I’m not a counselor, police officer or professional bouncer. So, how can I make a difference for a friend or family member that may be in an abusive relationship? Have you wondered the same thing? I found myself asking that question when a dear friend of mine confided that her husband was abusing her.
As she and I remembered those days recently, she revealed some things I didn’t realize at the time such as some of the things that friends and family did that hurt her and delayed her seeking help. She also shared with me the three positive things that made the biggest difference in her life: friends and family who listened, supported and stood up for her and with her. I asked her permission to share her truths with you, and she was quick to offer to help spread the word that we all can provide hope and help with a few simple acts of kindness.
The abuse started out as mental and emotional control. Later on, this mental and emotional abuse grew into physical violence, and she admitted that she sometimes fought back. She knew it wasn’t healthy, especially when she saw the fear in her child’s eyes. She said she loved her husband, and just wanted the violence to stop. Other things that kept her from seeking help or ending the relationship:
• Religious pressure to keep the family intact
• Embarrassment that she was in the situation
• Low self-esteem made worse by the judgement and criticism of family and her religious community
• Justification — she was unsure if extreme jealously was love or abuse at first — and her husband’s remorse, and promises that it would never happen again
• Her child needing a father, and fear of being a single parent
• House and finances — fear of a reduced income and needing to live on her own
How to make a difference
She said that the most important things people did for her were to listen, support and stand up for and with her. We talked a lot about what these three acts included. Here’s how to make a difference:
1. Listen actively to what your friend says and what they don’t say. Ask questions, but don’t criticize or judge them. My friend said it wasn’t until a friend listened to what she had been going through and confirmed it was abuse that she admitted it to herself. That was a pivotal moment for her where she began seeking help.
2. Support a friend by being there. It can be difficult for victims to come forward and confide in someone, so make sure your friend knows you are a safe place for them (and you won’t judge them). Check in with your friend and let them know they aren’t alone. Have resources ready in case your friend needs them, like the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233 and website www.thehotline.org. That website has a lot of helpful information for victims and friends on how to help. Find more resources at the bottom of this blog.
3. Stand up for and with your friend. If each of us takes the time to correct the conversation when we hear victim shaming or blaming, then we can begin to change society’s stigma of abuse and break down one of the barriers that prevent victims from reaching out for help. Stand with your friend as they work through the details of their life. It’s their life so no one should tell them how to live it. Build them up and remind them that no one deserves abuse. Everyone deserves safe, healthy relationships and love.
Listen, support and stand up for and with victims of abuse, because it’s the right thing to do and because a safer community starts with you.
Learn more about Family Advocacy Program resources on Military OneSource.
Reporting Domestic Abuse
“How to End an Abusive Relationship”
“Transitional Compensation: Help for Victims of Abuse”
“Making Relationships Work”
“How to Successfully Communicate As a Couple”
“Family Resilience Protective Factors”
“How to Build a Positive Relationship With Your Spouse When You’re in the Military”