Abusive relationships come in many forms: emotional, verbal, psychological, social, spiritual, sexual, financial, and physical. Not all domestic violence is physical and it’s not always blatant. In fact, it’s quite common for someone to not even realise they are in an abusive relationship until they are no longer with that person.
If you suspect that your friend is in an abusive relationship, it’s crucial to know the abusive relationship signs and to approach the situation with care, empathy, and support. Your friend will be in a vulnerable and potentially dangerous situation, and your actions can make a significant difference in their life.
Steps to consider when you believe a friend is in an abusive relationship:
1. Educate Yourself on the Abusive Relationship Signs
Before taking any action, educate yourself about the signs of an abusive relationship. Understand the different forms of abuse and how to recognise them. This knowledge will help you provide better support and guidance.
2. Initiate a Private Conversation
Find a safe and private space to talk to your friend. Express your concern but be non-judgmental and non-confrontational. Use “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory, such as “I’m worried about your safety and well-being.”
3. Listen Actively
Allow your friend to open up about their experiences without interrupting or passing judgment. Be a supportive and empathetic listener. Your friend may be hesitant to share details, so respect their pace and comfort level.
4. Offer Support, Not Ultimatums
Let your friend know that you are there for them, no matter what. Avoid giving ultimatums or insisting that they leave the relationship immediately. Abusive relationships are complex, and your friend may need time to process their feelings and make their own decisions.
5. Help Create a Safety Plan
If your friend is open to it, assist them in creating a safety plan. This plan should include steps to take if they feel unsafe or if the situation escalates. Encourage them to keep important documents, personal items, and a list of emergency contacts in a safe place, preferably outside the home.
6. Encourage Professional Help
Suggest that your friend seek professional help and support, such as therapy, counselling, or a support group for survivors of abuse. Offer to help them find resources or accompany them to appointments if they are comfortable with it. Direct them to websites for abuse victims that have an escape button so their activity can’t be seen.
7. Respect Their Decisions
Your friend may choose to stay in the relationship for various reasons, including fear, financial dependence, or emotional attachment. It’s crucial to respect their autonomy and choices, even if you disagree with them. Keep the lines of communication open. And as much as it pains you, keep a cordial relationship with their partner. You can’t help your friend if they are isolated from you.
8. Maintain Confidentiality
Respect your friend’s privacy and confidentiality. Do not share their situation with others unless they give you permission to do so. Their safety, well-being, and trust in you are of utmost importance.
9. Stay Connected
Continue to be there for your friend and check in on their well-being regularly. Isolation is a common tactic in abusive relationships, and your friendship can provide a lifeline of support.
10. Seek Professional Guidance
If you believe your friend is in immediate danger or their safety is at risk, it may be necessary to involve authorities or a domestic violence hotline. Your friend’s safety should always be the top priority.
11. Support Your Friend’s Healing
Healing from an abusive relationship is a long and difficult process. Offer your ongoing support as your friend navigates their journey to recovery. Be patient and understanding as they work through their trauma and emotions.
Your friendship and support can be a vital factor in helping your friend break free from an abusive relationship. Most importantly, support their decisions.
What is a Safety Plan?
A safety plan is thinking about things a person can do to be safer when living with violence or abuse. Or what you need to consider when a person decides to leave the situation. It’s my personal opinion that everyone should have a plan in place if they ever find themselves needing it. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Never forget that safety is the top priority, and it’s crucial to involve professionals and support networks in this process. Please take a look at our comprehensive guide on how to leave an abusive relationship and what a safety plan involves.
Here are a few quick points you might consider:
- Reach Out for Support
- Document Incidents
- Pack an Emergency Bag
- Establish a Safe Communication Plan
- Plan Your Escape Route
- Financial Independence
- Inform Trusted Individual
- Restraining Order/Protection Order
- Emergency Contacts
- Technological Safety
- Practice Self-Care
Whether you use this guide to help a friend, or yourself, it’s important to know there is help out there. No one should have to live in a relationship or house where they feel unsafe.
The most dangerous time for a person in a domestic violence relationship is when they leave. This is why having a safety plan and a handful of trusted individuals can make a huge difference. Be ruthless when choosing your trusted team. Anyone who is marginally sympathetic to your abuser will not be helpful. If you or your friend have children, make sure there are escape bags and documents for them and as soon as possible get some legal protections in place.
Where to get help
- Respect – 1 800 RESPECT
- CWES Money Clinics – 1800 730 031
- Full Stop Australia – 1800 385 578