Helping you get through tough times

Helping a friend in an abusive relationship

Relationships can be wonderful and we all want our friends to be happy.What if our friend’s relationship seems abusive?

Blurred image of people It can be really tricky to tell if a friends relationship is abusive and hard to know how to bring up the subject and support them.

What to look for

If you think there’s a chance your friend might be in an abusive relationship, but you’re not sure, here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • Your friend is losing interest in activities he or she used to enjoy
  • Your friend is overly worried what their boyfriend/girlfriend thinks or seems scared of how they might react to stuff
  • He or she is acting overly happy or seems to be worried and anxious with their partner
  • If someone calls their boyfriend or girlfriend out on something negative, your friend makes excuses for them all the time
  • He or she is avoiding friends and social activities that do not include his or her partner
  • Your friend jokes about his or her partner’s violent outbursts
  • Your friend has unexplained injuries and the explanations seem odd or unlikely
  • Your friend’s behaviour has changed dramatically since he or she started seeing this current partner.

Remember your friend may not realise their relationship is an abusive one, or may not agree. It can be hard for them to admit their relationship isn’t a good one.

They might feel responsible, like they caused or deserved it. They may want so badly to be in a relationship they don’t want to leave.

As difficult as it may be for you to approach your friend, it can be equally as hard for them to approach you.

How you can help

There are some ways you can help if you suspect your friend is being abused by his/her partner. If you believe you or your friend is in immediate danger, you need to go to the police.

Encourage your friend to talk. Don’t be afraid to approach them about your concerns, and encourage them to open up. Try to get your friend to do most of the talking.

Here are some open-ended questions you can ask your friend

  • How are you feeling about your relationship?
  • What do your friends and family think about your relationship?
  • Do you have plans for the future of this relationship?

Try to talk when you’re alone with your friend. Don’t talk about it in front of other friends or family members, especially his or her partner.

Sometimes it can be easier to talk if you’re also focused on another activity like going for a drive, making a meal or doing the dishes.

You should talk to your friend or seek help from an outside source, but do not confront your friend’s partner. This could make the situation worse for them and you could even be putting yourself in an unsafe position.

You should also suggest that your friend not mention your conversation too

Listen to your friend. Don’t be judgmental. If your friend is in an abusive relationship, he or she probably already feels down. Don’t make your friend feel worse.

Be supportive and patient, and acknowledge their feelings. Chances are, they don’t have anyone else to talk to about it. Read how to listen for tips on being a good listener.

Don’t blame your friend for what’s happening. Don’t tell your friend what he or she should have done differently. Concentrate on what makes him or her happy and how they can take action to change things now.

Don’t tell your friend what to do. Instead, encourage your friend to think about options. You might ask your friend if he or she has already tried getting help, or you might suggest places to seek help.

Be specific about why you’re concerned. For example, say things like I feel bad when he says “you’re stupid” or “we hate to see you nervous and unhappy”. This could help your friend recognise that what they are experiencing is actually abuse, and isn’t normal.

But, again remember to make sure you don’t tell them it is their fault. Keep the focus on your friend, not their partner.

Make sure your friend knows he or she has your support. Your friend might be feeling very isolated and alone. Let your friend know that you’re there for them. Make sure they know you’re willing to support them. Even if your friend decides to stay with their partner, let them know they can talk to you about it without being judged.

Help your friend work out some realistic strategies. What works in this situation will depend on how willing your friend is to see that there’s a problem. While talking about what their options are, you may suggest different resources in your community, or help them devise a safety plan in case the situation becomes dangerous. See helpful sites at the end of the page.

Your friend has to find his or her own way through the situation. Talking to you or a trusted person can help. If your friend does not want to talk to you about it,  suggest they call a hotline (like one of the ones listed below), where he or she can get help without bringing anyone personal into the situation.

Encouraging your friend to realise his or her strengths as an individual so the abuse they’ve experienced doesn’t chip away at their self-esteem.

Check out if your friend pushes you away, and tips for communicating effectively with your friend.

Where to get help

Supporting your friend is important but you don’t have to do it alone. If you need advice or information, there are lots of services and support available. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Women’s Aid provides support to women and their children who are being physically, emotionally, financially and sexually abused in their homes. Call their National Freephone Helpline on 1800341900.

Aoibhneas is a women and children’s refuge. Call their 24-hour helpline on 01 8670701 for advice and information on your situation or email helpline@aoibhneas.ie .

Amen provides support for male victims of domestic abuse and their children. Call them on 046 9023718 or reach them outside working hours on 086 7941880 or 086 1947270.

Rape Crisis Help provides nationwide support for the victims of sexual abuse. Call them on 1800 778 888.

Immigrant Council of Ireland has information on migrant women’s rights and domestic violence.

AkiDwA is a national network of African and migrant women living in Ireland, that aims to promote equality and justice. Call them on 01 8148582 or email info@akidwa.ie .

National Office for Victims of Abuse provides assistance, support and advice for people in abusive relationships. Freephone 1800 252 524 or call 01 872 8482.

If you feel that your friend is in immediate danger of being harmed call emergency services on 999 0r 112 straight away.

Looking after yourself

Supporting a friend who is in or has just left an abusive relationship can be draining and take it’s toll on our mental health as well. It’s important that you take time out to look after yourself.

Make sure you have someone to talk to. Remember you do not have to support your friend on your own and try to link them in with other friends and supports.

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This article was last reviewed on 01 May 2017

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