A Friend Indeed: Being There for Someone in an Abusive Relationship


We’ve all been there. A friend is in a relationship with someone you just don’t like. But there’s a difference between that socially awkward guy, or that guy who gets too drunk, and someone who is emotionally abusive. Emotional abuse is insidious, and can be hard to recognize. Maybe you’ve seen it yourself, the way he puts your friend down in front of others, or sulks until he gets his way. Or maybe your friend has told you he criticizes what she eats and wears, how he’s rude to your her parents. This guy isn’t just a jerk. He’s emotionally abusive, and what your friend needs is support, not judgment.

But what’s the difference between a bad relationship, and an emotionally abusive relationship?

  • An emotionally abusive person controls their partner through emotions.

  • They are jealous, and often accuse their partner of cheating and make them feel bad for hanging out with friends, or having fun without them.

  • They belittle their partner in front of others. Your friend might seem skittish, afraid of upsetting her partner. People in emotionally abusive relationships often withdraw from friends and family, both because they are ashamed of what is happening in their relationship, and because their partner might be encouraging or forcing them to cut off contact.

  • They will take their moods out on their partner, and blame them for things beyond their control.

  • An emotionally abusive person might threaten suicide if their partner tries to leave. This is an incredibly powerful manipulation tool especially for women,who are socialized to put their own welfare aside to care for others. Feeling responsible for their partners keeps many people in emotionally abusive relationships.

  • An emotionally abusive person will apologize. They will promise to be better, they will declare their love. This is how they keep their partners.

These are just some of the ways emotional abuse manifests itself, and the line between an abusive relationship and a bad relationship can be blurry. From the outside, the solution to an emotionally abusive relationship is simple: GET OUT. It can be extremely frustrating to hear your friend talk about the abuse day after day, while she stays in the relationship. This is part of the pattern; on average a woman in an abusive relationship will leave seven times before she leaves for good.

So, what can we do? BE SUPPORTIVE. Your friend is being emotionally manipulated and judging her will only push her away.  Be respectful of her decisions, whether or not you agree with them. Connect her with resources. There are many organizations that help people in abusive relationships. Another important thing to do is help your friend recognize that what is happening IS abuse. People being emotionally abused often think the abuse is their fault; that if they could just be better, or make their partner happy, it would stop. THIS ISN’T TRUE. Nobody deserves to be abused, and there are many people out there who aren’t abusive.

Ultimately, we can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. As much as you might want to scream at her to leave, or take over her brain and break up with him for good, all you can do is make sure she knows she can talk to you, and that there are people out there who can help her.

Relationships can be hard, and a lot of work. People argue, breakup, make mistakes, and some people just shouldn’t be together. That said, an emotionally abusive relationship is not just a bad relationship. This Domestic Violence Awareness Month, let’s celebrate ourselves, our friends, healthy relationships and breaking out of destructive ones.