Seeing someone you love deal with an abusive relationship is hard. You want to get them away from the situation and protect them from emotional and physical harm. But it's not as simple as telling them to leave, however much you wish they would; people often take years to leave an abusive situation. If you suspect that one of your friends is suffering abuse, here's what you can do to help …
1. Don't Push Them to Leave
However much you want to shake your friend and shout at them to leave their partner, that can be the worst thing to do. People in abusive relationships can be very much under their partner's control or still believe that their partner loves them. So if you tell them to leave, they can become surprisingly defensive and blame you for trying to get them to leave.
2. Encourage Them to Open up
If you suspect your friend is being abused by their partner, but have no proof as yet, encourage them to open up to you. Open-ended questions such as 'Is there anything wrong?' give them the opportunity to confide in you if and when they want to. Let them know that you are there for them if they need you.
3. Store Important Things for Them
If your friend wants to leave but hasn't yet found the strength to do so, one important way to help them is to store useful things for them. It may be difficult to move everything out in one go, so many people find it helpful to sneak things out a few at a time. You could store important documents and papers, cash or treasured possessions.
4. Let Them Use Your Phone
Abusive relationships can often involve controlling behavior such as checking phones. Offer your friend use of your cell or home phone, so that they can make calls without their partner knowing, or be a go-between and make calls on their behalf. You could also accept mail for them.
5. Find Sources of Help
If your friend has asked for your help, you could look for sources of advice and help. Find out if there are any refuges in your area, get information on financial matters, and check if they have a supportive workplace (it can be useful for a manager or senior staff to know).
6. Build up Their Self-Esteem
People in abusive relationships often have their self-esteem crushed; abusers are very good at controlling and manipulating their partners, and making them feel worthless. They want their partner to believe that they can't survive without them. Try to build up your friend's self-esteem and encourage her to believe that she deserves better.
7. Encourage Them to Report the Abuse
If your friend has admitted that they're a victim of relationship abuse, they may not want to report it. People have often been conditioned to believe that it's somehow their fault, or that they have to protect their partner even if the partner is abusive. Encourage them to report it; even if they don't want to press charges, it can be helpful for there to be an official record.
It's not just women who suffer abusive relationships. So watch out for your male friends and any signs that they might have an abusive partner. It's also important to remember that abuse isn't always physical; it can also involve psychological harm or controlling finances.