On average, women will return to their abusive partner 7 times before leaving them once and for all. During those times back and forth, friends of women in abusive relationships can feel their support isn’t enough, they feel helpless in saving their friend, and can’t understand why their friend would return to the toxic relationship in the first place.
To limit the feelings of confusion and frustration one might have when their friend returns to an abusive relationship, a friend should first educate themselves on the issue of intimate partner violence, researching various websites and organizations that supply useful information. It’s important to always remember that abusive relationships involving physical, sexual, and or verbal abuse are incredibly complex and can be extremely dangerous when the partner tries to leave the relationship, as further abuse can be threatened against them.
Empathize With Your Friend
By learning about the issue, the friend can empathize more on why their friend can’t just leave the relationship for good. They can understand the feelings of fear that the abusive partner has inflicted upon them such as physical threats and controlling behavior that has the friend in a spiral of emotions, causing them to stay or return to the abusive partner.
With the many reasons why a woman would stay in an abusive relationship, an important thing to think about is if your friend has only ever experienced or seen unhealthy relationships because if that’s the case, they may not know when they’re being abused. Whether it’s past experiences of abuse from a family member or partner, it is common for women to not know exactly what a healthy relationship looks like which makes it important to take into consideration that the friend needs to be informed about intimate partner violence.
Understand the Behavioral Cycle of Abuse
It is key to research the differences between a healthy and unhealthy relationship to learn the signs of intimate partner violence—then be able to pinpoint signs of abuse in your friend’s relationship and warn them of the cycle of abuse they are experiencing. Learn about an abuser’s mind to know who your friend is dealing with and what type of abuse is occurring and how often it occurs in the relationship.
For example, abusive people often give the illusion that they will change or that they will never hurt the person again, but they almost always do it again. With open communication with your friend, they can tell you this has happened, and you will be able to express to them that this is behavior of abuse and the pattern that abusers follow.
Women in abusive relationships can feel shameful about the abuse and accumulate very low self-esteem over time from their abuser’s belittling and control. During and after abusive relationships, people are highly likely to suffer from PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation. Some women may feel they have no one to talk to or have someone who won’t judge or react angrily when admitting to their abusive relationship.
Create Safe Space to Talk
Friends of those in abusive relationships have important responsibilities to create and keep a safe space for the person to talk about the abuse while having trust and open communication between each other. Listen to your friend and let them know you are there to talk to them without judgment. A friend can help further by advocating for them to take small steps like contacting a counselor or identifying signs of abuse they experience regularly.
By educating oneself on the issue of intimate partner violence and building open communication with the friend who is in an abusive relationship, this gives the opportunity to hear exactly what’s happening in the unhealthy relationship to then be able to educate and verbalize the serious effects and danger that the abuse is causing to one’s friend.
Know What Resources Are Available
Moving forward, educate yourself with the certain resources offered either locally or virtually that specifically handle intimate partner violence issues with women. Make your friend highly aware of what they need to do to safely leave their abusive partners, forming a safety plan with them can help to instruct them on the steps they need to take and to encourage them to reach out to someone.
Although it may be irritating to watch your friend return to their abusive partner even after the loads of support given, they may be wrapped up in feeling like their abusive partner is the only one who loves them. It’s more crucial than anything for the friend to be the person’s positive light for support and trust. Showing love and care for them can be a defining moment that tells them they deserve to be treated without abuse because they feel love from their friend, not the false representation of love from their abusive partner who does not want to help them.
Since leaving abusive partners is never easy, take time for yourself and understand that you can’t always change your friend’s decisions. If it’s taking an emotional toll on you, set up boundaries and take a step back while still offering support and care when they need it. In the end, your friend has to make the decision themself to end the abusive relationship.
Carlie Olenick is a college student studying English at Howard Community College in Maryland. Carlie hopes to transfer to a four-year university in the fall of 2023 to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in English language, literature, and general.