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My friend has an abusive partner and won’t end the relationship, how can I help?


It can be really hard to watch a close friend or family member stay in a controlling and abusive relationship, and sometimes we might find ourselves asking, ‘WHY DOESN’T SHE JUST BREAK UP WITH HIM?’  From the outside it can seem easier to ‘just break up’ than it actually is.  It’s important to remember that it can be extremely difficult and dangerous to leave an abusive relationship.

There are lots of reasons why people stay in abusive relationships. People who do get out of abusive relationships usually do this with the help and support of friends and family (like you!), as well as the legal and medical communities.

For those who decide to stay, the reasons vary.  Some of the common reasons given for staying in an abusive relationship include:

I’m scared of what will happen if I try to leave – The abuser usually threatens the victim / children/ pets with physical harm if they try to leave, or threaten to harm themselves.  Statistics show that women who leave their abusers are at a 75% greater risk of being killed by the abuser than those who stay. However, this does not mean that you should stay in a relationship where you are being abused. If or when you decide to end the relationship it’s really important that you let someone else know about it and seek support from a Domestic Violence service if you are scared or concerned.

I’m worried about what my friends or family will think – abuse can be a difficult thing to admit to yourself, let alone to your loved ones.  A woman might hide the abuse because she feels ashamed and guilty.  Her family/ friends/ community or church might also pressure her to stay, or may not believe that the abuse is really occurring in the first place.  They may also blame her.

I don’t have anyone to turn to – An abuser will often, over time, isolate their partner from their support networks so the person being abused may feel like they have no friends or family around to help.  A victim may also feel financially dependent on their abuser (and not know where to get help), they may have nowhere else to live, or their abuser might also be their carer.

I love my partner, I want the abuse to end, not the relationship – Abusers are often very charming and loving when not abusing the victim. The abused person tends to fall for their abuser’s softer side, especially the tenderness that they show immediately following each attack (or cycle of violence).

I don’t believe I’ll find anyone else to date – Ongoing abuse hurts a person’s self esteem.  They may start to believe the things that their abuser tells them – you won’t find anyone else, you are lucky to have me, no one else would bother with you.

It’s my fault this is happening – An abuser will often blame the woman for the abuse, and really, so do a lot of others – With questions like ‘WHY DON’T YOU JUST LEAVE?’ Or ‘WHY DO YOU LET HIM TREAT YOU LIKE THAT?’ the responsibility of the abuse seems to land on the shoulders of the person being abused.

He said he’s sorry.  He’ll change – The abuser will make promises to change, be all sweet, loving (and very manipulative) to convince their partner that they will change; that it will never happen again.

It is important to remember that the abuser is the only person who is at fault, and the only person who needs to change. Victims of abuse are never to blame.

WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP MY FRIEND?

The most important thing you can do to help out a friend who is experiencing intimate partner violence is to be supportive and be respectful of their decisions. You can make a huge difference.

Some things you can do to help your friend include:

  • Listen to them without judgement – sometimes just talking through issues can help someone make the first steps towards ending a bad relationship. Don’t try and tell your friend what they should or shouldn’t do, and never accuse them of not doing the right thing.  Support them, whatever their decision.
  • Maintain contact – having a friend or family member to talk to can be very important; it can help to build their confidence, help them to feel heard and valued, and talking can also help them to recognise the abuse.  Staying connected will show that if/ when they decide to leave they won’t be alone.
  • Help them get help – if they (or you) don’t know what to do, you can tell them about the support services that are there to help them, offer to sit with them while they call a support line or attend a counselling service with them.
  • Help them develop a safety plan (if they choose to stay and also if they choose to leave)

Some things you could say are:

‘I am worried about your safety.’                                  ‘WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?’

‘No one deserves to be treated like this.’               ‘WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU SHOULD DO?’

Some things that might be unhelpful for your friend or that may stop them from looking for help:

  • Don’t blame your friend for the abuse – when we ask questions like ‘WHY DO YOU LET HIM TREAT YOU LIKE THAT? Or WHY DON’T YOU JUST LEAVE?’ we place the blame and the responsibility on the person who is being abused and the one doing the abusing isn’t questioned.
  • Don’t tell them what to do – (Though you may have to work hard to resist the urge to scream out RUN, GET AWAY FROM THEM!) It is important that your friend feels that they can make their own decisions and have you on their side.
  • Don’t tell your friend to change their behaviour to prevent the abuse – Most people experiencing abuse do whatever they can to keep their partner happy and avoid being harmed. Remember it’s the abuser who is deciding to abuse.  Again, blaming your friends’ behaviour for the abuse is blaming the victim. Try to focus on listening to and supporting your friend.

For some, leaving an abusive relationship can be really hard and also dangerous.  It can take time and sometimes a few attempts, but knowing that they have friends who will be there and who can help them can make a huge difference.