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Toxic relationship? Wait for the snap

The snap
Photo by Jom Jakkid on Unsplash

A common but antiquated question in the family violence debate (using gendered language for historical accuracy) is “why didn’t she leave?” Answers include that he convinced her the problems were her fault and he promised to change. Clearly the more important question then is “why did he abuse her?” But that is the topic of another post.

In my view, the better question to be asked in the battle against domestic abuse is “how do people in toxic relationships leave?” The answer to that question is survivors may be empowered to escape if they understand a phenomenon known as “the snap”.

The snap is a moment in time where something happens which puts the brakes on the rollercoaster that is life with a toxic partner. It can be a huge event, like the first time the domestic violence escalates from emotional to physical, or a very quiet moment, often experienced like the feeling of a snap in the survivor’s head.

It’s difficult to describe the snap, and the experience is different for each person. Some describe it as the click you hear and feel when turning an old-fashioned light switch on. Others experience an overwhelm of emotion, akin to the feeling of being caught in a wave or rip in the ocean and being carried away.

The close friend who introduced me to the snap was eating breakfast one morning when she felt it. She stood up, walked away from the home she had shared with her abusive husband for many years and never looked back. This friend also left after she felt the snap in a second abusive relationship. She is now in a healthy, loving and long-term marriage.

Another friend reported feeling the snap when her children were very young. She left her husband, but returned after he convinced her things would change. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t. More than 20 years later, having waited for their children to grow old enough to leave home, that friend regrets ignoring the instinct that told her it was time to go.

The more time you spend with abuse survivors who have escaped, the more often you hear about the snap – the moment where their internal tables turned and they felt an overwhelming urge to end the relationship. Most often it is experienced as a sense of coldness, of calm, of certainty that it’s over. As my friend described “it’s a moment in time where your head, heart and gut align”.

If you suspect you’re in a toxic relationship, don’t worry about when you will leave or how. Just know that there will come a point when you know it’s time. You’ll feel the snap. And when you do, recognise it and seek help to leave.

To prepare you for that point, start telling people about what you’re experiencing at home, right now. Tell the police, tell your friends, tell your family, tell everyone who you trust will listen, believe and support you about what’s been happening. You’ll need their help to leave your relationship safely.

Author Turcois Ominek described the snap beautifully when she wrote: “I'm guilty of giving people more chances than they deserve but when I'm done, I'm done.”



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