Having an outside perspective means that sometimes you can see things clearly that someone else can’t see. Maybe they’ve gotten used to it, and it has become normal; maybe there is a part of them that believes what is happening is their fault.
The key thing to notice is change, for example, to their physical appearance, or their sense of self. Do they seem more withdrawn or less available? Do you they seem to be less confident, or have low self-esteem?
Listen out for signs that they might not have freedom, choice or control in these changes: “My partner doesn’t like it when I…”; “I’ll need to check with my partner first”; or explaining their partner loves them to defend actions that are problematic.
- Be patient. Understand that they love their partner and that it can be really hard to recognise what’s happening. Recognising abuse means having to think differently about the whole relationship – that’s a really scary thing to do. Change might not happen overnight, and just having someone to talk to about it is incredibly valuable.
- Talk to them. Approach it gently, and take your time. Tell them you’ve noticed changes, and ask them if anything is going on that they want to talk about. They might say everything is fine, but you’ve opened the door for them to come and talk to you when they’re ready. If they tell you more about what’s going on, listen to them, believe them, and reassure them that it’s not their fault.
- Validate their experience. They might be doubting themselves, or feeling like they are making a big deal out of nothing. Hearing things like ‘that sounds really difficult’, ‘this seems like it’s making you feel really bad’ lets them know that you are listening, you believe them, and what they are saying is valid.
- Challenge their self-blame and doubt. They might feel like something is all their fault, or focus on things they’ve done wrong – after all, this is what they are hearing from the person who is abusing them all the time! You can offer a different perspective on this: saying things like “it doesn’t sound like it’s your fault”, “I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong here”, “what you’ve done seems reasonable to me”, can provide some reassurance for them and highlight that they are not to blame.
• Insult their partner: think about a time when someone was mean or rude about someone you cared about – how did that feel?
• Ask them what they’ve done to ‘provoke’ the situation: they will be carrying enough blame and doubt, and they don’t need you to add to it!
• Try to force them to take action they’re not ready for: they will do that when they are ready.
Remember to look after yourself
We want to be there to support our friends and family through whatever they are going through. It can be hard to see someone you love go through an abusive relationship. It can be frustrating to feel like they’re not making any progress, even after they’ve admitted that their relationship is abusive.
It’s important to recognise that supporting someone can impact you too. Make sure that you have someone you can talk to about this so that you’re able to continue to support them.