Are you worried about someone else?

If your friend or family member is in an abusive relationship, they may not realise that their relationship is abusive. They may believe the abuse is their fault and feel responsible. Even if they know their relationship is unhealthy, they may choose to stay in the relationship. As a friend try to be there for them because, although they may not show it, they need you more than ever.

If they do choose to leave they may feel sad and lonely when it’s over, even though the relationship was abusive. They may get back together with their ex many times, even though you want them to stay apart. It is important that you respect their decision and remain supportive so they know they can come to you again.

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend who you think needs help, sometimes they want someone else to ask them if they’re okay. Tell them you’re concerned for their safety and want to help
  • Be supportive and listen patiently; acknowledge their feelings and be respectful of their decisions
  • Help your friend recognise that the abuse is not ‘normal’ and is not their fault. Everyone deserves a healthy, non-abusive relationship
  • Focus on your friend or family member, not the abusive partner. Even if your loved one stays with their partner, it’s important they still feel comfortable talking to you about it
  • Connect your friend to resources in their community that can give them information and guidance. There is information about support services in How to get help
  • Help them develop a safety plan - there is information about this in Keeping safe
  • If they break up with the abusive partner, continue to be supportive after the relationship is over
  • Even when you feel like there’s nothing you can do, don’t forget that by being supportive and caring, you’re already doing a lot
  • Don’t contact their abuser or publicly post negative things about them online. It’ll only make the situation worse for your friend

Greater London Authority has developed some useful guidance for supporting family members and friends experiencing domestic abuse.  They have also developed guidance for supporting partners who have previously been in an abusive relationship.

If you’ve never been in an abusive relationship then you may wonder why a person wouldn’t just leave.   We often put ourselves in the place of the victims and imagine ourselves leaving at the first signs of abuse.  Leaving can be more complicated than it seems.  There are many reasons why both men and women stay in abusive relationships. 

It can be very difficult to leave an abusive partner.  There may be threats of violence against the person, their children or their families.  There could be practical difficulties relating to children, money and housing.  Many people who’ve been abused become very fearful, with low self-esteem and confidence.  It takes a lot of courage and strength, as well as help and support, to be able to even think about leaving.

Common reasons for staying

  • Belief that the abusive partner will change because they show remorse and promise to stop
  • Fear the abuser will kill the victim or take the children away if abuse is reported to anyone
  • Lack of emotional support
  • Guilt over the failure of the relationship
  • Attachment to the partner
  • Fear of being alone
  • Feeling responsible for the abuse
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless and trapped
  • Belief that they are the only one who can help the abuser with their problems
  • Financial dependence on the abuser
  • Fear of physical harm to self or children
  • Fear of emotional harm to the children caused by the loss of a parent, even if that parent is abusive
  • Fear of losing custody of the children
  • Social isolation and lack of support because the abuser is their only support system
  • Lack of information regarding support services
  • Fear that people won’t believe them
  • Feel they have nowhere to go
  • Cultural or religious constraints 

If your friend is considering leaving an abusive relationship then they need to plan this carefully.  Visit Keeping safe for further information.

It is difficult to see someone you care about hurt others.  You may not even want to admit that this person is being abusive.  But remember, when you remain silent or make excuses for someone’s behaviour, you’re condoning the abuse.

Ultimately, the abuser is the only person who can decide to change, but there are ways you can encourage them to change their behaviour.  It’s not easy for people to admit that their abusive behaviour is a choice and accept responsibility for it.  They may benefit from having control over their partner and may turn to you to help justify the abuse.  Do not support the abuse in any way.  Remember, you’re not turning against your friend or family member – you’re just helping them have a healthy relationship.

  • Learn the warning signs of abuse so you can help your friend or family member recognise that their behaviour is abusive
  • Your friend may try to blame the victim for the abuse.  Don’t support these feelings or help justify the abuse
  • Help your abusive friend focus on the victim’s feelings and the serious harm they’re experiencing.  Don’t support your friend’s efforts to minimise their behaviour
  • Don’t ignore abuse you see or hear about.  Your silence helps the abusive person deny that their behaviour is wrong
  • Convince your friend that getting professional help is important.  There is more information at Are you worried about your behaviour?
  • Stay in touch with your friend or family member about the abuse.  Be there to support the abuser over the long-term
  • Remind them that change will create a better, healthier relationship for both partners
  • Set an example by having healthy relationships in your own life

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