Supporting a Friend
It can be hard to know what you can do to help someone you care about who is being abused. As much as you want to do everything you can to protect your friend, remember that the decision to leave an abusive relationship can only be made by the person experiencing the abuse. However, there are ways you can help.
What Can I Do?
- Reach out to someone who you think needs help. Tell them you are concerned for their safety and want to help.
- Be supportive and listen patiently. Acknowledge their feelings about their relationship.
- Help them recognize that the abuse is not “normal” and is not their fault. Everyone deserves a healthy non-violent relationship.
- Focus on your friend, not on the abuser. Even if s/he one stays with their abusive partner, it is important that they still feel comfortable talking to you about it.
- Be respectful of your friend or family member's decisions about the relationship - no matter what the decision is.
- Connect them to resources in their community that can give them information and guidance.
- Help them develop a plan to end their relationship safely.
- If they break up with the abuser, continue to be supportive of them after the relationship is over.
- Even when you feel like there’s nothing you can do, don’t forget that by being there and by being supportive and caring – you are already doing a lot.
Why Does S/he Stay?
There are many reasons why a person in an abusive situation will remain in the relationship. If you have a friend dealing with an abusive partner, you can better support them by understanding the various obstacles they may be dealing with when trying to leave or seek help.
- Believing Abuse is Normal: If your friend doesn’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, they may not recognize their relationship as abusive.
- Fear: They may be afraid of what will happen if they decide to leave the relationship. If your friend has been threatened in the past by their partner, or by their family and friends, they won’t feel safe leaving.
- Fear of Being “Outed”: If your friend is involved in a same-sex relationship and has not yet come out to their friends and family, their partner may threaten to reveal this secret. This may feel especially scary for teens who are just beginning to explore their sexuality.
- Embarrassment: It’s hard to admit that you’ve been abused. Your friend may feel that they’ve done something wrong by becoming involved with an abusive partner. They may worry that their friends and family will judge them.
- Low Self-Esteem: If your partner constantly puts you down and blames you for things, it can be easy to believe those things are true and that the abuse is your fault.
- Love: Your friend may still be hoping that the abuser will change (if a person you love tells you they’ll change, you’ll want that to be true). They often only want the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely.
- Social/Peer Pressure: If the abuser is popular, it can be hard for a person to tell their friends about the abuse for fear that no one would believe them or that everyone would take the abuser’s side.
- Cultural/Religious Reasons: Traditional gender roles can make it difficult for young women to admit to being sexually active, and for young men to admit to being abused. Also, your friend’s culture and/or religion may influence them to stay rather than end the relationship for fear of bringing shame upon their family.
- Pregnancy/Parenting: Your friend may feel pressure to raise their child with both parents together, even if that means enduring the abuse. Also, the abusive partner may threaten to take or harm the child if your friend leaves.
Reliance on Abusive Partner:
- Lack of money: Your friend may have become financially dependent on their abusive partner. Without money, it can seem impossible for them to leave the relationship.
- Nowhere to go: Even if they could leave, your friend may think that they have nowhere to go or no one to turn to once they’ve ended the relationship.
- Disability: If your friend is physically dependent on their abusive partner, they can feel that their well-being is connected to the relationship. This makes it seemingly impossible to leave.