How to Help a Friend

Is your friend experiencing abuse by a partner?

spanish brochure cover iStock_000008416118Small

Does your friend…

  • Not see friends and family members as often? Are they hard to get a hold of?
  • No longer seem interested in activities that they used to enjoy and/or frequently cancel plans at the last minute?
  • Constantly update their partner about where they are, what they are doing, and when they are coming home if they go out?
  • Apologize for their partner’s behavior or made excuses for their partner?
  • Act withdrawn, sad, less confident or worried?
  • Seem worried about upsetting or making their partner angry?
  • Have injuries they can’t explain or give explanations for them that don’t make sense?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, your friend may be experiencing abuse. It can be incredibly difficult to see a friend in an abusive relationship. You are not alone. There are ways to safely help without escalating the violence.

How can you safely help?

Do:

  • —Believe them.
  • —Be supportive.
  • —Listen to what they have to say.
  • —Keep what they tell you confidential.
  • —Tell them you are concerned about them. Be specific and refer to incidents you may have personally witnessed. (“I’m scared for you. Can we talk about how to make sure you’re safe?”)
  • —Focus on his/her strengths.
  • —Validate their experiences and provide options. If you would like to consult with a domestic violence advocate regarding referrals, services, or generally for support, call our hotline.

Don’t:

  • Don’t pass judgment, make them feel ashamed, or minimize their experiences.
  • —Never say: “I would have…”
  • —Don’t ask lots of yes or no questions: let them talk freely.
  • —Never ask probing questions; let them reveal information as they feel comfortable.
  • —Never push or force them to make a decision. Your role as a supportive friend is to open up possibilities for them.

What if they are not willing to talk?

Your friend may deny the violence or make excuses for their partner’s behavior. They may even be angry with you for asking if they are ok. There are many reasons why your friend might not want to talk about the abuse, including:

  • Not wanting to admit to themselves that they are in an abusive relationship.
  • Hoping or believing the violence won’t happen again, even if it has happened many times.
  • Embarrassment or being afraid to talk about the abuse.
  • They may feel it is their fault or believe it is their responsibility to mend the relationship.

If they won’t talk, don’t force it. Let your friend know that you care, are concerned, and want them to be safe. Stay in touch. They may come to you for help later. If they do, be prepared to help them create a safety plan.

Take care of yourself

You will best be able to help if you take good care of yourself.

  • Don’t put yourself in danger. Meet in a safe place. Don’t get involved without giving it much thought. Take a moment to check your attitude. Talk to a domestic violence advocate about how to best approach the situation.
  • Accept that there is only so much you can do. You can be supportive, but your friend must make his or her own decisions.
  • Be around people who support and energize you.