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Hi, Minda Honey!
Here’s a tricky question for you. I have a friend who is in a terrible on-off relationship with a complete son of a bitch. He cheats on her, abuses her emotionally, abuses her financially, breaks stuff in fits of rage and does all of this in full view of their friends. I’ve personally witnessed him blowing up her phone, accusing her of going out with me to pick up men and ditching her drunk at a bar when he was her ride home. I’ve supported her through their breakups, only to find him right there beside her the next time we meet up.
I want to be supportive of my friend, but I cannot stand to be around her P.O.S. boyfriend. I mostly just ignore his presence, but that still feels like I’m condoning his treatment of her. If I insist on only hanging out with her without him, I doubt I’ll see her again because he demands to be present whenever she goes out. Can you think of any way to address this without alienating my friend or causing more trouble for her?
—Asking For A Friend
Hi Asking For A Friend,
First, I want to thank you so much for writing, because your question is going to help so many people who don’t know how to help their friends who are dealing with an abusive relationship. To give you the best answer, I spoke with Marta Miranda-Straub, president and chief empowerment officer at the Center for Women and Families.
Miranda-Straub confirmed that your friend’s boyfriend is exhibiting beyond-usual asshole behavior. “This is serious. This is a dangerous situation that is escalating and will continue to escalate,” she said, adding, that he has exhibited many behaviors that are the classic hallmark of abuse. Those include exhibiting jealousy, being highly critical of appearance and behavior, making accusations of cheating and humiliating. Miranda-Straub spoke to the cycle you’ve seen play out. After escalation, there will be a de-stressor period, “And they will get along.” There have likely been gifts given and promises made. Then, the abusive behavior will begin again and go a little further than it did last time.
So, what can you do to help? Miranda-Straub said, “We always say to the person that’s closest to the victim: We encourage you to become a resource without alienating that person.” These are the steps you can take:
Listen without judgment.
Understand intimate partner violence is a process.
Start the conversation with your friend.
Contact the center for guidance.
Miranda-Straub cited data that shows, on average, it takes seven instances of domestic violence before someone is ready to leave. Be direct with your friend by having a talk that begins with “I’m concerned about you.” And then listen. Even in abusive relationships, there must be some good things going on that will make your friend reluctant to leave. Be sure to self-care. You can call the center and speak to an advocate, and you can be there for your friend with other important people in her life. Encourage your friend to establish a code word with her care circle, so she can signal if she needs help.
Ultimately, Miranda-Straub said, “It’s her life.” Leaving is more dangerous than staying because abusive relationships are about control. As the abuser experiences more loss of control, “the higher the potential of lethality.” Miranda-Straub said, “It’s a lot harder to leave an abusive relationship than it is to leave a healthy relationship because the attachment is so intense.”
The Center for Women and Families has locations in seven counties and two in Indiana. Its main location is at 927 S. Second St. TARC provides free transportation to the center. You can also visit the center online for more information at thecenteronline.org. Reach it by phone anytime at (502) 581-7222 or 1-844-BESAFE-1. The center welcomes anyone of any gender or sexual orientation who is 14 and up and needs help for an abusive relationship. The center has found that trans people are particularly vulnerable to abuse while transitioning. The center will not force anyone to stay at their clinic and you can call anonymously. Its advocates can help you create a safety plan, pack a “go” bag or provide other resources. Batterers are not admitted to the center, but there are other resources available to them in our community.