If you are leaving a healthy relationship, it’s likely you can have a good conversation and talk about how you are feeling and why you want to end the relationship. Breakups are still hard, but people who are in a healthy relationship can usually also have a healthy mutual breakup.
However, if the relationship is unhealthy or abusive, it may be very difficult to end it amicably. Your partner may not accept that you want to end the relationship: they may try to make you feel guilty, afraid to leave, or worried that they will not cope. They may even threaten to hurt you, your loved ones, or themself. Even if they do not accept that the relationship is ending, you do not have to stay in the relationship.
It can help to keep the conversation direct, factual, non blaming, and future focused – telling them you are unhappy, you no longer want to be in this relationship, and that you are leaving. They may want to argue specific reasons or examples of them behaving badly, convince you that you were the one who behaved badly, or promise they will change. These are tactics to control you and stop you leaving. You do not need to be drawn into this. You can leave whenever you are ready.
Getting ready to leave
Your partner may be a huge part of your life, and you may not have been able to see friends or family in a long time, or do activities by yourself. Having nights where you sleep alone, organising other support around children, talking to friends and family, and finding new activities or interests could help to make the transition easier.
Although it is common, it is not usually a good idea to find a new partner to assist you in leaving, as this can become messy and complicated – just what you don’t need right now.
Write down all the reasons why you want to leave the relationship, no matter how big or small. If your partner has access to your email account, try making a second email account which they don’t know about (on a private browser) and emailing this to yourself. When you miss them and feel sad, it will help to remind you why you left – even if you love them; the relationship was unhealthy, abusive, or not working.
Write down important numbers and keep a list in your wallet and one at a friends house, in case something happens to your phone and you need to call your support people. Set your social media accounts to ‘private’ and change your passwords. If you don’t already have one, open your own bank account. Remember to opt out of receiving statements. Put money away whenever you can so you have backup funds.Change the passwords on your bank accounts, email, all social media, everything. If your partner notices, just say you thought you got hacked so you changed them.
Talk with your support people and other trusted friends and whānau about your intentions beforehand so they can support you. If you work or study, you may want to talk with your employer or school guidance counselor about your plans to end the relationship. If you have children, and you’re concerned about their safety, make a plan for them – you may wish to meet with the school principal in advance and explain that you are leaving the relationship and that the school staff are not to give the children to anyone but you or your support people. You may wish to have this in writing.
If alcohol and other drug use has been part of your relationship, you may experience increased anxiety and distress as your habits around substance use change. Use you support system, and talk with mental health and addictions services, or a counselor, if you think these could help.
If you have not been allowed to make decisions for yourself, then even deciding small things can feel overwhelming and you may second guess yourself or feel unable to manage. Your support system will play an important role when you need support. If you are afraid of what your partner will do, if you feel unsafe or in danger, write down all the things you are afraid of and talk with a friend about what you can do to keep yourself safe.
If you think you will be in DANGER ending your relationship
Legal protection for yourself and your children
Many people do not want to involve the authorities, but sometimes legal protection may be appropriate – especially if there is a danger that your partner may take your children away or use violence against you or your children. Some of the following options may take significant time and effort, so having support people can be very important.
If your partner has shared custody and you are concerned your children will be taken overseas, one way to make this less likely is by getting passports for them and keeping these in a secure location.
If your children are citizens or permanent residents, you can apply for a court order to prevent your partner taking your children overseas.
If your immigration status may be challenged as part of leaving the relationship, seek support and find out your rights and any actions you need to take in advance to protect yourself and your children.
If your partner may try to have children removed from your care, find out your rights and any action you may need to take to protect yourself and your children in advance.
You may wish to or apply for a Trespass Order, which makes it illegal for your partner to come to the property where you live.
Tenancy Orders and Occupation Orders give you the legal right to stay in, or return to, a house which you rent or own, regardless of whether you are on the legal documents for rental or ownership. These may be an option, or you may be safer at an address your partner doesn’t know.
You may wish to apply for a Protection Order, which makes it illegal for your partner to physically, psychologically or sexually abuse or threaten you or your children, damage or threaten to damage your property, or encourage anyone else to physically, sexually or psychologically abuse or threaten you or your children. It also removes any legal right they may have had to possess firearms (guns).
In the case of physical abuse, photograph any injuries, and keep a record of threats and other abuse – write down important points and dates of any conversations, and save any messages, as these might be used as evidence if you need it in the future.
If you live together
Move out when they are going to be away – even for half a day.
Make a plan with your support people so that at short notice you can pack the things you need to take and have someone ready to pick you up and a place to stay – ideally where your partner will not come looking for you.
If you live separately
Change the locks on your doors and secure all windrows. You may consider changing the entire door if you have glass doors or large windows which your partner could break and climb through easily. Consider having an alarm installed.
Talk with neighbors about letting you know or calling the police if they see your partner/anyone around your house.
If you think your ex may come to your house or the place you’re staying, widen your support group to include other friends or whānau you trust and ask them to stay over a night or two for a couple of weeks. You don’t need to tell them everything, but telling them you’re worried about your ex coming over is important so they can support you by not opening the door.
Keep your windows and doors locked at all times, and curtains closed at night. Leave a light or the TV on even when you’re not at home, so it’s harder for someone outside the house to tell if someone is around.
If your ex comes over, don’t answer the door. Talk with your support people and your children about this too.
Telling them you are ending the relationship
Don’t do it alone in person – do it in a public place or with support people. Another option is to break up over the phone or by letter or email – it might seem cold but it may be the safest way.
If your partner will not listen to your reasons for ending the relationship, accept that as a fact and don’t exhaust yourself trying to make them agree.
If you have worried about their mental health, it can help to put your mind at ease to make a list in advance of numbers they can call for support and leave this somewhere for them – like in their letterbox.
If they threaten suicide, let them know that they should seek support but that you are the one person they should not seek support from. Tell them you made them a list, it’s in their letterbox. Making these threats is abusive, their behavior is not your responsibility.
Sometimes it’s complicated…
Many of these issues can be complicated by neurodiversity, by histories of trauma, by lack of mental health support, by not having resources to support yourself when you leave – such as employment, money, housing options, or a car, whānau or friends who you could go to, support organisations which will assist you. These issues can make leaving an unhealthy or abusive relationship more difficult, whether you are the person struggling with these issues or whether you are concerned about the well being of your partner if you leave them. Work out what you need and find out what kinds of support you could get.
Making a Safety Plan
If leaving your relationship becomes dangerous, being mentally and emotionally prepared as much as possible and having a list of instructions you have made for yourself can help you to think clearly, take action quickly, and know what to do next.
This is a list of questions you could think through and use to write your safety plan.
Have you ever sent your partner private photos of yourself? This might include photos of you nude, photos of you and your partner being sexual, photos of you drinking or using drugs, or other photos that you consider private (it is illegal for your partner to use nude or sexual photos for any purpose other than the intended personal use). Does your partner threaten to reveal information about you in a hurtful or embarrassing way, or in a way which takes control of your private information out of your hands? For example, your gender identity, your birth name, your HIV status, an STI, a disability, or something you may be embarrassed or ashamed of having said or done? How could you respond to questions from others in a worst case scenario? Write it down or talk it through with a trusted friend.
Have you told someone in your family or any close friends about your relationship? Who is it safe for you to tell, so they can be there for you a short notice? What word or phrase can you use as a code in a phone call, text, or instant message to ask your family or friends to call for help without your partner knowing? For example, this could be offering to cook a specific food, or borrowing an item of clothing. As long as you have discussed it with them – “do you still want to borrow my blue jacket that you asked about? Remember that discussion we had about my jacket?”. Do you or one of your support people have access to a vehicle, so you can move yourself, children, and essential belongings at short notice? Who could you call or text to let them know where you are going if you are going somewhere with your partner? If you were stranded and needed a ride home, who can you call to pick you up or meet you?
Safety at home and out:
If you need to avoid seeing your partner on your way to or from school or work, what route can you take to get there safely? Does your partner work or study at the same place? Have you told someone at work or school about your relationship? During times when you are home alone, who can stay with you if you don’t want to be alone? This could be different people at different times of the day or overnight. Do you have the number of a locksmith who could change the locks on your house at short notice and money put away to cover the cost? If you don’t feel safe at home, where else could you go to be safe? If you need to leave your home in an emergency, what is a safe public place where you could go? If you need to leave your house quickly, which items would you need to take with you?
Do you have or could you get a secret spare cell phone or sim card and copy all your contacts onto it? Has your partner ever checked your outgoing calls, text messages, or browsing history on your cell phone or computer? Do you know how to use the internet secretly or clear your browsing history? Do you use social networking sites? Has your partner ever pretended to be you online? If your partner were to report your social media accounts as fake, would your identification match the name on your accounts? Do you have alternative ways to contact people, such as email? Have you shared passwords to your online accounts with your partner? Be sure to think about all your online accounts, such as social media, email, blog, instant messaging, courier and post services, online stores, and online banking. Do you know how to get a trespass notice or protection order against your partner?
If you have children:
Is your partner their legal guardian? Who could watch your children in an emergency? Do your children know how to call 111? What word or phrase can you use as a code between you and your children to let them know that they need to call for help? Where is a safe place that your children could go if in danger? This can be a room in your home, a neighbor’s or friend’s place, or even the workplace of a friend. It should be somewhere nearby that your children can safely go by themselves. Are your children able to catch a bus or taxi on their own? Do they know how to take the right bus to a safe place? Do they have access to a bus card, money, etc? Has your partner ever threatened to take away your children if you end the relationship?
Write down the following emergency information on a piece of paper or in an email to yourself (if your partner doesn’t have access to your email). Include the numbers of your support people, so you can reach them even if your partner has taken or broken your cell phone.
The relationship is over, but my ex is still hurting me
If your ex is stalking you, harassing you, coming over and threatening you, or doing things which make you fear or your safety or the safety of your children, please see the above section about safety and legal protections.
One very common scenario is for your ex to try to discredit you in any way possible by spreading rumors, saying you cheated, claiming you abused them or you’re stalking them, etc.
Some tips include:
If you study or work together, ask your school, employer, or other group for a formal process to address their ongoing abuse.
Only communicate with them if it is essential, and communicate in writing only or have support people with you for conversations.
After every conversation, make notes of anything important and any put downs or threats or other abuse, and talk about it with people you trust.
Keep screenshots (photographs) of online or smartphone based conversations.
Keep a timeline of events – one way is to send yourself an email with the above notes and evidence. You can then reply to that message whenever you remember something or when something happens, so you have have a timeline of events and all your evidence in one place. You can also use this to write your feelings and thoughts when you’re feeling really upset, which can help you think things through clearly later. This can be a good alternative to posting on social media, and is useful in a legal process if you go through one in the future.
Remember what made you happy before the relationship? Were there things that you loved to do, but stopped because of your partner? Were there projects you didn’t have time for? Friends you couldn’t see anymore? Places you liked to go? Things you liked to wear?
Replace the habits you had in the relationship with new habits – take a stencil art class, reconnect with people you care about, go to the beach or meet up at the park, take up writing, gardening, camping, going for walks and exploring your area, join a group or club and meet other people who share your interests.
Whenever you feel sad about ending the relationship, you can look at your list of reasons why you left, and remember how good it feels to be in control of your own life. No one undermining your every decision! Freedom to choose! Nice work.
You can find more from our series “Sex and Sexuality for Trans People” using the search box below, or see our resources page here.
Gender Minorities Aotearoa
Love is Respect
The Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian & Gay Survivors of Abuse
Are you OK?
Organisations which can provide crisis support, information on your legal rights, or support you in other ways.
Te Haika – Crisis Support Line
Otipoti Collective Against Sexual Abuse (OCASA)
Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga – National Network of Stopping Violence
Shakti Migrant Women’s Refuge
SHAMA – National Ethnic Response for Sexual Harm
Te Ohaakii a Hine – National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together (TOAH-NNEST)
NZPC: Sex Workers’ Collective
Community Law Centres
The New Zealand Police
Oranga Tamariki | Ministry for Children (Child, Youth, and Family Services/CYFS)
Family Services Directory
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