Domestic Abuse: How to Design a Safe Space

Emily Powers Interior Designer with Three-Sixty Interiors Vancouver Washington
I’m an Interior Designer and one of my main philosophies is “Everyone deserves their home to be a safe haven.” Everyone. As a survivor of Domestic Abuse, I want to share my story so that others might find the same peace and comfort I have.
You Can Stop Domestic Abuse Van

Abuse is Abuse

There are many different forms of abuse, and one is not better or worse than another. Physical abuse is NOT worse than verbal and emotional abuse. This is what abusers want people to believe.

This statement is not only misleading, but very damaging. And it serves a purpose. If they can convince people that is true, they can continue abusing. And that is always their main goal. Especially in the “good times.” The cycle of abuse includes a “honeymoon” phase so the victim will stick around for more abuse later. And then the cycle starts all over again and again.
Cycle of Abuse
Not all verbal abusers become physical abusers. But all physical abusers started as verbal abusers. I wasn’t going to wait around to find out which category my abuser would fall into.
And even though he never hit me, he would push me, grab my arm, and one time used his foot to kick me out of bed. He has stood over me with clenched fists when I was pregnant. He would punch, throw and break things.
I didn’t know it at the time, but all these things are assault. As defined by Merriam-Webster, assault is a threat or attempt to inflict offensive physical contact or harm on a person (as by lifting a fist in a threatening manner) that puts the person in immediate danger of or in apprehension of such harm or contact.
The final straw for me was the night he was yelling and swearing at me. This was nothing new, but this particular night my two boys (3 and 6) were standing less than 10 feet away. Watching and listening to every word. When I pointed this out, he did not change his behavior.
This was when I decided I didn’t want my boys growing up in this environment. I didn't want them to become men who believed it was okay to treat someone this way. And even though they were only 3 and 6, they still remember it to this day, 5 years later.
Woman standing on hill with a suitcase

Do I Stay or Do I Go

Making the decision to get out of this unhealthy marriage was the easy part. The hard part was how. I went to the YWCA for support, and my advocate told me that victims try to leave their abusers an average of 7 times.
People who have not been in this situation don’t understand why it’s so hard to leave. To them it’s simple: if he’s abusing you, you leave. But I know it’s not that easy. I had been a full-time Stay-At-Home-Mom for 6 years. I completely depended on him. And it wasn’t just me, I had my two kids to think about. The youngest wasn’t even in Preschool yet.
Woman sitting on chair looking out window
Abusers are also good at isolating their victims. It’s like when predators separate their kill from the herd. I had no family where we lived. I had friends, but with families of their own, there’s not much they could do to help support me.
Raised in a Christian home, one of the Christian values is you don’t get divorced. The church says, “God hates divorce." But He hates abuse even more. Encouraging you to stay with someone who abuses you, enables the abuse to continue.
With no real resources, victims either return to their abusers, or never leave in the first place.
Sad woman looking out window

Silence is Violence

Abusers are good at keeping the abuse private. So when a victim reacts to the abuse, they look like the crazy one. I didn’t talk to anyone about the abuse I suffered in the privacy of my own home. I was very close to my mom, but even she didn’t know. Although she had her suspicions.
The first step to getting out of an abusive relationship is to tell someone. Tell a trusted family member, friend, colleague, etc. Make a plan to get out safe and tell them your plan. The YWCA is a great resource for support and information.
Two women hugging
I was “lucky.” My abuser has a career in federal law enforcement, so I was able to use that to my advantage. I called his buddy, who happened to be a local police officer, and let him know I was going to ask him to leave. He said my husband could stay with him. So when I told my husband that his friend was aware of the situation, and he could stay with him, he didn’t put up a fight.
I know that not everyone is that fortunate. I have a friend who had to leave in the middle of the night, with only the clothes on her back and her youngest was still a baby. She didn’t even have shoes! And I know her situation happens all the time.
Once you’re able to leave safely, then you shouldn’t hold back! Everyone needs to hear your story – friends, acquaintances, neighbors, the police department, the school your children go to, your lawyer. Everyone. Because he’s going to tell his version of the story and they need to hear the truth first.
And document everything. Because if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.
No contact cell phone

Silence is Golden

Now is the time for No Contact. When you’ve been in an abusive relationship for years (it was 12 years for me), you need time to heal. And you can’t heal if your abuser is still in your life, even though you’re no longer in the same house.
I told my husband to not contact me for 6 weeks. And there were rules: No gifts, No letters, No phone calls. No Contact means No Contact! Unfortunately for him, he didn’t listen. One day there was a rose left on the seat of my car. Creepy. But I threw it away and didn’t even thank him.
He tried again by sending a bouquet of flowers to the house. I took them straight to the hospital and asked if they could give them to a patient. Still I didn’t contact or thank him.
He started pulling out all the stops. He met with the pastor of a church I had visited a few times before our separation. And the pastor contacted me on his behalf. I immediately stopped going to that church. He made a photo book of happier times. It went into the trash. At one point he even had his mom send me a card.
These things worked in the past, but my eyes were now open. He was crossing my boundaries because he had no respect for me. And he definitely wasn’t using the time apart to work on himself, like I was. Instead of trying to change his ways, he was only focused on trying to change me.
Because of his lack of respect, I extended the original 6 weeks another 6 weeks. That did not go over well. But it reaffirmed I was doing the right thing.
Woman in field of flowers

Time Heals All Wounds

When he finally realized the only way I would accept him back was for him to change, he filed for divorce. It only took him 6 months. By then I had started to rediscover myself. I hadn’t changed in 12 years, I was just oppressed.
I was rediscovering what I was passionate about. I reconnected with “old” friends and made new ones. I realized I have always been a strong, independent woman, and I could do this on my own! And I would be a better and happier person doing it.
One of things I was passionate about in high school was Interior Design. In my free time, I would draw up floor plans of my Dream Home. I would spend hours looking through magazines, tearing out pages that inspired me. (This was way before Pinterest.) When I sold our house, the lady who bought my house suggested I look into Home Staging as a career. And it was the nudge I needed.
While married, I didn’t find joy in interior design or decorating my home. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable in my own home! But now it’s my sanctuary and safe space. And I’ve created a happy environment for me and my boys.
You Can Stop Domestic Abuse Hazel Dell Parade Vancouver Washington

Here are the steps to find peace and happiness:

1. Decide that enough is enough. 
2. Make a plan to safely leave. 
3. Tell your story! 
4. Take time to heal. 
5. Rediscover yourself. 
Please share this blog with loved ones. You may not know who is suffering in silence.


  • Three-Sixty Interiors

    Michelle, thank you so much!

  • Michelle D.

    Thank you for telling your story. You’ve been through so much and I’m glad you found safety…and yourself.

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