A friend of mine is in an abusive relationship and I am worried about them. What can I do to help?
It can be a very upsetting when someone we care about is being abused or even treated badly by their partner. It is important to proceed with sensitivity and caution; leaving an abusive relationship is a potential dangerous situation. Hero mode may kick in and we want to save them and get them out as soon as possible. However, telling someone what to do, like getting out of a relationship, may not go as well as you’d like it to and cause problems between you and your friend. Experts say it’s because this approach can feel like another person is asserting power and control over them, something they are already experiencing in their relationship. Your friend needs empowerment, not another person telling them what to do.
Don’t be afraid to tell them you have noticed certain behaviors that are concerning.
Focus on your friend, not the abusive partner, and ask them how those behaviors make them feel. Be aware that your friend may not recognize the warning signs or abuse in their relationship, or they may notice them but feel ashamed they are happening. It may even be difficult for your friend to discuss the abuse with you. It is important to respect them and not judge them for staying, though it may be the opposite of what you want them to do. If your friend feels shamed or embarrassed by your reactions, they may get defensive and not want to share with you.
An abusive partner’s behavior can be considerably different in public than it is when other people are not around, which can make the abuse hard to believe. If a friend discloses abuse to you it is important to believe them. Abuse does not always come with physical evidence like bruises, but is an ongoing pattern of control that can be just as harmful.
There are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships including financial dependency, immigration status, children, and the real danger of going against their abuser. Your friend also may feel lonely, abusers spend a lot of energy making their victims feel isolated. It is important to be patient and listen to your friend, they need a support network now more than ever.
It is important that leaving the relationship is their own decision. Having supportive people in their life as they make the first step, possibly long after they have left their unhealthy or abusive relationship, can help them realize the abuse in not normal and is not their fault.
Do not contact their partner or post things publicly online about them. This could escalate the intensity and make things worse for your friend.
Do offer options. Connect them to resources like their local crisis center for victims and survivors of abuse, or national resources that can help them develop a safety plan and learn more about the dynamics of abuse.
Do make sure you also take care of yourself and connect with services that support friends and family of victims of abuse.
If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, and is seeking help or support, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat with an advocate through Love is Respect by texting LOVEIS to 22522. If you are in the Hays/Caldwell county area, call HCWC at 512-396-HELP(4357)
Megan is passionate about prevention education and community. She strongly believes in social justice and ending violence. Megan works as a digital educator at HCWC where she uses social media, our podcast, and community presentations to promote gender equality, advocacy, consent, and healthy relationships. She is also passionate about advocating for peace, equality, and youth empowerment. She enjoys research, watching movies, playing roller derby, and spending time at the river with family.