Engendering Independence While Living With Purpose: Women's Lives After Leaving Abusive Intimate Partners


  • Penelope W. McDonald PhD, RN,

    Corresponding author
    1. Gamma Kappa, Clinical Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, Buffalo, NY
    • Dr Penelope W. McDonald, School of Nursing, University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, Buffalo, NY. E-mail: pm38@buffalo.edu

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  • Suzanne Dickerson DNS, RN

    1. Gamma Kappa, Director of PhD program and Associate Professor, School of Nursing, University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, Buffalo, NY
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The purpose of this study was to determine the common meanings a history of violence has for women out of abusive and violent relationships with an intimate male partner for 5 or more years.

Specific Aims

To describe the common meanings and shared practices of women who left violent and abusive heterosexual intimate relationships 5 or more years ago, the challenges they face in their current lives, and the resources they use to meet those challenges. An additional aim is to elucidate practical advice they have for others who want to be supportive of the efforts of women recovering from intimate partner violence.


An interpretive phenomenological approach using Heideggerian hermeneutics was utilized. Approval of the University Social Sciences Institutional Review Board was obtained. Participants were recruited by means of fliers distributed through a domestic violence listserv and through postings in health clinics in western New York. Interviews were recorded and transcribed. A hermeneutic team approach was used for analysis and interpretation of texts.


Twenty-one women of various ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds, who self-identified as being out of abusive relationships for 5 or more years, were interviewed. Six themes were identified: developing and maintaining self reliance; negotiating relationships; creating a safe and supportive environment; challenging societal roles and expectations; nurturing the self; and protecting the children. Engendering independence while living with purpose was the constitutive pattern that unified the themes.


Women can successfully establish productive, meaningful lives after violence and will fiercely protect and maintain their independence as they negotiate relationships and developmental challenges throughout their lives. A need for control of their lives and difficulty trusting others remain a lasting legacy of living with a history of violence.

Clinical Relevance

This is the first study that examines women's lives 5 or more years after leaving violent and abusive relationships. Findings indicate that women can successfully leave violent and abusive relationships, and challenge the widely accepted notion that women do not leave.