“Can I Save Them?”

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“Can I Save Them?”

This post was written by Kim, originally posted on loveisrespect

save-them“If I stay, I can save him.”

“If she loves me, she’ll change.”

“I need to save them from that relationship!”

Here at The Hotline, we know there are many reasons why someone might stay in an abusive relationship. One common reason is wanting to help the abusive partner change, or believing you are the only one who can change them. Sometimes, family or friends may also feel this way towards a victim of abuse: like they’re the only people who can help. While it’s normal to want to help someone you love, there is no way to ‘save’ or ‘fix’ another person. Ultimately, all we can control are our own actions and attitudes. So, while we can offer our support, it is up to the individual to take the next step in the situation.

Staying To Save Your Abusive Partner

You might hope that by staying in the relationship, you can potentially “save” your abusive partner or stop them from being abusive. We often hear from people attempting to save their abusive partners in a number of ways, like:

  • Trying to find batterer intervention programs for their abusive partners
  • Giving their abusive partner an ultimatum
  • Suggesting or going to couple’s counseling
  • Telling the abusive partner they have to go to therapy

These reactions are natural, since not only is abuse a traumatic experience, it’s also difficult to see someone we love act in ways that are harmful or unhealthy. However, it’s important to recognize that none of these tactics will ultimately stop the abuse. Change is possible in an abusive partner, but in order to truly change, that person has to acknowledge their behaviors are harmful, commit to stopping, seek treatment and support and put in the actual effort to change. You may encourage your partner to go to a batterer intervention program or to individual therapy (we don’t recommend couples counseling in abusive relationships), but unless they are already in the place to make a change in their behaviors, the abuse most likely will not stop. In fact, some abusive partners may even promise to change or seek therapy in order to manipulate their partner into staying in the relationship.

It is admirable to want to help another person, but we can’t control another person’s actions or decisions; an abusive partner must come to the realization that their behaviors are unhealthy/abusive and decide to change on their own. Even if they do begin to take steps toward change, keep in mind that does not mean you are obligated to stay to support them through the process. You have the right to move on with your life and take time to care for yourself.

Wanting to Save Someone from an Abusive Relationship

If someone you know and care about is in an abusive relationship, you might want to do whatever you can in your power to save them. We often hear from people attempting to help their loved ones by doing things like:

  • Calling the police
  • Giving their loved one an ultimatum to leave the relationship
  • Not allowing the abusive partner in their home
  • Criticizing the abusive partner’s character

These are common responses to have, and it’s great to offer your support to a loved one affected by abuse. However, it’s important to remember that leaving an abusive relationship can be very difficult and even dangerous. Your friend or family member knows what is safest for them and may not be ready to leave. Rather than trying to “save” them, consider how you might empower them to make their own decisions about how to proceed. You can offer support in a number of ways:

  • Provide a nonjudgmental space that allows your friend to open up to you if they feel comfortable doing so
  • Develop a safety plan with them
  • Create opportunities to engage in self-care activities with your friend without pressuring them to talk about the relationship
  • Be there for them regardless of whether they get out of the relationship or not, or whether they go back
  • Respect the decisions that they make and continue to care for them

Even if your friend does decide to leave the relationship, there is a chance they might return to their partner. It is common for a person in an abusive relationship to leave and return multiple times before they leave for good. This might make you feel frustrated, and that’s okay, but by establishing a caring and supportive relationship with your friend, they may feel more comfortable reaching out for help when they are ready to receive it.

When caring for someone in an abusive relationship, it’s also important that you continue to care for yourself. Finding an outlet where you can process some of your feelings of frustration or fear can be really helpful, whether that’s talking to a counselor or friend, or doing a relaxing activity.

If you are struggling with these issues or know someone who is, you can always get in touch with a Hotline advocate for help and support. Call 1-800-799-7233 24/7, or chat live here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central.

Comment section

13 replies
  1. I married a victim of abuse.her olfactory nerve,was badly damaged.she cry,s alot..she misses the ability to smell and taste.i love her and I hope this pretty little woman gets better.its been two years.ill stay and protect her from now on.

    1. Hi earl botts,

      Thanks for you comment. It sounds like you are doing your best to support your wife, and we are glad to hear she has a caring partner like you. This article on supporting your loved one might be helpful to you. Remember, it’s important to take care of yourself, too – supporting someone who has experienced trauma can be draining. You and your wife are always welcome to contact us directly for support as well! 1-800-799-7233 or chat here on our website. Take care!

  2. The father of my child screams and fights with me often. He mostly gets provoked when I try to change his bad behaviors. And then tries to change my mind or make me feel guilty. It’s taken me two years of constant berating to finally realize that I am being verbally abused. Before I give up on our family unit completely, I am considering couples therapy or anger management for him. I wonder why it is that couples therapy is not recommended in this article. And is there ANY way to change the mentality of someone who is abusive?

    1. Hi Littlemomma,

      Thank you so much for your comment, and I’m so sorry to hear that you’re experiencing this abuse. Abusive behavior is a choice, and while some people recognize that their behavior is abusive and decide to change, that decision must be their own. You cannot be responsible for someone else’s choices and behaviors, and you absolutely do not deserve to be abused in any way. You deserve a safe and respectful relationship. We do not recommend couples therapy if a relationship is abusive – check out this post for a little more explanation as to why. There may be programs that can assist him, but he must choose on his own to participate and make the effort to change his behaviors. If you’d like to talk more about your situation and your options, we’re here for you. Please call 1-800-799-7233 any time, or chat here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time.

  3. I have been a abusive relationship 18 years he belittles me,stole off me assaulted me and makes me feel all my fault.recently I have started to hit back and have a built up anger inside me.Does this make a abuser confused as I’m not like that with anyone else

    1. Hi Linzi,

      This sounds like such a difficult and scary situation. While violence has no place in a healthy relationship, from what you’ve described it sounds like your actions are self-defense and a reaction to abusive behavior, which is different from you being abusive. Abuse is about power and control, so it can be helpful to consider whether you are trying to gain power over your partner or RE-gain power for yourself. This post on the myth of mutual abuse might help clarify things a bit more. And you are always welcome to call 1-800-799-7233 any time or chat with one of our advocates here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time!

  4. [Admin note: This comment has been modified for safety per our community guidelines]

    Im 20 years old and for the past 17 years I’ve been dealing with my Dads insanity he’s been verbally abusing me I am the main one who is always being abused and I am autistic and im all busted it up and way behind because of my dad beating me and he just wants to make me into a slave in the house, hits me when I make one simple mistake what I want to know if thehotline can help me get away from where I am, Im not gonna take any chances staying with my family and I will never stop until im away from them permanently.

    1. [Admin note: This comment has been modified for safety per our community guidelines]

      Like I said I will keep on going and never stop until im away from them for good ive tried getting help where I am but they didn’t care they only wanted to get my dad involved and make things worse.

    2. Hi Michael,

      This sounds like a very scary situation. You absolutely do not deserve to be treated this way by your father, and we are so sorry to hear that he has been abusive toward you. At The Hotline, we focus on intimate partner violence – or violence between people who are married or in a relationship – so we may not be the best resource for you. You might consider reaching out to the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 for additional support and options. We hope that you are able to find safety and healing soon. Please take care!

  5. All I want to say is years ago I tried to get help twice I called I was the one being beat and the system failed me and protect s the abuser. How is anyone ever going to have faith again. Twice they told me to pack a bag and go and now he pollutted the kids against their mother when the oldest told children in youth she watched her mother get beat. The system failed me.. They protect him and I am the one called 911 years ago called to leave fie a shelter twice. He makes lies and they protect him. I will never trust the police again or services I was failed …

    1. Hi Me,

      We are so sorry to hear this. You deserve support, and we’d like to help in any way we can. If you’d like, please reach out to us by calling 1-800-799-7233 or chatting here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time.

        1. Hi No name,

          Thank you for sharing with us. We’d be happy to talk through your situation, if you’d like. Please call us any time at 1-800-799-7233 or chat here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time.

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