How to Help a Friend Who is Being Abused
Dear, sweet, helpful Amalah –
I’m in dire need of urgent help. I hate to say this is a life-or-death situation, but it could be. And that’s why I’m scared. One of my best friends is in a horrible, troubling relationship. They are currently living together in a house they rent, and have been dating close to 2 years. He has never been what I would call a “stable” person – but he hides it well when in public (though I have seen hints at the cracks showing around me). But when they’re alone, he is a completely different person.
As I understood, his abuse had only been verbal – he would prey on her biggest insecurities, throw them in her face, and reduce her to tears. When it got bad enough, she would retreat to her sister’s house for a day or so, but would always end up going back. But I know that he has a history of past physical abuse, and she confessed to me this morning that hit he her. (I hate to say that I knew it was coming, but the patterns were all there.)
How do I help her see that going back to him (yet again) would be the worst thing possible? I know I can’t MAKE her do anything (she is a grown woman), but the last thing I want to do is see her end up in the hospital, or worse. I just want the best for my dear friend, and I don’t know what to do anymore… and I can’t talk to anyone else about it, for fear she’ll think I’ve betrayed her confidence and then not talk to ANYONE about it.
Okay, breathe. This is a horrible situation, yes. I cannot even imagine. I know I would be full of wild scrambling thoughts about how to FIX IT and what I should say that would magically changing everything and make it all better. But unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. You can’t force someone to get help, or to leave someone else. You can’t even force her to talk about it, or tell you more. Domestic violence is complicated, ugly and frustrating.
The first thing to do IS to talk to someone. Not to report or tattle or betray her confidence, but to educate yourself. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Like, right now. Get professional, confidential advice about what you should say to your friend, what resources you can offer, and generally how to navigate this minefield of a situation. Read this page from their website, if you haven’t already, on how to help a friend.
It was a tremendous first step for her to admit that the abuse has escalated. She may need some time before she discusses it again, particularly if this is part of a long-term pattern and cycle that she’s accepted as “normal.”
Let her know (gently) that this is not normal and that she deserves better — try to arrange face-to-face meetings and get her out of the house as much as possible.
Plan a girls’ weekend, convince her to join a yoga or improv or pottery class with you or SOMETHING, to ensure that she has activities and friends outside of the relationship to combat any isolation the situation is causing.
Do not even MENTION the topic over the phone or email, in case he’s monitoring that stuff. (Just…assume he is, honestly.)
Do not judge her for not immediately packing up and leaving, for attempting to defend him, or..if she DOES leave…for mourning the loss of even this hideous, messed-up relationship.
Listen, believe, support and offer any help she needs. Offer your house as her safe place, if you think her sister is not fully aware of the situation and may be encouraging her to go home and work stuff out.
And again, that number: The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. They can help you help her. Good luck, and next time you hug your friend, put the whole force of the Internet behind it, because we all want to hear about a happy ending SOON.
Published December 21, 2009. Last updated October 15, 2017.