Is Your Loved One in an Abusive Relationship?

It can be so frustrating to see someone you care about in a relationship that seems stressful or unhealthy. It can be heartbreaking to realize that someone you care about is in an abusive relationship. For some people, it can be hard to tell if their loved one is in an abusive relationship. Others may realize what is going on and want to immediately go and “rescue” their loved one or convince them to “just leave.”

But unfortunately it is not that simple; doing this could be very dangerous or make the situation worse. In order to truly help a person in an abusive relationship, it’s important to first determine if your loved one is in an abusive relationship. Then, try to understand what they are going through, why they might stay in the abusive relationship, and how you can support and shift power back to them.

Is the Relationship Abusive?

The first step in helping someone who is in an abusive relationship is determining if they are experiencing abuse. Learning about the different types of abuse is important because each relationship can look different. Partners who abuse don’t want people to know what is happening and act abusively when alone with their partner. Certain types of abuse, like digital abuse or financial abuse, are also hard to recognize because of how they occur. That’s why an important step for anyone concerned about their loved one is to learn the warning signs.

Why a Loved One Might Stay

Victims of abuse are in a world of mental and emotional pain and confusion. Abusive people can be extremely romantic and persuasive at the beginning of a relationship. They will do and say anything to make the victim fall for them. Once the victim becomes attached or dependent, the abusive behavior becomes visible with words or through physical action. One tactic that abusive partners often use is to blame their partner for their abusive behavior. The victim begins to believe that it is their fault their partner has “changed” because “they used to be a great person” before the abuse. It’s so difficult to see that their partner, whom they love and care about, is actually manipulating them.

Logically, they may realize that they should leave, but there are many reasons why a victim might stay. Like any other relationship, there are feelings of love and emotional attachment. Because of an abusive partner’s manipulation, a victim may believe that the abuse is justified, that they “deserve” it. An abusive partner may make threats to harm the victim, themselves or others if the victim tries to leave. They may use physical force to maintain control, or they may cut off a victim’s resources. Gaslighting is a very common and effective tactic; abusive partners convince the victim that the bad times are not a big deal, that the victim is “crazy” or overreacting emotionally.

How to Help When a Loved One is in an Abusive Relationship

Keep Communication Open

First and foremost, try to keep the lines of communication open with your loved one. Abusive partners will often try to isolate the victim from family and friends. This gives them power and control over their partner with less interference. An abusive partner might tell the victim that no one loves and cares for them as they do, and if the victim has no one to reach out to, they may believe the abusive partner is right.

Ask your loved one how they would like to communicate so they feel safe. You might consider sending short, positive texts or emails (if they have indicated it is safe to do so) to let the victim know you are there for them. Messages such as “Just wanted to say hi and know that I love you and I am always here for you’’ can be very encouraging and go a long way.

Focus on the Abuse, Not the Partner

Try not to speak negatively about the abusive partner. This may put the victim on the defensive because they have already been manipulated to believe that the abuse is their fault. Alternatively, they may feel embarrassed or ashamed that they “allowed” the abuse to happen. It can be very difficult to admit to friends and family that the person they once thought was wonderful is actually abusive. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Try to listen without judgment and tell them you’re concerned for their safety. By treating them with kindness and respect, you remind them of how they should be treated.

Don’t Tell Them What To Do

Lastly, avoid telling your loved one what they should do. It can be confusing and puts an enormous amount of pressure on the victim. They are already in a situation where someone is exerting power and control over them. Instead, you can help shift power back to them by telling them that you trust that they know their situation best. Let them know you are there to help and support them. Ask them how you can help. You can offer emotional or financial support, create a safety plan with them, or connect them to resources in their area. Most importantly, let them decide what will make them feel safest, whether that includes leaving the relationship or not.

It can be hard to tell if your loved one is in an abusive relationship or not. It’s also challenging to know what are the best ways to help someone when they are experiencing abuse. If you’re uncertain or worried about a loved one, our advocates are available 24/7 to offer support, insight, and resources.


By Monesha, a Hotline Advocate


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