Thank you for asking this question. It can be extremely challenging to witness someone in your life struggling with intimate partner or domestic violence, particularly if they have financial or family constraints that makes leaving the situation challenging. While it is important to respect their choice to stay, there are many things you can do to support them.
First, recognize that it is not uncommon for someone in an abusive relationship to not feel that leaving that situation is an option for them. This can be due to fears of further violence, worries over how this could affect others in their life, or grief over the loss of what they feel is an important relationship. They may also believe that the abuse is their fault or hope that the abuser will change. On average, it takes someone 7 attempts to fully leave an abusive relationship so be patient and recognize that this is a journey.
It’s sometimes most helpful to tell the person you love in an abusive relationship that you’re concerned about them and make sure they know help is available for them when they’re ready. Reassure them that they do not deserve to be treated in this way and try to stay in their life as much as you can. You can also help them build and maintain a social network outside of their relationship. This will help pull them out of isolation (where abuse can thrive) and provide them with additional positive, supportive networks in their life.
Let them know that there are services to support them. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has call, text and chat options 24/7 which you can find here: Get Help | The National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org). Be a person they can reach out to for emotional support or if they ever need resources or services. You may even offer to go with them if they want to talk to a counselor, or other family members. If they have to go to the police, court, or a lawyer, you may also offer to go along for moral support.
You can also encourage them to create a safety plan whether they choose to ultimately stay or leave. A safety plan is a set of actions that can help lower their risk of being hurt by their partner. It includes information specific to them and their life that will increase their safety at school, home, and other places that they go on a daily basis. The National Domestic Violence hotline has a great online tool to do this that you can use here: Relationship Abuse Safety Planning | National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org).
Remember that leaving an abusive relationship or seeking help are major steps. If the person you love makes the decision to stay in their relationship – continue to offer them support. Don’t deny them help or encouragement for not taking steps that you believe are correct. While it is so challenging to witness someone you love in potential danger, accept that you cannot “rescue” them. Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately the person getting hurt must be the one to decide that they want to do something about it.
You are not alone and also deserve support. You can also reach out to the resources provided above to get more tailored advice or answers to more specific questions. Take care of yourself. You may feel frustration, sadness, hopeless, guilt, or helplessness witnessing the struggle of others. Remember, we support others best when we are healthy, rested, and well.