Living with an abuser is hard. But sometimes, leaving can be even harder. On average, a victim will leave and return to an abuser seven times before they decide to leave for good. Meanwhile, family and friends often watch this cycle continue, frustrated by their loved one’s inability to escape the abuse.
How can family and friends continue to support survivors when they return to an abusive relationship?
Supporting your loved one starts with educating yourself about the dynamics of domestic abuse. As an outsider, it can be challenging to understand how anyone would stay with an abuser. But domestic violence is very nuanced and complicated. Victims stay in these relationships for many reasons. The more clearly you understand the motivations, fears, and dynamics behind living with an abuser, the more empathy you can show to the survivor.
Click here to find resources for family, friends, and loved ones supporting an abuse survivor.
Voice Your Concerns
Talking about abuse is never easy. Although you might feel uncomfortable talking to your loved one about your concerns, it’s important to do so. Always approach your loved one with compassion and without judgment.
For instance, something like “I’ve noticed that your partner sometimes talks to you in a way that feels condescending,” or “I’m worried that you don’t seem to be able to go out without your partner anymore. Is everything okay?” might be enough to start the conversation.
Your loved one might be defensive or embarrassed by this dialogue but don’t back down. Tell them that you care about them, you’re worried for their safety, and you are there to listen. Try not to tell them what they should do or pass judgment on their decision to stay in the relationship. Instead, reiterate that you are there for them no matter what and that you’re a safe person to talk to when they’re ready.
Be Supportive and Let Them Take the Lead
It can be frustrating to watch someone you care about return to an abusive situation. You might feel like you need to say or do something to convince them to leave or step in and confront the abuser. Or, you might feel like giving up on your loved one altogether.
Though it’s difficult, try not to intervene or make decisions for your loved one. If you have the emotional bandwidth, continue to support them in any way possible. Let them know you are there to listen and that you support and respect any decisions they make.
Survivors often have their autonomy stripped away by their abuser. By telling them you trust them to make their own decisions, you are giving them back that power. If they trust their instincts and decide to leave on their own terms, they are more likely to leave for good.
You can also encourage your loved one to take small steps to make them feel safer at home. Leaving an abuser is a long process, and drastic moves can feel overwhelming. Instead, suggest actions that will empower them, make them feel safe, and potentially start them down the path to a safe exit.
Small steps could include making a safety plan, speaking with a counselor or crisis hotline like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and identifying potential resources to help if they decide to leave.
Take Care of Yourself
If you find yourself frustrated, overwhelmed, or angry because of your loved one’s decision to stay, it might be time to step back and focus on your own well-being. Practicing self-care can recharge you physically, mentally, and emotionally. As a result, you can show up for your friend in a more constructive way.
You cannot save someone, fix a situation, or force someone to leave an abuser. That decision must be the survivor’s alone. If you are unable to be supportive of your loved one, that’s a good indication that you need to pause and take some time for yourself.
It’s okay to set boundaries. If you need time away from the situation, tell your loved one that you still love them and care about them. Even if you can’t be an active participant in their lives, knowing that they have your support can be a great source of comfort for a survivor.
Where to Get Help
To get help for yourself or a loved one experiencing abuse, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at thehotline.org, by phone at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or text “START” to 88788.
You can also find a domestic violence shelter near you by clicking here.WodBottom is committed to empowering and supporting survivors of domestic abuse. We donate a portion of every purchase to Domestic Abuse Intervention Services in Dane County, WI. Learn more here.