If you suspect or know that a friend of yours is in an abusive relationship, you might be wondering what you could do to keep them safe, and what you definitely should try to avoid.
Do they know they are in an abusive relationship?
Are you in a situation where you suspect your friend to be in an abusive relationship? Don’t take it for granted that they are aware they might be in an abusive relationship. If they seem unaware that this is the case, try to help them shift their perspective on how they few their relationship. This can happen by educating them on abuse in general and the different forms it can take. They might then realise the extent of the abuse they experience.
This might be a very difficult process as your friend might have been manipulated and controlled by their abuser for a long time. They could even feel alienated towards everyone, including you, except their abuser. Nevertheless, defining
the relationship as abusive is a crucial first step.
If your friend already confided in you about the abuse they experience in their relationship, keep reading to learn about some general dos and don’ts on how to help them.
Generally, showing emotional support and letting them know you are here for them is a great way to help your friend. Listen and try to reflect with your friend on why they did not end the relationship yet. Try to understand and empathise with the reason. This might help you understand what exactly they might need to take action towards leaving their abusive partner.
Being possibly dependent on their partner might make this process even more complicated, stressful and scary. If possible, support them with the necessary information or the resources they might not have access to due to their situation.
Here are some things you might be able to do:
• provide them with a safe place to stay
• plan an activity with them where they get to spend some time away from the
• Show them alternatives to their current situation and relationship
• Try to encourage them in seeing their worth
• Let them know that the abuse they experience is not right or acceptable
• Help them promote feelings of self-reliance and self-efficacy
• If they stay out of a sense of duty due to social norms or religious beliefs, let them
know it is ok to leave a relationship that risks their safety
• If they stay for the sake of shared children, educate them on how abusive
behaviour might impact them
Lastly, try to tell them to leave the relationship in an empathetic manner, as that can
make your friend feel seen and cared about. However, be careful as this advice can also
easily come across as judgmental or dismissive of the situation. This could happen if you
don’t understand why your friend is staying in the relationship.
Helpful advice can be very beneficial, whereas advice that can be perceived as
controlling or judgmental should be avoided. Here are some other things you should try
to not do:
• Try to not make the situation about yourself or your emotions on the matter
• Avoid minimising the situation or encouraging them to stay as it might risk their
• Try to not treat them differently than before
• Don’t react indifferent to the situation, even if you also know their abuser and
think it fair to not “take sides”
• Don’t blame your friend for what they experience. Feelings of guilt or shame
make it more likely that your friend will stay in their abusive relationship and will
also make it less likely for them to ask for help again
As you can see, dealing with abuse is unfortunately not simple and straightforward.
However, the available social support impacts the mental and physical health of the
person in the abusive relationship. It also makes it more likely for them to end it.
Do you suspect your friend to be in an abusive relationship? Or did they open up to you
about the abuse they experience? If you seek further information or assistance on this
issue, feel free to make an appointment here.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Olivia Szewczykowski is currently studying psychology in Graz, Austria and interning for Willingness. She is interested in various topics regarding relationships, sex and family dynamics.
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