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You may see your friend crying, hear your friend’s partner make demeaning comments towards them, or notice they seem anxious around or afraid of their partner. Or your friend may open up to you on their own.
Knowing or suspecting that someone you care about is in an abusive relationship can be a deeply conflicting experience. You know it’s taking a toll on their mental and possibly physical health — and you want to help — but you may not feel equipped. You want to swoop in and “rescue” your friend, and yet you know you have to respect their right to make their own choices.
Despite these difficulties, it is possible to support a friend who is in an abusive situation — and often, a good friend’s support makes all the difference. Offering real support means putting our friend’s needs before our own desire to play the hero. It also means learning about the complex psychological effects of abuse.
We can understand the complexities of abuse by answering one common question: If this relationship is hurting my friend so much, why don’t they just leave?
So Why Is it So Hard to Leave?
Don’t forget that even if your friend’s relationship is abusive, it’s still a relationship: It’s complicated, and human. There are many reasons someone may stay with an abusive partner, and there is a lot you can do as a friend to offer nonjudgemental material and mental health support.
Here are a few commons reasons why victims of abuse stay in the relationship, along with ways you can help: