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5 Tips for Staying Safe in an Abusive Relationship

Recognizing abuse in a relationship can be difficult. Abusive behavior may start slowly and can take on many forms, including emotional abuse, manipulation, financial control, digital abuse, sexual coercion, and physical violence. While the signs of abuse may not look the same in every relationship, possessiveness and intimidation are common indicators of domestic abuse.

Living on a remote base, experiencing financial dependence, fear of military career consequences or other feelings of isolation may increase the risk of not seeking support. If you think you or someone you know is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, remember that help is available.

Here are five tips to help you stay safe while in an abusive relationship.

1. Find Ways to Communicate Safely

Regularly communicating with friends and family can provide a lifeline to those in an abusive relationship, but it’s important to keep your safety in mind. Consider:

  • Getting a safe phone. Purchase a pay-as-you-go phone to keep in a safe place for phone calls and emergencies.
  • Using an alternative computer. Try using a computer at a public library, a trusted friend’s house, or any other safe, public location.
  • Telling a trusted neighbor or friend. Alert them to the abuse and ask them to call the police if they hear or see any disturbances.

2. Practice Safety Planning to Keep You and Your Children Safe

A safety plan includes steps that will help keep you safe while in an abusive relationship, preparing to leave or after you leave. The plan can cover safety at work, where to go during a violent incident and how to notify friends and family about the abuse. If you have children, you will want to run through the safety plan with them. You will also want to inform your children’s schools or caregivers and ensure that you provide an updated list of people that are authorized to pick them up.

As a part of your safety planning, consider changing the locks on your doors. In some states, landlords are legally obligated to change locks if you are experiencing domestic violence.

For help developing a safety plan, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

3. Identify Resources and Support

As a valued member of the military community, there are several resources and services to protect you and help you rebuild if you decide to leave an abusive relationship. The Department of Defense’s Family Advocacy Program (FAP) offers abuse prevention and treatment planning for victims and their families. Trained FAP staff members can connect you with resources like counseling, legal services, safe housing options, and assistance with protection orders and understanding reporting options.

For more information on your service’s FAP:

4. Practice Self-Care

Self-care is an important tool that can help improve your physical and emotional well-being. To incorporate self-care into your routine:

  • Find support. Reach out to a crisis line, counselor or support group that directly addresses your experiences and needs.
  • Make time for yourself. Spend time relaxing in a safe environment doing an activity or hobby you enjoy, like reading, exercising or meditating.
  • Set boundaries. If you must communicate with your abuser, determine the safest way to do so and avoid being alone with them.

5. Plan for When You Will Leave

Since leaving is the most dangerous time for someone in an abusive relationship, safety planning is critical. A trained professional can help you develop a plan that fits your needs. Key considerations include:

  • Trusted people who you can immediately reach out to when in danger
  • Safe places where you can stay
  • A packed bag filled with essentials (spare keys, cash, medication, clothing) and important documents

If you are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, know that you are not alone. Visit Military OneSource’s Installation Locator to find the Family Advocacy Program nearest you or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. Call 911 if you are in immediate danger of violence.  

Additional Resources

Sources

Dichter, M., Haywood, T., Butler, A., Bellamy, S., & Iverson, K. (2017). Intimate Partner Violence Screening in the Veterans Health Administration: Demographic and Military Service CharacteristicsAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine52(6), 761–768. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.003

Dichter, M. E., Wagner, C., & True, G. (2018). Women Veterans’ Experiences of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Assault in the Context of Military Service: Implications for Supporting Women’s Health and Well-BeingJournal of Interpersonal Violence33(6), 843–864.

Kelley, M., Montano, H., Lam, N., Hernandez, M., & Miller, M. (2017). Modeling Risk for Intimate Partner Violence among Recent-Era Veteran-Partner DyadsJournal of Family Violence32(5), 505–512.

Sparrow, K., Dickson, H., Kwan, J., Howard, L., Fear, N., & MacManus, D. (2018). Prevalence of Self-Reported Intimate Partner Violence Victimization Among Military Personnel: A Systematic Review and Meta-AnalysisTrauma, Violence, & Abuse, 1-24.

Sparrow, K., Kwan, J., Howard, L., Fear, N., & MacManus, D. (2017). Systematic Review of Mental Health Disorders and Intimate Partner Violence Victimisation Among Military PopulationsSocial Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology52(9), 1059–1080.

Trevillion, K., Williamson, E., Thandi, G., Borschmann, R., Oram, S., Howard, L., & Howard, L. M. (2015). A systematic review of mental disorders and perpetration of domestic violence among military populationsSocial Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology50(9), 1329–1346.

Why Do Victims Stay? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ncadv.org/why-do-victims-stay