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It can be very difficult to mention to a friend that you think their relationship may be unhealthy or abusive. This becomes a dilemma, you really want to help, but you feel scared that you may lose them as a friend. So what should you do?
Well, firstly, you need to understand that if someone is in an abusive relationship, they have probably lost some of their ability to know what ‘normal’ is.
And, secondly, they may be fiercely protective of their relationship, even if it is abusive.
So, remember, go gently.
1. You won’t fix this in one Conversation
It’s important not to dive in and tell your friend what they must do or need to do immediately. This is a slow process.
2. The Trust Factor
A lot of abusive relationships operate around secrecy and a sense of disgrace. This means that your friend will not trust you easily and has probably been programmed by their partner to hide the real abuse that is taking place. This means that what you see, may just be the tip of the iceberg!
That’s why, it’s likely that your friend will test you in this conversation with something personal. If they hear that ‘secret’ back from someone else… forget ever being able to help them because you’ve lost their trust.
Instead, keep their secrets and your concerns confidential for now and tell them that you are always there for them.
3. Don’t Judge the Person, Judge the Actions
The more loyal and wonderful your friend is… the more disloyal they will feel about sharing bad things about their partner. So try not to speak negatively about your friend’s partner as this can shut down the conversation pretty quickly.
Instead, focus around the person’s behaviours. It’s easier for your friend to agree with a behaviour being bad, instead of the person or relationship being bad.
When discussing behaviours that concern you, don’t draw conclusions or make statements, instead your friend to begin to acknowledge that they’re not feeling good about things.
4. Be Gentle
Remember that if you become in any way combative, strong, angry or highly opinionated, your friend will just close down and you will have missed your opportunity to help. Likewise, if you roll in with words like ‘Abusive’ or ‘Unhealthy’ you’ll have lost your chance to help.
5. Your Friend’s Reality is Different to Yours
Remember that relationship abuse is very complex, and your friend may be experiencing trauma bonding or misplaced loyalty to the person who is abusing them.
Often people in abusive relationships may feel that the situation is not that bad. Remember that this is ‘normal’ for them now.
Most people are scared of hearing that they must leave the relationship and they don’t want to face that reality.
Some people are so dependent on their partners that they think they will not be able to function without having that person in their life. As I said, it’s very complex.
That’s why, it’s important to get your friend to a point where they can be a little more self-reliant.
6. Best Friend Technique
A good question to ask is, “If I was in this situation and this was happening to me, how would you feel about it? And what would you advise me to do?”
This question is what I like to call a ’Circuit Breaker’ because it will allow your friend to discuss solutions more freely. And, while they’re telling you how they would help you and advise you, they’re actually helping and advising themselves J
7. Not a Victim
Once you’ve allowed your friend to verbalise some solutions, you can reassure them of how smart and strong they are. They’re not a victim, but someone who can take back control.
Encourage them to feel a little stronger by suggesting they engage in some of the supports they would have suggested to you, if you had been in the same situation.
8. Advise your friend to chat with a Therapist or Counselor
You need to do some research for this part.
There are some Freecall 24/7 numbers on our resource page that may help you.
Once you decide which agency might be best suited to your friend’s problem, you should call them yourself and explain your friend’s situation as you see it. Then ask what number your friend should call if she wants to talk or needs help.
9. The Tricky Bit
Advising someone to get help doesn’t mean that they’ll do it! But you can move the odds a little.
So simply suggest that as Counsellors and Therapists have probably engaged with this kind of problem a thousand times before, they’re bound to have strategies to stop the bad behaviour or be able to offer coping mechanisms. Hopefully what your friend will hear is that a counsellor or Therapist can make it all better again.
And hopefully, that will allow your friend to see the call as a good idea.
Suggest you text them the number to call, or have it printed on a piece of paper if you think their phone is not completely private at home.
Hopefully, your friend will make the call and the Counsellor or Therapist will take it from there. They will help your friend to remember what ‘Normal’ is again and hopefully show them that everyone is responsible for their own behaviours, and no matter what the reason, abuse is never okay.
Once your friend is connected with an expert, you can relax a little.
Carol Anne Lowe ©