Recognizing Abuse in a Friend’s Relationship

Woman holds her hand to say "stop"
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While dating, my husband had always treated me with love and respect, so when we got married I thought I was getting the fairy tale I had always wanted. And I did, until about four months later when something changed – drastically. Who can say what set him off that first time – the pressure of a baby on the way, a still relatively new marriage, home and job? Whatever it was that started the cycle, physical and verbal abuse became a regular part of our home over the next four years.

Looking back, I see some of the things I said and did that alerted my friends and family that there was a problem. Here are some of those things to look for if you suspect your friend might be in an abusive relationship.

Pulling Away

There are a few reasons your friend might withdraw due to an abusive relationship. 1) An abuser is a very controlling person. Often he likes to know exactly what the abused is doing, where she is going and who she is talking to. Sometimes, rather than subject herself to a possible argument over who, what and where, she’ll simply stop going out or even being around friends. 2) She may feel uncomfortable talking with you as much, for fear something about her home life will come up. Sometimes it’s easier to keep it inside than to open the door to unwanted questions. In my case, I was always hoping that with enough counseling things would get better, so I didn’t want my friends and family to harbor resentment for him later if we were able to work through it.

For local resources, check out what’s available in your state.

Making Excuses

If you start to notice your friend has more-than-usual unexplained marks on her body, pay attention. It may seem obvious, but if your friend is trying to hide abuse, she’s going to be coming up with all kinds of reasons why a mark is where. “I ran into a shelf in our daughter’s room,” is one I used to cover a huge bruise that was clearly visible on my upper right arm.  Also, if your friend is suddenly covering up more than she used to, it could very well be a sign she’s not just cold or taking a new, modest approach to her wardrobe. Long sleeves in July should be a red flag – one I had to explain more than a few times.

To help your friend, or find out more, check out the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Observe the Abuser

If you are still able to be around your friend and her partner, but you’re concerned there might be abuse in their relationship, pay close attention to how they interact with others and one another. As I mentioned earlier, abusive people are very controlling, which may reveal itself through something as simple as conversation. If the suspected abuser often overpowers conversations and becomes argumentative over small things, it may be a sign of an underlying issue. Also note how he talks to your friend. If he is constantly poking fun at her or belittling her, it may be more than a little teasing. Notice how she reacts, too. If she seems fearful to stand up for herself, or nervous – even, to respond, that may be a clue. After I filed for divorce and finally shared with friends and family what was really going on, almost all of them said my ex made them uneasy and they could sense my discomfort around him too.

What to Do if you Suspect Abuse

Try to get your friend to talk about it. It won’t be easy; remember I mentioned that being abused is humiliating and scary and after spending so much time trying to hide it, it might be hard to open up. Start slow and ask how she’s doing, how things are at home, etc. Let her know that you only want to help and will do anything you can for her. She may only share a little at a time, but once she confides in you, encourage her to get help. Call your local battered women’s shelter for advice, offer to let her and her children stay with you if you can, offer to watch her children while she pursues whatever action she needs to take. You may be the only support she has right now, so make sure you are there every step of the way, encouraging her to keep herself and her children safe.

For more ways to help a friend who may be abused, check out these helpful resources.

Andria C.
Andria C.
Andria currently resides in the Midwest with her husband and two children. She is a stay-at-home mom and freelance graphic designer. Her experience with divorce came in 2004, after a tumultuous relationship with her first husband.

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