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Breaking free from a destructive relationship

by Lee-Anne Van Den Broek

People stay in bad relationships for thousands of reasons. Sometimes they are afraid to be alone, or they are afraid of starting over. Sometimes they are afraid of what their partner will do, or that they will end up broke and hopeless. Often people assume the old saying “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”.

But, the truth is: life is precious and it is short.

Don’t waste a minute more of your time being in a relationship that is damaging or destructive.

The people we love are meant to lift us up, to make us our best selves, not to tear us down and leave us broken.

So if you are thinking about leaving, or preparing to leave, check out Counselling student Lee-Ann Van Den Broek’s advice below on breaking free from a destructive relationship.

And remember, it’s better to be by yourself and working on your own happiness, than to be with someone who makes you feel bad, scared or alone.

breaking out of a Destructive relationship

What is an abusive relationship?

Abuse comes in many forms, not just physical. An abusive relationship can include one, some or all of the below symptoms:

Physical abuse: If your partner is violent towards you, or threatens violence towards you. Physical abuse may also include the destruction of property or harming of pets.

Emotional abuse: This can take many forms and can include humiliation, yelling, insults, criticism, judgement, domination, control, shame, rejection, discounting someone’s opinions or value, threats, accusations, blame, unreasonable demands and expectations, emotional distancing and the ‘silent treatment’, emotional abandonment, neglect, bullying, and co-dependence.

Financial abuse: If your partner controls your finances, limits your access to funds and makes you financially dependent on them.

Social abuse: Happens when your partner limits your contact with family and friends. It can also happen when they insult you, or are cruel about you in front of other people. They may also try to control where you go, when you go and who you see.

For more information on the definition of an abusive relation visit

Taking the first step

Leaving a destructive relationship is not easy. Often the person that you are leaving will place blame on you, and will try to get you to question your own feelings and judgement.

They will often make you think that your leaving will have serious consequences, and you may begin to minimise the seriousness of your situation.

Don’t underestimate your situation

Never underestimate the seriousness of your situation. If you are in an abusive relationship, you need to keep yourself (and your children) safe.

The hardest decision you will have to make is the initial break, from there you will find there is both social and financial support that you can access.

Breaking free

So how do you break free from a destructive relationship?

  1. The first step is realising the abuse is not your fault and that you are not to blame.
  2. The next is to realise you are not alone and there are measures that you can take to ensure your safety.

Getting away safely

Setting up a safety plan is useful and allows you the freedom to leave at the drop of a hat.

  • A safety plan might include having an emergency bag of belongings that you can leave with someone you trust.
  • Setting up a code word that lets your friends and family know when you feel unsafe. This way, if you feel worried about your safety, all you need to do is call someone that you have shared the word with, and speak that one word. It’s simple, quick and easy, and can have someone on their way to your place in no time at all.
  • Children can also be given the code word as a warning if a quick exit is needed.
  • Decide on the best exit from your home. This may be a window or a door, and always have a safe hiding place for your spare car key.
  • Always ensure you have emergency numbers programmed into your phone.
  • If you feel like you are in danger, speak to the police about your options.

You can find a detailed safety plan by visiting Relationships Australia.

Once you have decided to leave, you will need to work out where you will go to. You may want to stay with family or friends for a while, or you could get temporary accommodation at a shelter or a refuge.

Resources once you’ve broken free

There are a number of legal, financial and emotional resources available to you, both before and after you have left your relationship, these include:

Legal: Lawstuff – for information about your rights and the law as it applies to you.

Financial: Centrelink can provide crisis payments in times of distress. If you are financially dependent on your partner, they can also help you with payments until you find work.

Physical: If you have been hurt or injured by your partner, head to your local GP or the nearest hospital for immediate medical assistance.

Emotional: There are several fantastic support services which will help you access emotional and mental support, including:

Get support

Whether or not you feel it, there will be lingering effects from the abuse that you have suffered. You may feel guilty, scared or down on yourself.

For your wellbeing, it is essential that you seek out some counselling or therapy. It will help you sort through your emotions, get you into a better headspace, and ultimately help you to leave the past behind and walk into the bright new future that’s waiting for you.

The above emotional support services will be able to help you locate counselling services, or you may want to check out Open Colleges’ blog on How to pick a psychologist.

And please, always remember that you are not alone and help is always available.

Are you passionate about helping others?

A Diploma of Counselling from Open Colleges will equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to guide people through the tough times in life.

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