Firstly, let’s be clear on what we mean by domestic abuse as this can sometimes be difficult to spot. In April 2021 a landmark Domestic Abuse Bill received Royal Assent. It marks the first time in history there has been a wide-ranging legal definition of domestic abuse which incorporates emotional, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.  

Toxic and abusive relationships adversely impact a person’s health and well-being and can be difficult to spot given toxicity is often wrapped up in flashes of romance and confusing behaviour. In the early days, the signs that this may not be a healthy relationship are not obvious. It’s natural to only show your best side when you first meet a potential partner and someone who is capable of abuse will want to lure you in. Love bombing is a technique used to lure you into these toxic relationships with extravagant displays of love, gifts, compliments, grandiose promises and gifts. You fall in love with who you think they are and then over time the mask starts to slip and you see behaviours that you would never have fallen for if they were obvious on day one. These include lies, bullying, gaslighting (confusing behaviour), controlling behaviour, a constant need for praise and attention and never accepting blame.

It is so important to know that, if you are in an abusive relationship, it is not your fault. You are also not alone as this is more common than you may think as 1 in 4 women, 1 in 6 men and 1 in 5 children experience domestic abuse in the UK. Signs you may be in an abusive relationship include: 

  1. Walking on eggshells – Not being able to say what you really feel and worrying about your partner’s reaction before you speak. Heightened anxiety when your partner is around. 
  1. Gaslighting – When situations or words are twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favour your partner, or false information is presented with the intent of making you doubt your own memory, perception, and sanity.
  1. Lies – When there is a history of lies or explanations that do not make sense to you. Distorting the truth beyond recognition and having a different version of the past than you do.
  1. Slow erosion of confidence and self-esteem – When you partner is belittling you, sowing seeds of doubt about your abilities and putting you down.
  1. Increasing self-doubt – If you are starting not to trust your gut instinct and own ability to make good decisions. You lose your confidence and become a shell of your former self. You may even start to doubt your own sanity.
  1. Withdrawal from friends and family – Becoming more isolated from those close to you and your partner is setting things up so you are more dependent on them.
  1. Living a double life behind closed doors – The perception is that you are a happy, loving couple but the reality at home is very different
  1. Emotion, verbal and /or physical abuse – When your partner makes you feel less than and vulnerable, as well as being threatening and even violent towards you.
  1. Lack of personal freedom – You need to run everything past your partner and are not allowed the freedom to make your own decisions. This could include controlling what friends you spend time with, how you dress and even where you go.
  1. Financial control – If your partner controls the amount of money you have access to or what you spend it on, whilst they can spend as they please without mentioning it to you. You may not have access to family financial information and be kept in the dark about money.

It is a shocking fact that if you are in an abusive relationship the abuse does not stop when you leave your partner. In fact, in many cases, it escalates as the difficult person realises that you are pulling away and therefore, they attempt to step up their control in other areas. This can be by making the divorce process as difficult as possible, cutting off financial support or making things difficult with the children. If your ex wants to annihilate you, make you suffer and would be happy to see you end up with as little as possible then your breakup has much more added stress and pressure. 

Divorce is a difficult process but breaking up with a controlling partner can be a living nightmare. They can be manipulative and exploitive, feeling entitled to get whatever they want. They blame everyone else for their problems, and because they are so self-centred, even while bullying their spouses they often portray themselves to be the victims. They also believe they are above the law which makes them incredibly difficult to deal with. 

Reassuringly, there is light at the end of the tunnel – if you plan ahead and get the right help, you can learn to cope with it and be free to live your own life again. There are some key things you can do to help yourself through this emotional roller-coaster: 

  1. Understand that abuse is NOT normal and it is NOT acceptable. Be clear that there is a big difference between your partner having a bad day and your partner being abusive. Everyone has moments when they snap or say something unkind to those closest to them. However, abuse is not like this – it is ongoing, debilitating and damaging to your self-esteem, confidence and sanity. Do not gloss over your situation, excuse it or stick your head in the sand. Know that this is not your fault and it will not get better without taking action.
  1. Safe-guard your financial standing. Given the tactics this type will use, it’s vital you get your ducks in a row. Get clarity on your financial position and get the paperwork ready before divorce proceedings get underway. Getting clarity will help you to navigate moving forward. Taking ownership of your finances is a huge step towards feeling financially independent and in control. 
  1. Put a top-notch support team in place. Ensure your legal team has training in domestic abuse so they can best protect you. They should be able to advise on how an abusive ex partner can impact the divorce process and the pitfalls and traps to watch out for.  You may also want to appoint a financial planner – someone with training and experience in assessing the financial implications of various settlement scenarios, with the goal of achieving the best possible outcome for your financial security. A compassionate and qualified Coach who specialises in this area so you can fully understand the behaviour to expect during the divorce and be prepared to handle it – is also a vital part of your divorce arsenal.
  1. Keep contact to a minimum.  Don’t share any personal information with your ex or let them know how you are feeling as they will use this against you. I advise clients to set up a separate email address for use in divorce case correspondence and to keep all communication in the written form. 
  1. Educate yourself about what you are dealing with. Narcissist, bi-polar, borderline personality disorder, sociopath, psychopath are all types of personality disorders that are common amongst abusers. There are many books and online posts that deal with these issues and if you read up about them you will realise that you are not going mad and also that you are not alone in your suffering.

Take small steps every day. You can get through this and come out the other side to be happy and confident. I know as I have done it and many of my clients have done it too. The key is to focus on one day at a time and reduce the overwhelm by taking small steps. You will be surprised at how far you can come in a few weeks if you just take it one day at a time.