There is no shame in taking care of yourself and wanting to protect yourself from emotional and bodily harm. “No relationship is without its flaws,” says Wojciechowski. “But when you are made to feel less than a person or your health is at risk, you need to seek help.” If you don’t feel as though you can get help from a family member or friend, you can contact organizations, such as House of Ruth, a local shelter, or the NDVH or by calling at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).
Speak up, say experts. Make sure people know what is happening to you. Tell people your schedule – where you’ll be at certain hours, so they’ll know to expect you and get suspicious if you don’t show up. Create a signal system with neighbors, suggests Wojciechowski, such as leaving the porch light on after a certain hour, so that neighbors will know if you don’t turn it on at that hour, then something has happened to you.
Start saving money. Create a separate account and deposit money into it whenever you can, so that when you are ready to leave, you’ll have at least some money to get by, suggests Wojciechowski. If you’re working with a women’s shelter or organization, the staff might help you put together a personalized safety plan, which is tailored to your situation, to get out of the relationship. If you can get away from the house that you share, that’s great. If not, women’s shelters and groups, such as House of Ruth, often help clients pay to change the locks.
The most lethal time for women in an abusive relationship is when they decide to leave. On average, says Wojciechowski, it takes a woman seven times to leave for good, often because she fears that her spouse or partner will kill her or her family if she does. Women usually decide to leave when they feel that the safety of their children is compromised, adds Wojciechowski. Even if they are not the ones getting physically abused, a domestic violence situation at home harms a child. “Not only does the cycle of violence continue, it’s damaging to a child’s educational and emotional development,” says Wojciechowski.
Many newlyweds are just considering parenthood. Some people mistakenly think that getting married or having kids miraculously fixes broken relationships. But if abuse is already a problem, it could get worse if you get pregnant. In fact, as many as 324,000 women each year experience domestic violence during their pregnancy, according to “Violence and Reproductive Health; Current Knowledge and Future Research Directions” in the Maternal and Child Health Journal in 2000, as reported by NDVH.
For Steiner, getting out of her abusive first marriage gave her a second chance at life, she writes. She now has a self-described healthy marriage with another man, with whom she has children, and a successful career. In the acknowledgements for her memoir, Steiner speaks to other women who might be facing the same challenges she faced in her abusive first marriage: “This book was difficult to write. Sharing this story is either one of the stupidest or bravest things I’ve ever done. But I wrote it for women, like me, who are in violent relationships and don’t know how to leave, and for their families and friends, who also suffer. And for those who have left but are too scared or ashamed to tell their stories. You are not alone.”