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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, control and intimidation are common indicators of domestic abuse or intimate partner violence.

Living on a remote military base, distancing from family and friends, experiencing financial dependence, fear of military career consequences, or other feelings of isolation, may reduce the likelihood of you or someone you care about seeking support when in an abusive relationship. If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, remember help is available.

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

1. Find Ways to Communicate Safely

Regularly communicating with friends and family can provide a supportive lifeline to those in an abusive relationship. However, it’s important to maintain communication safely. Consider:

  • Get a private phone. Purchase a pay-as-you-go phone to keep in a secure place for calls and emergencies.
  • Use an alternative computer. Try using a computer at a public library, a trusted friend’s house, or any other safe, public location.
  • Tell a trusted neighbor or friend. Alert them to the safety concerns and abuse. 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 has steps that are intended to help keep you safe while in an abusive relationship, especially important if you are preparing to leave the relationship, or after you have left the relationship. A safety 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 may want to run through the safety plan with them. You may also want to inform your children’s schools or caregivers. Ensure you provide schools and caregivers an updated list of people who are authorized to pick up your children.

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 report that you are experiencing domestic violence.

Remember your pets in safety planning, which will help remove barriers to leaving. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, as many as 65% of domestic violence victims are unable to escape their abusive situation out of concern for their pets.

For help with developing a safety plan, contact your nearest Family Advocacy Program office by visiting the Military OneSource Installation Locator or use the Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate Locator.

3. Identify Resources and Support

There are many resources and services available to members of the military community (including spouses, partners, and family members) to protect you and your loved ones and help you and your family if you decide to leave an abusive relationship.

The Family Advocacy Program is designated to provide domestic and intimate partner abuse prevention and treatment planning, for victims, alleged offenders, and their families. Trained FAP victim advocates can connect you with resources like counseling, legal services, and safe housing options. They will also provide you assistance with protection orders and how to understand reporting options if you are a victim of intimate partner violence.

Click the links below for more information on your service's FAP:

4. Take Care of Yourself, Too 

Self-care can be challenging to engage in while in an abusive relationship, but is vital to help you cope with or heal from an abusive relationship. Here are some ideas of ways to better cope:

  • Find support. Reach out to a crisis line, counselor, victim advocate, or support group that directly addresses your experiences and needs.
  • Make time for yourself. Spend time relaxing in a safe environment and engage in 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 experiencing intimate partner violence, safety planning is critical. A trained professional can help you develop a safety plan that fits your needs. Key considerations in making any plan 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 (ex: spare keys, cash, medication, clothing, pet food) and vital documents (ex: driver’s license, birth certificate, passport, financial documents).

If you are in an abusive relationship or experiencing intimate partner violence, know that you are not alone.

Visit the Military OneSource Installation Locator to find the Family Advocacy Program nearest you or use the Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate Locator. Call 911 if you are in immediate danger of assault or physical injury. If you are on a military installation, call your military law enforcement office.

Additional Resources:


  • Barrios, V. R., Khaw, L. B. L., Bermea, A., & Hardesty, J. L. (2021). Future Directions in Intimate Partner Violence Research: An Intersectionality Framework for Analyzing Women’s Processes of Leaving Abusive Relationships. Journal of Interpersonal Violence36(23-24), NP12600-NP12625.
  • Bermea, A. M., Khaw, L., Hardesty, J. L., Rosenbloom, L., & Salerno, C. (2020). Mental and Active Preparation: Examining Variations in Women’s Processes of Preparing to Leave Abusive Relationships. Journal of Interpersonal Violence35(3-4), 988-1011.
  • Cattaneo, L. B., Stylianou, A. M., Hargrove, S., Goodman, L. A., Gebhard, K. T., & Curby, T. W. (2021). Survivor-centered practice and survivor empowerment: Evidence from a research–practitioner partnership. Violence Against Women, 27(9), 1252–1272.
  • Goodman-Williams, R., Simmons, C., Chiaramonte, D., Ayeni, O. O., Guerrero, M., Sprecher, M., & Sullivan, C. M. (2023). Domestic violence survivors’ housing stability, safety, and well-being over time: Examining the role of domestic violence housing first, social support, and material hardship. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 93(5), 402–414.
  • Kaukinen, C. (2020). When stay-at-home orders leave victims unsafe at home: Exploring the risk and consequences of intimate partner violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. American Journal of Criminal Justice45(4), 668–679.
  • Kwan, J., Sparrow, K., Facer-Irwin, E., Thandi, G., Fear, N. T., & MacManus, D. (2020). Prevalence of intimate partner violence perpetration among military populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 53, Article 101419.
  • Leemis RW, Friar N, Khatiwada S, Chen MS, Kresnow M, Smith SG, Caslin S, & Basile KC. (2022). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2016/2017 Report on Intimate Partner Violence. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Ogbe E, Harmon S, Van den Bergh R, Degomme O (2020). A systematic review of intimate partner violence interventions focused on improving social support and/ mental health outcomes of survivors. PLoS One, 15(6):e0235177. https://doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0235177
  • Sani AI, Pereira D. (2020). Mothers as Victims of Intimate Partner Violence: The Decision to Leave or Stay and Resilience-Oriented Intervention. Social Sciences, 9(10):174.
  • Stewart, D. E., MacMillan, H., & Kimber, M. (2021). Recognizing and Responding to Intimate Partner Violence: An Update. Canadian journal of psychiatry. Revue canadienne de psychiatrie66(1), 71–106.


Updated February 2024

Last Updated: March 13, 2024
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