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Is A Friend Or Family Member In An Abusive Relationship? Here’s How You Can Help

By Lifestance Health on September 24, 2021

Note: If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, contact authorities right away.

The recent news coverage about high-profile instances of domestic violence has brought the topic into the spotlight, with horrible details of domestic abusive incidents as an integral part of the story. And they are unfortunately all too common and widespread.

About one out of every four women will experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetimes. For men, the number is one in seven. And that does not even include people who are subject to emotional abuse.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely deeply worried about someone you care about. Whether it’s a friend, relative, or colleague, someone you know appears to be in an abusive relationship.

Maybe you just have a gut feeling, maybe you have seen the evidence of abuse, or perhaps your friend has confided in you about the situation. Whatever is going on, thank you for trying to help.

While you have the best intentions to help your friend, it’s vital to approach the situation delicately. People in domestic violence situations may react in ways that you believe are illogical because of the abuse they have endured. Furthermore, without being careful, you could potentially put yourself and your friend in danger.

Before approaching the subject with your friend, think very carefully about when you’ll talk, where you’ll be, and what you’ll say.

Find a Safe Place and Time to Talk

First, be sure that you and your friend will be alone when you talk about it. You never know who the abuser is in communication with and what they could find out. Furthermore, bringing up the subject with a group of people around is likely to cause embarrassment and shame, which will not help.

You also want to avoid communicating through phone or email when possible. Many abusers monitor their victims’ electronic communication. If they sense that anyone is trying to get their victim to leave, the victim could be in serious danger.

Make Sure You Have the Right Tone

Throughout any conversation with your friend, be sure they know that you are not judging them and that you will not judge them if they stay with their partner. Leaving an abuser is rarely as simple as “just leaving,” which may mean your friend stays for a while.

If they believe you are judging them for that decision, they may stop sharing information with you or cut off your friendship altogether. Isolation is one of the primary tools for an abuser. So they may encourage your friend to stop talking to you if they get a sense of your disapproval.

In addition to being completely non-judgmental, you should also make sure your tone is calm and gentle. Be open to the fact that your friend may be put off or even frustrated when you try to help. It may take time for them to come to terms with your conversation.

Offer Help, But Do Not Make Demands

No matter how badly you want your friend to pack up and leave, they likely will not take immediate action. If you insist that they do something right at that moment, your efforts will likely backfire.

Those demands can feel like more abuse to someone who is being abused or like you’re asking them to do something that doesn’t feel safe. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t offer some help.

Try phrasing it as a question. For example, you might say, “Are you open to calling a hotline or visiting a shelter?”

You could also offer help. Try something like, “If you decide to leave or get help, I want to help you. You can reach out at any time, even if you feel like you want to stay right now.”

Domestic Violence Resources

If and only if your friend is open to hearing about resources available to them, you can gently offer some. In addition to helping you and other friends can provide, you may consider giving them information for:

• A local domestic violence shelter
• A therapist who can help
• The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)
• National Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474
• National Center for Victims of Crime: 1-202-467-8700
• National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: 1-800-537-2238

Your friend may need additional resources, depending on their situation. For example, immigrants may be particularly worried about losing their immigration statuses. They can call the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights at 1-510-465-1984.

Other Helpful Phrases

When a friend is in a dangerous situation, it’s hard to know what to say. You both may feel emotional and worried. That’s why it’s important to have a few key phrases in mind to say.

If you talk to your friend about an abusive situation, you can say things like:

• “This isn’t your fault.”
• “The decisions are up to you.”
• “I’m here to help you, no matter what you decide.”
• “I am so sorry you are in this situation.”
• “I understand that it’s complicated.”
• “I am here for you if you need to talk.”

Notice that these are “I” statements, as opposed to “you” statements. These phrases don’t place any blame on the other person. Instead, you speak about your own feelings and how you can help.

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