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How to leave an abusive relationship

The first thing you should do when you find yourself at the mercy of an abuser in a toxic relationship is to run for your life. But if you’re unable to leave immediately, follow this exit plan put together by a life coach.

Nothing prepares you for the pain caused by emotional, physical or sexual abuse at the hands of an intimate partner, made even more debilitating if you depend on your abuser financially.

Joburg-based life coach Thembi Hama says she wouldn’t advise anyone to endure or navigate abuse.

“It worsens over time, destroying and threatening lives. If you don’t have supportive family or friends, find a safe house or shelter for women. If, on the other hand, you don’t see a way forward and find yourself questioning if you should stay or leave, it’s crucial to work on regaining your independence so you can make a sound decision,” says Thembi.

Limiting self-beliefs is one reason women stay in abusive relationships, so challenge them. “These include beliefs such as, I’m too old, it’s too late for me, I already have children, I’m used-goods so no one will want me, I cannot fail again, and, what will people say? You might think that if you persevere in a relationship, things will get better or that God hates divorce.”

Thembi affirms that no matter how dire your situation may seem, it’s possible to walk away. Here’s how.

Challenge limiting self-beliefs

“It’s crucial to activate a deeper spiritual connection and know that there’s a higher power who can help,” says Thembi, who also recommends working on and improving your self-esteem, confidence and self-worth.

“It’s also a good idea to objectively confront and debunk societal myths around staying in a dysfunctional relationship and the implications.”

Adjusting your views on marriage also helps you adopt a more realistic approach.

“Think about what a healthy marriage should look like and how that ultimately affects your children,” she says. “You can achieve this by listening to other women’s experiences of marriage and how they avoided or got out of abusive situations. You can also ask a happily married couple to mentor you back to a healthy mindset.”

Move beyond fear to see possibilities. Thembi recommends trying new activities to build your confidence, and to do more of what you enjoy.

“Reading self-help books or tuning into encouraging and inspirational material helps you see beyond your current circumstances and cultivate a more hopeful outlook.”

It also does you a world of good to focus on positive aspects of your life as tapping into the fuel within helps you make good decisions.

“It also helps to spend time with people who survived abuse and hear their stories of how they made it out – talk to your family and friends or women’s support groups.”

Secure yourself financially

• Save what you can

• Get a job to support yourself

• Ask for financial help from trusted family members

• Invest in short courses to improve herself

• Evaluate possible entrepreneurial opportunities

• Open a bank account only you can control and access

If you’ve been financially dependent on your partner, focus on these specific areas to help you gain financial independence:

• Monitor and track your expenditure

• Use monthly, weekly and daily budgeting tools

• Avoid or limit debt

• Do your research before you make big financial decisions

• Save more than you spend

• Live within your means

Create a safe space for yourself

It’s crucial when you’re navigating an abusive relationship, so while working on your exit plan, Thembi cautions against sharing it with your partner. “Don’t provoke or aggravate the situation while you’re living under the same roof with him or her.”

She also recommends having the means to make calls, as well as a list of emergency numbers. And should things escalate, “be aware of safe places you can go to”.

Don’t give up

Expect stumbling blocks along the way, but maintain a realistic outlook and don’t let them deter you.

“You may experience resistance from your partner, but don’t allow yourself to be intimidated or discouraged,” says Thembi. Disapproval or a lack of support from family members could also be discouraging, but “you need to remember that self-care and wellness are more important than other peoples’ opinions”. It might also take time to find a job or get your business going, so you need to persist and cultivate a resilient spirit to attain your freedom.

*People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) is a non-profit organisation that provides referral services and shelter to women experiencing any form of abuse. For more information, contact 076 694 5911 or visit

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