Why don’t you just leave
When a friend experiences intimate partner violence in a relationship, it can be very difficult for us to not try to intervene. Unfortunately, you can’t make the decision to leave that relationship for your friend. However, there are things you can do to support them so that when they are ready to leave, they know their options.
As you worry about your friend, you may feel many feelings – including anger, sadness, fear, and frustration. But, it’s important to keep those feelings in check when talking to your friend. Your friend may not be willing to listen unless you are kind, nonjudgmental, and supportive of them. It’s important to never blame the person experiencing an unhealthy relationship. It’s the perpetrator who’s at fault. Don’t fall into victim blaming by criticizing or questioning your friend for staying in the relationship. Leaving an unhealthy relationship that involves domestic violence is complicated.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, “On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good. Exiting the relationship is the most unsafe time for a victim. As the abuser senses that they’re losing power, they will often act in dangerous ways to regain control over their victim.”
Choose your words carefully. If you share how you feel about their abusive partner by criticizing or pointing out their obvious flaws, it may lead your friend to become protective or minimize their partner’s behavior. However, don’t give up on your friend. Find out what local resources are available and continue to support them until they are ready to take the final step to leave.
It may be difficult to understand why your friend might remain in a toxic and scary relationship, so it’s important that you have resources and information you can utilize. Locally, Crisis Services of North Alabama can share educational materials with you to help you understand the dynamics of an abusive relationship and possibly give insight into why someone might be hesitant to just leave. Two good resources online to learn about the dynamics of domestic violence are https://thehotline.org and http://ncadv.org. There is also a short film on YouTube titled “Private Violence Presents: Why We Stayed” that is very informative and you can listen to real survivors sharing their stories of what prevented them from leaving a violent relationship. Crisis Services of North Alabama is here to support you and serve as a resource to confide in, answer questions, and give tips and guidance on how to safely help and support your friend.
So what do you say when talking to a friend experiencing an unhealthy relationship? Admitting abuse takes great courage. How you react to their vulnerability can affect whether they ever get help. When someone confides abuse to you, your first responsibility is to say, “I believe you” – and mean it. Choose your words carefully. Even well-meant comments can feel like blame and hurtful criticism. Remember, your friend is already in a controlling environment. Don’t become just another person who tells them what to do. Offer your support for whatever they decide and ask how you can help. Some things that may be helpful could be watching their kids, finding local victim’s resources and encouraging them to reach out to an advocate, or even finding free legal counsel. When you provide resources they can choose instead of forcing your choices on them, you’ll be giving them power to make their own decisions. A person in a violent relationship is the best judge of when they are ready and it is safe to leave. The best thing you can do is listen when they need to talk, offer your emotional support, and be ready with resources if they’re talking about leaving.
So, while there are things that you can do to support a person involved in an unhealthy relationship by being a good listener, offering support, and providing resources, you must remember that your friend will need to make the decision to leave an unhealthy or violent relationship. You can be there to support them, but cannot make the decision for them.
Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services to survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. For more information, you can reach our Jackson County office at 256.574.5826. You don’t have to do it alone.