The best thing to do for a friend who is in an abusive relationship is to show him or her what a healthy relationship is like.
When we’re in love, it is easy to get wrapped up in emotions and feelings, making it harder to make decisions with objectivity and logic. Often times, people in abusive relationships try their hardest to make their relationship work under the guise that being a good partner will change their abuser.
The first step in helping a friend is recognizing the different types of abuse, and not undermining types of abuse that aren’t physical. There are six common types of abuse in relationships, as outlined by Project Pave.
Has your friend been pinched, kicked, punched, or slapped? Those are a few examples of Physical Abuse.
Is your friend being put down, insulted, threatened, intimidated, shamed, in fear of being outed if LGBTQ, being spied on or made to give his or her partner access to email or social networks? Those are some signs of Emotional Abuse.
Verbal Abuse includes but is not limited to: yelling, swearing, name calling, and mocking.
Your friend is likely a victim of Financial Abuse if he/she has no access to money or bank accounts, or if he/she is not allowed to work or get an education.
Mental Abuse victims are subject to controlling behavior from their partners, they are lied to, manipulated, and their partners will rarely take responsibility for his or her actions, to name a few.
Sexual Abuse includes but is not limited to: being raped, coerced into sex, prohibited from taking birth control or using condoms, or being forced to get pregnant or have an abortion.
The second step to helping your friend is to empathize and understand that there may be reasons behind her staying with her partner. It’s incredibly easy to dismiss people who are in abusive relationships and write them off as weak, therefore believing that they deserve ill treatment.
“Smart” men and women do make dumb decisions when it comes to romantic relationships. My mother wondered how I, an A student while holding down a part time job, allowed my partner at the time to treat me bad. That’s because it has nothing to do with smarts and work ethic and everything to do with self-esteem and self worth.
Some people stay in abusive relationships because to them, it seems normal. If a person has never seen a healthy relationship or has grown up in an abusive home, then it is likely that they will accept the circumstances of their detrimental relationship.
Many abusers will deplete their partner’s positive identity in order to make their partners feel worthless. Comments that accompany this type of abuse include statements like “no one loves you but me,” “you’ll never find anyone like me,” or “you’re dumb/stupid/ugly.”
Another reason that people stay in abusive relationships is because of fear. Your friend may be scared to leave if she or her family has been threatened. In this case, outline a plan with your friend and involve authorities or a center specialized in helping abuse victims leave their partners. Remember, safety is key if your friend fears for his or her life.
Then, of course, there’s lack of autonomy. People are more likely to stay in unhealthy relationships if they are financially dependent upon their partner. Again, make a plan: research shelters, call hot lines, join support groups, and get all the information necessary to go through with it.
The third step to helping your friend is to listen and believe his story. Remember that it is not your friend’s fault. No one deserves to be assaulted or abused in any form. Try to reinforce self worth in your friend.
The Center for Relationship Abuse also has helpful tips on how to help a friend:
Give clear messages, including:
◦ Your actions do not cause the abuse.
◦ You are not to blame for your partner’s behavior.
◦ You cannot change her partner’s behavior.
◦ Apologies and promises are a form of manipulation.
◦ You are not alone.
There are also very specific Do’s and Don’ts you can follow, according to The Center for Relationship Abuse:
◦ Don’t tell them what to do, when to leave or when not to leave.
◦ Don’t tell them to go back to the situation and try a little harder.
◦ Don’t rescue them by trying to find quick solutions.
◦ Don’t suggest you try to talk to the abusive partner to straighten things out.
◦ Don’t place yourself in danger by confronting the abuser.
◦ Don’t tell them they should stay for the sake of the children.
◦ Never recommend couples counseling in situations of emotional or physical abuse. It is dangerous for the victim and will not lead to a resolution.
◦ Encourage separate counseling for the individuals, if they want counseling.
Finally, be patient with your friend. A known phrase that gets dialogue going is: “If you need me, I’m here for you.” Most importantly, live by those words. If anything gives people confidence to make a change, it’s knowing that they have someone in their corner.
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