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Woman struggling with leaving an abusive marriage

Leaving an Abusive Marriage? There Are Steps You Need to Take First

Abuse doesn’t always look the way we imagine it. No bruises are required for the abuse to be real, and you don’t need “proof” for your pain to be valid. But when it comes to protecting yourself legally and leaving an abusive marriage, it’s an unfortunate fact that both those things hold weight.

We know what physical abuse looks like because it leaves a mark, but verbal and emotional abuse are harder to detect and often go unreported. Emotional abuse might mean insulting you, making threats against you or your loved ones, controlling you, repeatedly accusing you of being unfaithful, or belittling you. Your spouse might go out of the way to destroy your self-esteem or tell you things like, “No one else but me would put up with you.”

Domestic violence does not discriminate. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender can be a victim—or perpetrator—of domestic violence. It can happen to people who are married, living together, or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.

Domestic violence includes behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish, or force them to behave in ways they do not want. It includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse, and economic deprivation. Many of these forms of domestic violence/abuse can occur at any time within the same intimate relationship.

Once you’ve finally accepted what abuse looks like in your own marriage and that you’ll no longer put up with it, leaving is easier said than done.

You spouse is, after all, abusive—his* sense of self is tied up with his control over you. Even if you aren’t being physically threatened, it’s not entirely clear what your spouse is capable of.

Hell, it’s not entirely clear what you’re capable of. Are you strong enough to leave him? Are you strong enough to stand on your own two feet? You no longer know anymore.

You do know, though, that he will do everything in his power to make sure you never find out your strength.

If you plan on leaving an abusive marriage, there are some steps you’ll need to take first.

The following is based on my personal experience leaving an abusive marriage. Because it was so difficult, I want other women to know certain things. Among them is the importance of finding out what your rights are and what your choices are, legally.

You must know what’s legally enforceable, so you can be prepared and protect yourself. Sometimes there is no time to consult with an attorney. Instead, you must act, so you call the police. Other times, you simply think about making that call. What will be the impact of calling the police . . . for you, for your spouse, and for the kids? Find out first so that if it comes to that—and it may come to that—you are prepared and can protect yourself and your children.

Believe in yourself

Abusers are master manipulators, so the first thing you must do to protect yourself from your spouse is believe in yourself.

This can be hard, but as a “Millie,” a SAS for Women colleague (now working as a divorce attorney), shared, beginning to believe in yourself might look like reaching out to those who genuinely love you. For Millie, she realizes now how important it was for her to ultimately tell her most trusted friends and family what was really going on in her marriage:

“My first husband was an addict and I kept ‘our’ dirty secret to myself because I was so embarrassed at my poor choice in a husband. I isolated myself by making my Ex’s bad behavior associated with me. Once I finally left and then told everyone, the support was tremendous. I wasn’t judged as I thought I would be.”

No matter how hard your spouse works at planting seeds of doubt in your mind, you must grow vigilant and stubborn in your belief in yourself.

  1. Connect with safe friends, if possible.
  2. Work with a good therapist and be truthful with them.
  3. Find a certified coach experienced in supporting people like you—people who are striving to change their circumstances.
  4. Consult with an attorney to learn what your rights are and what steps you can take to protect yourself.

But ultimately, you’ll need to find the courage to leave within yourself.

Protect your finances

Abusers often use money to control their partner. If you don’t control your own money—if you don’t even have access to it or if that access can easily be taken away—you don’t have the financial security you need to leave your spouse.

If you don’t already have a bank account of your own, get one. Set your PIN to something your spouse will never guess, and if all else fails, get a credit card.

Unfortunately, financial abuse occurs in 99% of all domestic abuse cases, and the effects can negatively impact survivors for years after they escape. Leaving an abusive relationship is only the first step, and many people can feel financially overwhelmed once they are out and on their own.

Ask a lawyer what you can do to put things in place to protect yourself. Talk to a certified divorce financial advisor to hear their suggestions. (Having that discussion doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get divorced, and everything you talk about is confidential.) And consider this article for steps you can take to rebuild your financial identity and credit.

Gather proof

Perhaps you don’t want things to get nasty (or nastier) or you are not sure you want to divorce, but just in case you must leave, there are different types of evidence you can gather to make a case for spousal abuse, such as photographs of injuries or broken property, documentation of emails or text messages, and testimonies from witnesses. Videos are sometimes permissible depending on what state you live in. Research your state’s laws on videotaping without permission of the subject.

When gathering evidence, try to simplify it as much as possible, but make sure to note down the time and date the abuse occurred. One way to do this is to write emails to yourself because the emails have a valid date/time stamp. The documentation is also stored in a cloud and thus safe from an abuser finding notes, photos, etc. and destroying them. The emails can be as simple as “At 8:43 p.m. Tom called me a fat bitch and that I was lucky that he didn’t leave me,” or “Tom came home at 11:35 p.m. and smelled very strongly of alcohol and pot.”

Start documenting now. It is hard to go back and track and trace. Women have a high tolerance for pain and an uncanny ability to forget it afterward. Think about it, we’d never give birth a second time if we could really recall the extent of that first experience! So, while the memory of your pain is alive, you must keep an ongoing record of it—as brutal as that sounds.

Note from SAS for Women: If you are in the planning mode, we encourage you to consult with an attorney to hear what you should be documenting as relates specifically to your situation and what your choices are to change things. What happens if you call the police during an incident? What would be expected of you afterward (going to the courthouse and filing the complaint officially)? What would happen to your spouse? You need to understand the process and what the impact of each step you take will be.

Truth be told, it’s when filing at the courthouse that most women cave . . . somehow everything starts to feel real there. You don’t want to “hurt your spouse,” you start thinking to yourself. You withdraw your complaint. As a result, your problem almost never goes away.

File a report

The fact is, reporting and filing instances of abuse to the police gives you a report, and having this report available could do much to prove your case.

If you’re truly in fear for your safety, this should be your first course of action (besides gathering proof). You can also go to your town’s family court, or if you live in New York City, for example, the New York Family Court, and request an order of protection.

It’s best to note down at least three instances when your spouse endangered or caused you to fear for your life and safety, with one being very recent. This is where your ongoing record keeping plays an important role.

With filing, be as authentic as possible, and never lie—you don’t want to do anything that destroys your case. You’ll fill out a form, wait to see a judge, and based on the evidence and testimonies, the judge will either grant or reject the order of protection. You can also bring along your attorney to fight on your behalf. The order of protection will restrict your spouse from communicating with you directly.

Note from SAS for Women: Filing an order of protection will also mean your spouse will have to leave the family home and live somewhere else.

Know that. Make sure you understand how your spouse will learn about the order of protection. Where will you be when he does? What happens after? Do you need to go home and make sure some friends come over, or do you not go home at all? You need to learn about each step, so you can imagine what your spouse will do at each juncture and plan accordingly. Consulting with an attorney is very important.

Hire an attorney

You want an attorney with a track record in divorce or separation from abusive spouses. This attorney must be available at any time and want to protect you. She will become a line of defense against your spouse. An abusive spouse may become enraged that you have taken back control of your body and mind—that you have reclaimed your integrity—and continue to lash out. But you’re doing the right thing. Hold steady. Your lawyer is good if she makes you feel protected and strengthened.

Chances are a divorce agreement may be in your future, and if it is, in that document you will want to separate yourself from your spouse in every way possible—financially, personally, and physically. Review with your lawyer and try to limit as much as (legally) possible your spouse’s rights to your apartment, car, insurance, registration, and will. Anything and everything you can think of. Review all things thoroughly with your lawyer. Ask your lawyer about the legal consequences if your spouse does not comply.

Stow away what’s important to you

There are legal documents that are important for you to gather before you leave, things like social security cards, birth certificates, insurance policies, copies of deeds, proof of income, bank statements, and more. When abuse is physical, there’s not always a “perfect” time to leave. Your escape might feel more like fleeing. What, if anything, are you prepared to leave behind?

Just in case, have a getaway plan

Find a safe place to stay, and get familiar with your husband’s schedule. When will he be out of the house? You’ve thought of the children’s schedule, no doubt, but have you made plans for the family pet? Abusers often use a pet or children as leverage against a spouse to blackmail them.

If you have kids, talk to a lawyer or the police before taking them anywhere.

Don’t rely on your phone to memorize escape routes or the phone numbers of the people or organizations you’ll need to call for help.

You might even want to establish a “code word” to let your family, friends, and anyone else who you can call for help know that you need them without letting your abuser know.

Local shelters are sometimes able to escort victims of spousal abuse from the home when they move out. Or perhaps, if you must leave the family home, you might have a couple of strong friends who can support you that difficult day.

What to do after leaving an abusive marriage

Leaving is a hard step, but after you leave, it’s important to stay on the alert. Change up your routine. If you have a new address, request that the DMV withhold your ID from the public, though they may make it available to institutions like banks. Request that the Family Court withhold your address from divorce documents.

Try to fight the temptation to isolate yourself because that’s when you’re the most vulnerable. Remember, isolation was how your spouse controlled you. The humiliation and shame you might still feel after leaving—it’s what your spouse is banking on. He wants you to believe that no one else “understands” you quite the way he does. And no one ever will.

But you are not alone.

In the US, nearly half of all women and men have experienced psychological aggression (emotional abuse) by an intimate partner in their lifetime. But because the abuse happens behind closed doors, it’s so easy to think of yourself as the outlier. If you don’t have a friend, family member, therapist, coach, lawyer, or someone else in your life you can talk to, you can and must look for professional help. You can also try calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 799-SAFE (7233) to discuss your situation and be connected with resources that exist for a very good reason.

You do have strength. We believe in you.

Isabel Sadurni is a motion picture producer with over 15 years’ experience in filmmaking. She collaborates on feature films and series with independent and commercial filmmakers who share the belief that a story told well can change the world. Her work includes award-winning feature-length documentaries and short narratives that have played in top-tier festivals and on HBO, PBS, and The Discovery Channel. Her focus is in working on films that are vehicles for change for people, for communities, and for the planet. 

Whether you are considering a divorce or already navigating the confusing experience, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of Divorce. “A successful divorce requires smart steps, taken one at a time.” – SAS for Women 

 

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as a “he.”

How to know when it's time to divorce

How to Know When It’s Time to Divorce

If day in and day out you find yourself unhappy with your marriage, it’s natural to have doubts. To ask yourself, “When is enough enough?” or wonder “When is it time to divorce?”

Being unhappily married is extremely uncomfortable and even hazardous to your health. You might feel off balance because you’re not fully invested in your marriage, but you haven’t yet given up either. You’re living in a painful limbo.

At times, part of you is (almost) ready to call it quits. But then another part of you takes over, and that part of you has more questions than answers. Questions like . . .

Will I be able to make it on my own?

Will getting divorced screw up my kids?

Where will I live?

Do I even deserve to be happy?

Besides my marriage, my life is great—can’t I just deal with it?

Could this be as good as it gets?

Maybe we’re just going through a rough patch?

So, how do you know when it’s time to divorce?

The truth is that everyone who has chosen to get divorced has had to make that decision on her own. That’s because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to deciding whether your marriage is worth saving.

Granted, there are some pretty black and white reasons to divorce:

  • Polygamy
  • Ongoing deception
  • Abuse (verbal, physical, or emotional) of you or your children
  • Substance abuse that remains untreated despite requests to do so

But most people find themselves in situations that are shades of gray, unsure whether divorce is right for them and their family.

And yet, so many couples do decide to divorce. According to a report published by AARP asking people to identify the three most important reasons they divorced, the most common motives were:

  • Verbal, physical, or emotional abuse
  • Different values and lifestyles
  • Infidelity
  • Falling out of love
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

What’s especially interesting about the results of this survey is that most people listed more than one reason for divorcing—in fact, they gave at least three reasons. The fact that divorce almost never comes down to one thing is part of what makes knowing when it’s time to divorce so difficult.

But if you are facing one or more of these common issues, that doesn’t necessarily mean that now is when it’s time to divorce. There are couples who face the same issues, work through them, and remain married—even happily married.

Then just how are you supposed to know if it’s time to divorce?

If you find yourself living in that gray zone, you owe it to your marriage (and to yourself) to exhaust all other avenues—to do your absolute best to resolve the issues in your marriage—before you decide whether it’s time to get a divorce. Only then will you be able to leave limbo, either by recommitting yourself to your marriage or by deciding that the best path forward is divorce.

What does it look like to exhaust all other avenues before deciding to divorce?

You’ll talk with professionals (a divorce coach, therapist, or couples counselor) who can help you gain the necessary clarity to decide whether to save your marriage. You’ll make your best effort to implement their suggestions not only for improving your marriage but for improving yourself.

Consider watching SAS for Women’s free webinar on this confusing subject . . . “Should I or Shouldn’t I . . . Divorce?

You’ll read books and articles about how to make a marriage work and then implement the ideas that make sense to you. And for those that don’t make sense, you’ll research to understand if you are best served by discarding them.

You’ll talk with people who have made their marriages work for the long haul. You’ll respectfully and fearlessly ask the questions you need answered. There’s a good chance that you’ll learn something about how to improve your marriage and maybe even something to help you with your own personal growth.

You’ll talk with people who are divorced and understand the challenges they and their children have faced and overcome. Then, you’ll understand the reality of divorce. That reality may give you the determination to try harder to save your marriage. It may give you the knowledge that you’ll be OK regardless of whatever decision you ultimately make. (Tip: Make sure you speak to divorced people who are healed—people who have done the work to fully recover from their divorce. They’ll give you the best perspective and not transfer their wounds to you.)

What you’ll notice when you learn and start implementing the ideas you glean from exhausting all those other avenues besides divorce is that you’ll be presented with countless opportunities for self-examination. As you learn more and try different things, you’ll naturally see yourself and your marriage differently.

That still doesn’t mean that you’ll suddenly have a lightbulb moment, that the world will send you a sign telling you divorce is right for you and that now is the time.

The truth is that you’ll gain clarity but not 100% crystal clear clarity about the fate of your marriage by taking the time to understand all the options and possibilities for your life both in and out of your relationship.

However, deciding when it’s time to divorce is rarely about being 100% certain you’re making the “right” decision. Instead, it’s more about understanding your options—all your options—so that when and if a tipping point comes, you’ll not only recognize it but be prepared for it.

So, if you’re asking yourself “When is it time to divorce?” you owe it to yourself and your family to explore those options. Roll up your sleeves, exhaust every possibility of repairing the issues in your marriage, and gain the clarity you need to feel comfortable—if not confident—making the decision to divorce.

Whether you are considering a divorce or already navigating the confusing experience, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce.

To learn next steps or resources right for you as you seek clarity on if you should divorce or not, schedule your free 45-minute consultation with SAS today.

“A healthy divorce requires smart steps — taken one at a time.” – SAS

Divorce porn is living vicariously through another's divorce.

Divorce Porn: 4 Types That Are Almost Never a Good Thing

Ever wonder why we pay so much attention to how Angie and Brad split up? Or if Beyonce and Jay Z are really going to stick it out? Or, will she do it this time? The world is watching …Will Melania take 45er’s hand as they board Air Force One?

Turns out, we are secretly fascinated, drawn, repelled and addicted to watching how others struggle in their relationship. It’s a momentary release, allowing us to escape our own relationship (and any problems we’ve been enduring). Love is powerful, so we’re really interested when others mess it up.

Please, mess it up good! Because, even better, we relish spectating in divorce.

Some call it divorce porn—vicariously living through another couple’s divorce. The term became popular and, indeed, symbolized by the release of the movie Eat Pray Love. The heroine’s story was heady, hearty, lusty stuff for us women. Elizabeth Gilbert’s character “seemingly had it all,” but gave it up to wander through Italy, India, and Bali in a journey of self discovery.

What? Leave everything and walk out? Leaving it all behind sounds damn good to many women thinking about or getting divorced, whether they have it all or not.

There’s that, and the fact that this journey was no celibate wander. Let’s remember the story culminated with bonding up, because completion (as popularly defined by finding your soulmate) sells. The prince arrived, once again.

But, wait, back it up. Divorce porn starts back there when the heroine is combusting and falling apart. It’s the particularly juicy part that feeds our culture’s obsession with break ups – and more specifically failing marriages.

Though “divorce porn” may be what we’re calling it these days, the phenomena isn’t new. We all know the experience, don’t we? Even back in high school and college—long before any of our friends were married—the breakup of one beloved couple in our friend group sent ripples throughout the circle, bringing some of us closer together and pushing others away and apart.

From our perspective as educators and divorce coaches, we know this too. And that this coming together or pushing apart effect can be seen through four specific types of divorce porn.

Divorce porn is the kind that brings couples together

Have you ever looked at someone else and thought, “Well, at least I’m not that bad.” We all do it. We grow up hearing phrases like “no matter how bad things get, remember, someone else always has it worse.” This is supposed to make us appreciate what we have, of course, not promote the celebration of other people’s lack.

And so, when a friend or family member has marital troubles and gets divorced, sometimes that impulse to be grateful is the first one we have.

Grateful, that is, that we’re not the ones getting divorced.

Sandy (not her real name) tells us how in her 20-year marriage, when another couple got divorced in their social circle, she and her husband—who had all kinds of strife in their own marriage—would often turn to each other and embrace, clinging to each other tighter than ever before. “It was like ‘Phew, we survived! We’re not as bad off as them. They’re getting divorced!’ We were just so grateful it wasn’t us,” explains Sandy. “Because, on so many levels, we were sure dancing on the edge.”

But, then again, the divorce of a friend or family member can also have the opposite effect on your marriage or relationship.

. . . The kind that’s contagious

Sometimes divorce spreads through social circles like an affliction, as if marital problems were contagious. A friend vents her frustrations and the challenges she faces in her marriage, or maybe she reveals that her husband has been less than faithful, and you start comparing and reflecting on your own situation . . .

Suddenly, you start to notice the same flaws in your own marriage—suspicion spreads like fine cracks on a windowpane.

Or maybe it’s simply the very fact that your friend did it! She got divorced! She and her husband were the first ones in your social circle to do it, to get divorced, and now, it was as if she’d given a pass to everyone. Everyone’s doing it! She normalized it and so now, you can do it, too.

In a 2013 Pew Research study, researchers found that participants were 75% more likely to become divorced if a friend is divorced and 33% more likely to end their marriage if a friend of a friend is divorced. So the idea that divorce might be contagious is one backed by science, much like the next type of divorce porn discussed.

. . . The kind that brings out people’s voyeuristic side

You see? When we witness a fight—whether it’s a violent eruption or a slow simmer—so often our first impulse is to break out the popcorn and pull up a seat. This voyeuristic tendency extends to our obsession with tabloids and soap operas. We celebrate budding celebrity relationships, but we also dig the demise. Part of us craves the drama. Science suggests the human brain is hardwired for gossip because information is a form of power.

Through gossip, we come to know a person, even if that image is flawed and one-sided, and we learn who we can trust. But more importantly, gossip gives us a way to learn from other people’s experiences, potentially sparing ourselves the heartache that comes with making the same mistake.

So when a friend or family member gets divorced, we react much the same way that we do when we read tabloids, watch dramatic TV shows, or gossip about other people.

On some subconscious level, we want to understand what it takes for a marriage to fall apart, what pushes a person over the edge, so that we better understand ourselves.

But the need for gossip can become addicting.

. . . The kind that’s literally, well, pornographic

The effects of watching porn regularly have been debated. But the fact is, no matter what the science or research says, both men and women have reported that porn has negatively affected their relationship and sex life. Recent studies have suggested that married couples who watch porn are twice as likely to divorce as those who don’t.

The “high” someone gets when they watch porn is one the regular viewer needs to chase—they seek out different types of porn to satisfy their desires. Videos that once did the trick eventually lose their appeal. And all this leaks into their real-life relationship. The regular porn viewer might begin to place a set of unrealistic expectations on their partner or create an environment in which tension and jealousy is likely to brew. There may also be the experience that there is no real relationship or marriage anymore. People shut down.

Most people usually start watching porn not because they are necessarily dissatisfied with their marriage but to relieve stress or escape a difficult home life.

Interestingly enough, porn seems to be less of a problem for couples who watch together.

Which brings us to our last point.

Remember, divorce porn is almost never a good thing

Communication (with each other) can help alleviate challenges divorce porn can create. Some couples, for instance, report that porn actually has a positive impact on their marriage. They say that watching porn together makes them feel more comfortable discussing sex openly and without shame.

Other couples have no communication or connection in their marriage as a result of pornography. In a 2002 informal survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (aka divorce attorneys), 60% of the 350 attorney asked, reported that internet porn played a significant role in the divorces they negotiated, with “excessive interest” in online porn contributing to more than half of such cases. At SAS for Women, we are not surprised. Many of our clients cite pornography as a major issue in the downfall of their marriage.

If you think you might be suffering from the effects of divorce porn, remember that there is nothing wrong with appreciating your spouse, discussing frustrations and challenges, or escaping reality every now and then, but, of course, it’s important to reflect on the events that you act upon:

  1. Make sure that you aren’t sensationalizing aspects of your own marriage—strengths or weaknesses—and comparing yourself to friends and family members. Don’t be unfair to yourself because every one of us is different.
  2. Make sure that you listen to and support those close to you because, as they get divorced, they’ll need you more than ever. (But also, remember that pesky biology and don’t feel too guilty about any unwanted emotions you experience.)
  3. Always be aware of the children. If you are unable to avert your eyes from another couple’s divorce, just remember that offhand comments can be overheard and are confusing to children—yours and theirs—and it’s the kids who are the hardest hit by gossip.
  4. If you are a woman dealing with divorce porn (however you define it) and you would like to hear what else is possible for your life, we invite you to schedule a free consultation with SAS. We’ll share stories of inspiring women and what they have done.

Divorce porn, much like divorce itself, is nothing new and the fact that we all need support as we go through divorce isn’t either.

SAS for Women ladies are those amazing women you meet who are entirely committed to experiencing divorce on their terms. Women facing a divorce, or contemplating it, are invited to schedule a confidential chat. “Divorce requires a one moment at a time approach” ~ SAS for Women