Supporting Someone Who is in an Abusive Relationship
by Teresia Smith
It is painful to watch someone deal with hurtful situations and not be able to rescue them. Watching someone you love trying to survive in a domestic violence filled relationship can be very difficult. And it can be even more so if they boomerang, leaving and returning multiple times. You may feel sad, angry, and even feel like giving up on your loved one and all those emotions are totally understandable. Instead of giving up, I urge you to educate yourself about the intricacies of domestic violence, how you can best respond, and what local services may be available to assist.
Domestic violence is extremely multifaceted. Leaving an abusive relationship is never simple. Survivors often return to the violent relationship an average of seven times before they leave for good. That may sound astonishing to someone who has never lived in abuse, but there are many reasons why a person might stay or return. As frustrating as this may be to you looking on, your support to a survivor can play a critical role in helping them to have the strength to leave for good.
The best thing you can do for your loved one is to make sure you stay helpful and supportive, regardless of their choice in leaving or staying. Abuse is always about power and control. The perpetrator works to break down the victim’s self-esteem and create self-doubt so having someone supportive in their corner can help the victim find the strength to leave. Many victims do not feel they have the choice to leave as their life is intertwined with the perpetrator with housing, children, finances, etc. And even with the abuse, often the victim still has loving feelings for the abuser and often makes excuses for their behaviors. After an abusive episode, the abuser will often be very loving and promise it will never happen again. This “honeymoon period” is a ploy to keep the victim entrapped in the relationship. Understanding all these dynamics is important as you are trying to support a survivor.
So how do you start a conversation with someone when you notice abuse in their relationship? This can be very difficult. You may start by just saying that you notice that their partner puts them down a lot, says hurtful things to them, or you notice their partner doesn’t let them go places or see many people. This will let them know you are troubled about what you have noticed and open to talking to them about it. They may not be ready to talk and that’s okay. They may even defend their partner in the beginning. They may feel embarrassed and hadn’t realized it was obvious to others.
Make sure they know you are not judging them but just concerned and there to support them. Knowing you are in their corner may be a huge relief.
If you are able to have a conversation with the survivor about your concerns, try to avoid telling them what they should do. Abusive relationships are filled with control so it’s important that they can make their own choices. Instead, exhibit your own healthy behaviors and let them express their thoughts and feelings. Trust them to know what is best for them. Being able to leave on their own terms makes it more likely they will not return to the abusive relationship.
Know that you are not expected to have all the solutions to your loved one’s domestic violence situation. It is overwhelming for a survivor when they do make the choice to leave so just helping them with small steps can empower them. Supporting a loved one through domestic violence can take a toll on you so the first step is to know the services available near you. In Jackson County, Crisis Services of North Alabama offers crisis counselors to help a survivor safety plan, relocate, provide court advocacy, offer referrals for needed services, and just be a safe, listening ear.
You can reach Crisis Services of North Alabama’s Jackson County office at 256.574.5826. We also offer a 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000 where you can reach trained crisis counselors. You are not alone. Reach out.