Getting Help With An Abusive Relationship

Getting Help With An Abusive Relationship

* Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, a PHARMAPRIX AIMEZ. VOUS. charity partner.
** Shoe Box Shelter Project, a PHARMAPRIX AIMEZ. VOUS. charity partner.

What follows is some basic information, questions to consider, and practical tools to help you make the best decisions regarding your relationship, and ultimately stay safe. We hope the information is helpful to you, but please be aware that this NOT all the information you need. It is critical that you connect with someone knowledgeable about domestic violence, who can help you create a plan that is tailored to address your family’s needs and your specific circumstances.


What does abuse look like?

Abuse has no boundaries; it can happen to anyone of any age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, gender, socioeconomic background and education level. Domestic abuse is a repetitive pattern of behaviours to maintain power and control over an intimate partner. While we often assume that abuse is physical, there are in fact many forms of domestic abuse. Some are less obvious and difficult to see but are no less devastating.


Many of these different forms of abuse can be going on at any one time, in fact abusers rarely exercise just one form of abuse on their loved ones. Abuse often escalates from psychological and emotional abuse like threats, controlling behaviour and intimidation to physical violence. Although physical abuse can seem worse, studies have shown that verbal or non-verbal abuse can be even more emotionally damaging than physical violence.

Types of abuse:

  • Physical Abuse can include slapping, punching, kicking, pushing, restraining, confinement, dragging, choking, or being injured with a weapon or object
  • Psychological Abuse includes living with the constant fear of threats of violence against you and/or your children, friends, relatives and pets. Your partner may be harassing you at work by calling repeatedly or by showing up. They may destruct items that you value or may make suicide threats.
  • Emotional Abuse is persistent criticism, name-calling, and put downs, either alone or in public. It includes unfair blaming, false accusations about loyalties, and controls on your time, whereabouts and actions.
  • Sexual Abuse is being forced against your will to perform sexual acts or to have pain and injury inflicted during sex. Sexual abuse also includes harassment, which can involve ridiculing another person to try to limit their sexuality or reproductive choices, and exploitation such as forcing another person to participate in pornographic photos or film-making.
  • Financial Abuse means that you have limited or no access to the family’s money therefore no control over what is spent or saved. An abuser may also withhold other resources like clothing, food, medications or other necessities in order to retain control.
  • Digital abuse is the use of technology to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. This includes keeping tabs on your email and social media messages, writing degrading messages or posting photos/videos about you in public spaces online, and having control of your logins/passwords. The abuser may also access your phone to monitor who you are texting and calling.
  • Spiritual Abuse may mean mocking or denigrating one’s spiritual beliefs, preventing another person from practicing his or her religious or spiritual beliefs, or using religious doctrine as justification for abuse.
  • Stalking can occur at or near the person’s home, their workplace, by phone or over the internet. Stalkers employ threatening tactics like following or tracking another person, calling repeatedly, sending emails, communicating with the person’s friends or loved ones, sending unwanted packages or gifts. Stalking is unpredictable and should always be considered dangerous.


Am I being abused?

Sometimes it can be difficult to identify abuse when you are in a relationship with someone, especially when the abuse has not yet turned physical. Look over the following questions and think carefully about your relationship. The more questions you answer ‘yes’ to, the more likely it is that you are an in an abusive relationship and you should seek help sooner than later.


Does your partner:

  • Embarrass or make fun of you in front of other people?
  • Ignore or discount your feelings?
  • Put down your accomplishments or goals?
  • Threaten or abuse your pets?
  • Call you several times throughout the day and night, and/or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
  • Call you names and insult you?
  • Burst into anger unpredictably and make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells?
  • Use stress, drugs or alcohol as an excuse for hurtful behavior?
  • Blame you for how they are feeling or their misfortunes?
  • Pressure you to perform sexual acts you aren’t interested in or ready for?
  • Make you feel like you have no way out of the relationship?
  • Prevent you from spending time with friends or family?
  • Make you feel like you are “crazy” or overreacting to your partner’s behaviours?
  • Threaten you with violence?
  • Threaten to commit suicide if you were to leave?
  • Limit your access to money, the car, the phone, the internet, etc?
  • Accuse you of having an affair?
  • Objectify or disrespect those of your gender?
  • Grab, push, shove, slap, shake, kick, punch, choke or otherwise hurt you?

Do you:

  • Feel afraid of your partner?
  • Avoid inviting people over for fear of how your partner will behave?
  • Consistently make excuses to other people about your partner’s behavior?
  • Spend a lot of time figuring out how to talk about certain topics with your partner, in an effort to avoid an angry or negative reaction?
  • Feel like if you changed something about yourself, you could change your partner’s behavior?
  • Feel like you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • Feel like you are staying with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner might do if you broke up?
  • Feel so badly about yourself that you think you deserve to be hurt?
  • Feel like you lost the love and respect that you once had for your partner?
  • Fear that your partner will try to take your children or pet away from you?
  • Feel emotionally numb?


I answered “yes”, what should I do?

If you are in danger and need immediate assistance, call 911.

If these descriptions of abuse seem familiar and you answered ‘yes’ to a number of the above questions, we recommend speaking to a professional counsellor right away regarding these risks. Women’s shelters not only offer a place to stay if you need to leave home, but they can also provide confidential information, support and referrals at every stage of your relationship. It’s never too early to seek help if you have concerns about abuse in your relationship. Here’s where you can start:

  • ca - This website has the contact information for every women’s shelter in Canada. You can look up your region on their interactive map and find one that would be most convenient for you.
  • 24 Hour Help Lines – Unfortunately, the domestic violence helplines are different for each province, but you can find them listed here:
  • Community Organizations - Many community organizations provide social services like counselling, housing help, legal and financial assistance, etc. These organizations may have someone on-site who can listen to you and talk about your choices, and if not, they will certainly be able to refer you to the right place.
  • Family Doctor – Your doctor or a public health nurse can talk to you about your situation and refer you to a local counsellor to help you stay safe.

Getting Ready to Leave & Creating a Safety Plan:


Safety planning is very important, since leaving a relationship can sometimes lead the abuser to become more dangerous, because he sees control over his victim disappearing. If you feel that you are at risk of violence by your partner, it is strongly advised that you develop a personalized safety plan as a first step in protecting yourself and your children.

In addition to planning in advance where you would go in an emergency and how to get there, a safety plan also includes thinking about how to deal with your emotions, tell friends and family about the abuse, take legal action and more. Once again, this should be discussed in person with a counsellor who is professionally trained in domestic abuse. In the meantime, you may want to consider the following:


  • Know the quickest route out of your home and practice escaping that way (with your children, if applicable).
    • Avoid bathrooms or bedrooms where you may be trapped
    • Also, try to avoid rooms that contain weapons like the kitchen.
  • Know the quickest route out of your workplace and practice escaping that way.
  • Know the route to shelters, police stations, hospitals, and public places/stores that are open 24 hours a day.
  • Decide who in your life you can trust and depend on, and talk to them about your plan.
  • If appropriate, teach your children how to respond in an emergency (ie. dialing 911, going to a neighbour’s house or another safe space).
  • Try to start putting aside some money that your partner doesn’t know about and can’t find.
  • Make an extra set of car keys and hide them in case your partner takes your keys away when you want to leave.
  • If appropriate, tell your neighbours about the abuse and ask them to call the police if they hear a disturbance.
  • Have a code word or phrase to use with your children, family and friends. They will know to call the police and get you help if you use the code.
  • Pack a bag with the items you would need to take with you if you are to leave in a hurry. These include:
      • key documents (see below),
      • bank and/or credit cards,
      • keys,
      • medication,
      • legal papers,
      • important phone numbers,
      • jewelry, photos or sentimental items,
      • a few items of clothing
      • favourite toys/blankets.
  • Keep the bag somewhere where your partner won’t find it, ie. with a trusted friend or family member.
  • Try to gather the following documents for you and your children:
  • birth certificates,
  • driver’s license,
  • social security cards,
  • immunization records,
  • passports,
  • banking info,
  • School records.
  • Any documentation that you might have about the abuse, including pictures, recordings, medical records, and police reports are also very important to have.
  • Keep change or a calling card on you at all times. You may not be able to use your cellphone as your whereabouts can often be traced.


Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters