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Q: My friend is being abused by her husband, but every time I try to talk to her about it, she makes excuses like, “Things are getting better” and “He’s only hit me once.” But I know he’s always screaming at her and when she calls me, scared, he yells at her that she can’t talk on the phone. And he told her he doesn’t want her to get a job, so she’s stuck in the house all day. What can I do to help her see this is abuse? – Carrie A.
A: It can be really hard to be on the outside of a relationship where a friend or loved one is being abused, especially when you feel like you can’t help them. But just not giving up on your friend is doing more than you know to support her.
You may already know that leaving an abusive partner is a lot harder than just walking out the door with a suitcase. There can be 50 different barriers, or more, that survivors like your friend are up against that can prevent them from leaving. In fact, #7 on this list is “denial.” A lot of survivors want to believe that their abuser still loves them and that their abuser’s behavior will eventually stop or things will get better. Unfortunately, many advocates agree that this is rarely the case.
Abusers are sly about switching up their tactics, too, says Carmen Pitre, executive director of the Sojourner Family Peace Center, the largest nonprofit provider of domestic violence support services in Wisconsin.
“Some people just don’t identify that what’s going on in their relationship as domestic violence. And for lots of women, abuse doesn’t happen every day. The breaks in-between the abuse instill hope that things will change.” You can read more about the different tactics abusers use—including verbal, physical and psychological—in a story we published last year called “ Beyond a Bruise.” While hitting, yelling and putting someone down are more obvious types of abuse, your friend may not realize that by him isolating her from her friends, like yourself, or coworkers at a job, are also types of abuse. So is financial control—by not letting her earn an income, he may be trying to make her dependent on him for financial security.
The next time you have a chance to see your friend—maybe you can get together while the abuser is working or out of town—it might help her if you shared some of this information with her. It could also be helpful to share with her something called the Power and Control Wheel, which can help her identify the tactics her abuser is using against her. Finally, you may want to remind her that just because things seem to get better for a while, any amount of abuse she’s enduring is wrong and she doesn’t deserve it.
Just know that, right now, your friend doesn’t need to be told what to do. She’s already being told what to do by her abuser, so you want to be extra sensitive to this fact. Just listening to her and offering up information and possibilities, without trying to direct her decisions, could be of the utmost help. She knows what is best for her and she knows her abuser’s tactics and patterns best, so leave it up to her how to proceed.
As Janice Miller, director of client services at House of Ruth, explained in “ ’My Friend Told Me She’s Being Abused,’” your goal shouldn’t be to get your friend to leave—even though that’s what you wish would happen for her safety. “The goal is to make sure she feels heard and validated,” said Miller.“Most people feel paralyzed when someone brings up intimate partner violence. So, they don’t act. This can leave a victim feeling like there’s no one to turn to,” says Miller.
Your friend will hopefully begin to realize that what you want most for her is safety. It may not be instant, but if you’re a constant support in her life, when she’s ready to leave, she’ll let you know. At that point, it would be best to offer to help her connect with a trained domestic violence advocate near her who can help her safety plan a way out.
Good luck, Carrie, and don’t give up hope. Your friend does need you.
Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.
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