Step 1: Document Everything

Once you recognize and understand that you are in an abusive relationship, you can begin wrapping your mind around the possibility of actually leaving. No doubt you have fantasized about it many times, but you’ve reached the point where imagining must turn into planning. These next few posts will try to walk you through some of the things that you should consider as you make your preparations.

Step 1 is to document everything. If you have already started, that’s great; keep it up. Try not to leave any gaps because you never know how much you will need to make your case should it become necessary. Here are a few suggestions (which, by the way, must be offered with my standard disclaimer: I’m not an expert in anything. Please take these as recommendations based on my own experiences, and remember that everything must be tailored to your own personal circumstances.)

EDIT: In the interest of presenting information that can be quickly and easily absorbed, I will give a brief list of ideas first. After that, if you care to read further,  be my guest.


  1. Keep a journal. Record all relevant details of your partner’s abusive behaviors. Be clear, be specific, and be objective.
  2. Take pictures. Use your camera phone to capture incriminating images of all kinds of evidence. This is especially useful for documenting injuries and property damage.
  3. Save all text messages and emails. These are invaluable sources of evidence because you can record all the crazy details in your partner’s exact words.
  4. Police reports. It seems scary, but calling the police during or after an abusive episode can be a source of official documentation. Multiple reports can obviously serve to establish a pattern of abuse.
  5. Medical records. Tell your doctor and/or counselor what is going on. They are bound by confidentiality and will make a record of your claims.
  6. The truth. Documenting everything will give you the upper hand because you will be able to demonstrate that you are telling the truth.

Keep a journal

You’ll see this on numerous other sites, and for good reason. Having a detailed, written record of what your abusive partner (AP) says and does will make a huge difference. Counselors, lawyers, judges, even friends and family may have a hard time understanding the extent of what you’ve experienced if you rely only on your memory. Even you may not realize how bad it is until you see it in writing. Also, your AP will definitely try to deny everything and discredit you. Write down everything you possibly can, including the following:

  • exact words that your AP says (especially in the case of threats, insults, etc)
  • details of physical violence or threatening behaviors (including time, place, precise description of the behavior)
  • evidence of public shaming or smearing (including what was said, to whom, when, where, etc.)
  • Remember that you are trying to collect evidence that may be the difference between winning and losing in court. It could have profound implications for your personal and professional life, the custody of your children, even your personal safety. Be thorough and detailed, but also be as objective as possible. Do not waste time or energy writing your opinions or feelings about the evidence you are compiling. Stick to the facts.

NOTE: the manner in which you keep the journal depends entirely on your personal situation.

  • A physical journal may be okay, but many APs are adept at snooping through your belongings, whether you know it or not. An electronic version is a good idea, and something that is connected to the cloud is even better.
  • If you type notes in your phone or on your personal computer, they can be discovered and/or lost. I recommend a Google drive account or other cloud-based service (such as Microsoft Office online) that you can access privately. This way, you’ll have a place to type whatever you need, save documents and photos, and send emails. Also, this prevents you from losing whatever you’ve saved if your AP decides to smash your computer or throw your phone out of the car window. Dropbox (or any other such cloud-based file storage program) work as well.
  • Side note: if your AP has access to your computer, anything you do with it is risky unless you take precautions. The best way to access your cloud account (whatever it may be) or do any abuse-related searches is to use private browsing (under settings in Safari) or an incognito window (in Chrome). These can both be accessed in their mobile apps as well. The new Microsoft Edge browser also has an “InPrivate” window. Using these features will prevent your AP from rummaging through your browser history.

Take pictures

Keeping a journal is great, but photographic evidence can be even more convincing and compelling. Smartphones take a lot of heat for the negative effects they have on us, but their value as tools for collecting evidence cannot be overstated. The camera on your phone is probably the best way to document all the crazy things your AP does. Take pictures of everything, especially physical injuries and damage to property. Obviously, in most cases it’s probably best not to let her know that you are doing so. Like all the other advice I offer, it depends entirely on your situation.

  • Once you take pictures, it’s best not to leave them stored on your phone (for the same reasons I mentioned about the journal). There are apps that serve as password-protected places to store files, but again, it could be risky if your AP finds it and demands access (or destroys your phone). You could download one and store the pictures there until you are able to transfer them to the cloud.
  • Also, don’t forget to take pictures of any handwritten letters or notes that could be of value. She may realize that such things could be used against her and may destroy them. It’s best to a have digital copy of everything possible.

Text messages and emails

Written communication is by far one of the best ways to keep a record of your AP’s craziness. Do not delete anything until you have saved a copy of it. Even if it seems like there is just way too much to keep track of, save it all.

  • Taking screenshots of texts is a good way to store them quickly and privately, but it can be a little cumbersome to keep track of them as photos. I don’t know anything about Android phones, but Apple users can store their iMessages to their iCloud account. (more on the technical details of this later)
  • Emails are potentially a little easier. If your AP doesn’t have access to your email, then simply creating a folder to save all correspondence will be no problem. If she does have access, or if you have the slightest suspicion that she might, then it’s a little trickier. You can forward all emails to an account that she doesn’t know about, but she will be able to see that you’ve forwarded them if you leave the originals in your inbox (and they’ll show up in your sent folder as well). Another possible solution is to click “print” and save as a PDF instead of actually printing.
  • No matter how you do it, be sure to save as many texts and emails as you can. Being able to show her exact words is a huge advantage for you when she inevitably tries to deny saying those things.
  • Also, and equally important, saving written correspondence will give you the opportunity to demonstrate that you have tried to communicate calmly and rationally. Of course, this only works if you have actually been calm and rational. DO NOT USE ANY INSULTING, BELITTLING, OR THREATENING LANGUAGE IN ANYTHING YOU WRITE OR SAY TO YOUR AP. She will use anything and everything she can, so you must be extra careful.

Police reports

This is definitely a tricky one. How do you know when to call the police? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. On the one hand, if your AP is physically abusive, the best way to handle it may be to file a police report so that her behavior and your injuries can be documented by an objective third party. On the other hand, involving the authorities could backfire, either by making her even more angry and potentially dangerous or by risking being arrested yourself if she points the finger at you.

I can only give you my perspective on this. I never called the police on my ex-wife because I was worried about the effects on her social and professional life. Her career in particular would be in serious jeopardy had she been reported for domestic abuse. However, I now realize that my desire to protect her was another product of her manipulation. Even when I was the one bleeding or bruised, she made me think that I was the one in the wrong, that I had forced her hand. I wish now I had called the police, but it is impossible to say whether it would have helped me or hurt me.

Medical records

If you see a doctor regularly, don’t hesitate to tell him/her about what you are going through. They don’t even have to put it on your official record; just saying it out loud to another person can really help you process it.

If you are unfortunate enough to share a doctor with your AP, be cautious about what you say. Though they are generally obliged to observe confidentiality, doctors are people, too. At the risk of sounding completely paranoid, you may not realize just how convincing your AP can be in her quest to keep you under surveillance.

The same goes for your therapist. If you don’t have one, find one. The sooner you can get in front of someone who is trained to listen and understand without judgment, the quicker and more effectively he/she can treat you. He/she can also help you establish a record of the pattern of abuse.

The truth

One particularly nasty characteristic of abusive people is their tendency to lie, either by stating actual falsehoods or by sharing distorted information. Either way, certain accusations can be terribly difficult to disprove, and APs will often do or say whatever is necessary to make you look like the bad guy. If she claims that you have texted your ex-girlfriend 346 times in the last month, a simple phone record can disprove that.

However, if she accuses you of threatening to kill her, what then? There is very little (that I know of, anyway) that can be done about such baseless claims, but there is at least one way to combat them. The truth. The more you can establish that you are an honest person who does what he says he will do, the more credibility you can establish.

The obvious problem here is the level of dishonesty required for certain things like documenting her crazy behavior. If she finds out you’ve kept a journal without telling her, she will definitely use it to make you look like a liar. It is really important to keep your documentation a secret, and not to admit any act of dishonesty to her so long as you can avoid it. It doesn’t matter if she can trust you; what matters is that your family and friends can trust you, that a lawyer or a judge can trust you. If your friends, neighbors, coworkers, children, etc. can attest that you are not the lying monster she portrays you to be, then you have a fighting chance.


I may well add more to this list later, but it’s a good start. Also, if you have anything I should add, please let me know.

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