How You Can Help A Loved One In An Abusive Relationship

It’s estimated that one in three women experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner or someone known to them. Think about that. That’s one in every three women you know and love. Given these statistics, it’s likely that there may come a time when you may suspect a friend or family member is in an abusive relationship.

This can be an incredibly challenging situation that needs to be handled delicately, and it can be hard to know exactly how to help someone who is suffering. 

We spoke to Lysn psychologist Noosha Mehmanli Anzab about what to do, and what not to do, if you suspect a loved one is in an abusive relationship.

What to look out for

If you’ve noticed more obvious physical signs like bruising, Noosha says to pay attention to how they respond to queries about their injuries and whether their explanations are dismissive or inconsistent. She also recommends looking out for changes in clothing choice as more modest items might be an attempt cover up injuries. 

Emotionally, they may be more socially withdrawn turning down outings and events, become unusually or uncharacteristically quiet, or developing unhealthy coping methods like excessive drinking or drug use. Low self-esteem and mood, fatigue due to sleep deprivation, and constantly feeling on edge are also signs all is not quite right.

“Victims may also exhibit excessive privacy when it comes to their relationship and perhaps even stop revealing information about their relationship at all, similarly they might stop going out in public with their partner,” Noosha says. “This is particularly concerning for those that may have been more open in the past about their relationship and willing to share details.”

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How to help

If you have noticed these signs and suspect your friend is being abused in an intimate relationship, Noosha says to approach the situation gently.

Victims often feel embarrassed, ashamed or scared to talk about it, or feel as though they should be handling the issue on their own.

“Our intimate relationships are extremely private and personal. We don’t usually want to air our laundry, particularly when it comes to relationships,” says Noosha.

To open the conversation in a sensitive, non-threatening and non-judgmental way, Noosha suggests treating listening to and respecting your friend.

“Let them know you are there for support and talk to them about the options that are available.”

What not to do

Despite the difficultly of the issue, it’s critical that you do not ignore it. Support your loved one but not to the extent that it impacts your own mental and physical health. 

Whatever you do, do not take the matters into your own hands and confront the abuser as this can potentially put your friend (and even you) in danger,” Noosha says.

“Don’t accuse the victim and definitely don’t try to force them to leave as this can escalate the situation and make things dangerous.”

It’s important to remember that you aren’t the expert and that it’s best to connect the victim with someone who is equipped to assist. 

If you witness the victim’s partner verbally or physically abusing them, exercise extreme caution as unplanned intervention is potentially more damaging to both yourself and the victim.

“To avoid overstepping any boundaries, try to allow the victim to take control, whilst offering your support,” says Noosha.

In more severe situations, it’s important to discreetly call the police, especially if physical harm is threatened or enacted. While there is a possibility that things may escalate by calling the police, not intervening could also have harmful ramifications.

“Let the victim know of services like Lifeline, 1800Respect and Relationships Australia, which all provide adequate support by way of over-the-phone counselling with experts trained in the areas of domestic abuse, relationships, suicide and sexual assault,” she says. Services like Lsyn also allow victims to access psychologists either via phone or video chat. 

“These services can be instrumental in providing the support and encouragement needed to allow the victim to get out of the abusive relationship.”

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