“Can I 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
- Suggestion 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:
- Providing 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 their 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. We’re here for you 24/7/365.