• Nicole Smith

HELP – My friend’s husband is abusing her

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

Supporting a friend in an abusive relationship can be distressing, and watching her diminish in confidence, possibly bruised or injured, is heartbreaking to watch. For many women it can take years to leave an abusive partner and some never reach that point. There is shame and silence involved in abusive situations but if your friend is open to trusting you, try supporting her in the following ways:

Be patient

It may seem obvious to you that your friend should leave her partner and it can be hard to understand why she doesn’t. There are many complex reasons why a woman stays in an abusive relationship including low self-esteem, shame, fear of children being taken away and the hope that things may change. The end of an abusive relationship is an extremely high-risk time and more women are killed during this period than whilst living with the abuser. This is because domestic abuse is about control and this is challenged when she decides to leave.

Do not try to convince your friend to leave the relationship. If at some point she feels ready, help her consider the options available to plan a safe escape. Even if she doesn’t follow through with the plan this time, at least the possibility is there in her mind.

Listen to her experience without judgment

It’s easy to believe that we would leave a partner the moment they acted inappropriately but domestic abuse is a creeper. Behaviours such as gifting new clothes or being jealous of other men can seem like an expression of love in the beginning, but can shift to completely controlling what she wears and who she sees. A woman may simply be in too deep before the situation becomes unbearable for her.

It is likely that the abuser blames your friend for his behaviour, so take care to remind her it is not her fault and she is not alone. She most likely feels frightened to express herself, or be herself, in the relationship; give her space to remember who she is and to feel that she has a voice again, even if it's just for an hour over coffee.

Help her understand that she is experiencing domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is not just physical, it’s a pattern of behaviours that are controlling, coercive, threatening and degrading and sometimes victims struggle to recognise or believe they are in an abusive situation. Many abusers can have a very different persona outside of the home and their partners find it hard to believe that a man so well respected and loved by their community is being abusive. This can create a situation where the victim assumes responsibility for her partner’s behaviour, believing that she is to blame for his abuse.

Perpetrators often minimise the seriousness of their abuse, leaving victims questioning themselves and the reality of their situation. They will often feel that they can change the abuser’s behaviour by altering their own.

By talking with your friend about her experiences, you can help her challenge these beliefs and understand the severity of her situation. If she is willing to talk to you about her experiences, listen and acknowledge her fears. Research together what the professionals are saying and help her recognise high-risk behaviours and situations to look out for, including strangulation / suffocation, threats to kill and stalking.

Maintain the contact

Abusers isolate their victims to create dependency, allowing full control of the victim and dissolving all their possibilities of escape. They will do their best to cut out the victim’s friends and family and may suggest that certain people are bad influences, or maybe that the family do no really understand or care for them. The victim may even be stopped from using their phone or leaving the house to speak to people.

Try to keep safe contact with your friend and let her know that you care. Do not take it personally if she withdraws, it is most likely a result of the abuse.

Practical help

Here are some practical steps that you can suggest to your friend to ensure her safety:

• Teach her children the number to dial in an emergency and ensure they know their full name, address and telephone number.

• Confide in a neighbour and ask them to call the police if they hear sounds of an attack.

• Rehearse an escape plan, so she can get away safely in an emergency.

• Leave an emergency bag with someone she trusts. This should include clothes, money, passports, utility bill with her name and address, house / car keys and anything sentimental.

• Keep a phone on her at all times (try to wear clothes with pockets)

• If there is a risk of attack in the home, she should move to a low risk area of the house allowing quick exit and access to a phone. Stay away from the kitchen or garage where there may be knives or other weapons and avoid rooms where she might be easily trapped (such as the bathroom) or where she might be shut into a cupboard or other small space.

• Consider helping her document the abuse in a diary, as this could help if she later chose to pursue the matter legally.

Look after yourself

Self-care is important in general but especially when we are caring for others. Take time for yourself and take a break from supporting when you feel the need. Understand that you may not be able to change your friend’s situation as much as you would like. Most importantly do not put yourself at risk and be sure to make contact with professionals if the situation becomes overwhelming. If you witness an attack do not intervene, this could put you both at risk. In this situation you should immediately call emergency services.

It can be hard to believe that someone you care about is being hurt. However, having a friend who cares can be a lifeline for a victim of abuse, enabling them to access a support network that might otherwise be closed off.

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