phone to capture incriminating images of all kinds of evidence. This is especially useful for documenting injuries and property damage.
- Save all text messages and emails. These are invaluable sources of evidence because you can record all the crazy details in your partner’s exact words.
- Police reports. It seems scary, but calling the police during or after an abusive episode can be a source of official documentation. Multiple reports can obviously serve to establish a pattern of abuse.
- Medical records. Tell your doctor and/or counselor what is going on. They are bound by confidentiality and will make a record of your claims.
- The truth. Documenting everything will give you the upper hand because you will be able to demonstrate that you are telling the truth.
Keep a journal
You’ll see this on numerous other sites, and for good reason. Having a detailed, written record of what your abusive partner (AP) says and does will make a huge difference. Counselors, lawyers, judges, even friends and family may have a hard time understanding the extent of what you’ve experienced if you rely only on your memory. Even you may not realize how bad it is until you see it in writing. Also, your AP will definitely try to deny everything and discredit you. Write down everything you possibly can, including the following:
- exact words that your AP says (especially in the case of threats, insults, etc)
- details of physical violence or threatening behaviors (including time, place, precise description of the behavior)
- evidence of public shaming or smearing (including what was said, to whom, when, where, etc.)
- Remember that you are trying to collect evidence that may be the difference between winning and losing in court. It could have profound implications for your personal and professional life, the custody of your children, even your personal safety. Be thorough and detailed, but also be as objective as possible. Do not waste time or energy writing your opinions or feelings about the evidence you are compiling. Stick to the facts.
NOTE: the manner in which you keep the journal depends entirely on your personal situation.
- A physical journal may be okay, but many APs are adept at snooping through your belongings, whether you know it or not. An electronic version is a good idea, and something that is connected to the cloud is even better.
- If you type notes in your phone or on your personal computer, they can be discovered and/or lost. I recommend a Google drive account or other cloud-based service (such as Microsoft Office online) that you can access privately. This way, you’ll have a place to type whatever you need, save documents and photos, and send emails. Also, this prevents you from losing whatever you’ve saved if your AP decides to smash your computer or throw your phone out of the car window. Dropbox (or any other such cloud-based file storage program) work as well.
- Side note: if your AP has access to your computer, anything you do with it is risky unless you take precautions. The best way to access your cloud account (whatever it may be) or do any abuse-related searches is to use private browsing (under settings in Safari) or an incognito window (in Chrome). These can both be accessed in their mobile apps as well. The new Microsoft Edge browser also has an “InPrivate” window. Using these features will prevent your AP from rummaging through your browser history.
Keeping a journal is great, but photographic evidence can be even more convincing and compelling. Smartphones take a lot of heat for the negative effects they have on us, but their value as tools for collecting evidence cannot be overstated. The camera on your phone is probably the best way to document all the crazy things your AP does. Take pictures of everything, especially physical injuries and damage to property. Obviously, in most cases it’s probably best not to let her know that you are doing so. Like all the other advice I offer, it depends entirely on your situation.
- Once you take pictures, it’s best not to leave them stored on your phone (for the same reasons I mentioned about the journal). There are apps that serve as password-protected places to store files, but again, it could be risky if your AP finds it and demands access (or destroys your phone). You could download one and store the pictures there until you are able to transfer them to the cloud.
- Also, don’t forget to take pictures of any handwritten letters or notes that could be of value. She may realize that such things could be used against her and may destroy them. It’s best to a have digital copy of everything possible.
Text messages and emails
Written communication is by far one of the best ways to keep a record of your AP’s craziness. Do not delete anything until you have saved a copy of it. Even if it seems like there is just way too much to keep track of, save it all.
- Taking screenshots of texts is a good way to store them quickly and privately, but it can be a little cumbersome to keep track of them as photos. I don’t know anything about Android phones, but Apple users can store their iMessages to their iCloud account. (more on the technical details of this later)
- Emails are potentially a little easier. If your AP doesn’t have access to your email, then simply creating a folder to save all correspondence will be no problem. If she does have access, or if you have the slightest suspicion that she might, then it’s a little trickier. You can forward all emails to an account that she doesn’t know about, but she will be able to see that you’ve forwarded them if you leave the originals in your inbox (and they’ll show up in your sent folder as well). Another possible solution is to click “print” and save as a PDF instead of actually printing.
- No matter how you do it, be sure to save as many texts and emails as you can. Being able to show her exact words is a huge advantage for you when she inevitably tries to deny saying those things.
- Also, and equally important, saving written correspondence will give you the opportunity to demonstrate that you have tried to communicate calmly and rationally. Of course, this only works if you have actually been calm and rational. DO NOT USE ANY INSULTING, BELITTLING, OR THREATENING LANGUAGE IN ANYTHING YOU WRITE OR SAY TO YOUR AP. She will use anything and everything she can, so you must be extra careful.
This is definitely a tricky one. How do you know when to call the police? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. On the one hand, if your AP is physically abusive, the best way to handle it may be to file a police report so that her behavior and your injuries can be documented by an objective third party. On the other hand, involving the authorities could backfire, either by making her even more angry and potentially dangerous or by risking being arrested yourself if she points the finger at you.
I can only give you my perspective on this. I never called the police on my ex-wife because I was worried about the effects on her social and professional life. Her career in particular would be in serious jeopardy had she been reported for domestic abuse. However, I now realize that my desire to protect her was another product of her manipulation. Even when I was the one bleeding or bruised, she made me think that I was the one in the wrong, that I had forced her hand. I wish now I had called the police, but it is impossible to say whether it would have helped me or hurt me.
If you see a doctor regularly, don’t hesitate to tell him/her about what you are going through. They don’t even have to put it on your official record; just saying it out loud to another person can really help you process it.
If you are unfortunate enough to share a doctor with your AP, be cautious about what you say. Though they are generally obliged to observe confidentiality, doctors are people, too. At the risk of sounding completely paranoid, you may not realize just how convincing your AP can be in her quest to keep you under surveillance.
The same goes for your therapist. If you don’t have one, find one. The sooner you can get in front of someone who is trained to listen and understand without judgment, the quicker and more effectively he/she can treat you. He/she can also help you establish a record of the pattern of abuse.
One particularly nasty characteristic of abusive people is their tendency to lie, either by stating actual falsehoods or by sharing distorted information. Either way, certain accusations can be terribly difficult to disprove, and APs will often do or say whatever is necessary to make you look like the bad guy. If she claims that you have texted your ex-girlfriend 346 times in the last month, a simple phone record can disprove that.
However, if she accuses you of threatening to kill her, what then? There is very little (that I know of, anyway) that can be done about such baseless claims, but there is at least one way to combat them. The truth. The more you can establish that you are an honest person who does what he says he will do, the more credibility you can establish.
The obvious problem here is the level of dishonesty required for certain things like documenting her crazy behavior. If she finds out you’ve kept a journal without telling her, she will definitely use it to make you look like a liar. It is really important to keep your documentation a secret, and not to admit any act of dishonesty to her so long as you can avoid it. It doesn’t matter if she can trust you; what matters is that your family and friends can trust you, that a lawyer or a judge can trust you. If your friends, neighbors, coworkers, children, etc. can attest that you are not the lying monster she portrays you to be, then you have a fighting chance.
I may well add more to this list later, but it’s a good start. Also, if you have anything I should add, please let me know.
Finding The Way Home: The Importance of Perspective for Alienated Children