Being in an abusive relationship can be an extremely frightening and lonely experience for anyone. Most of us wonder why the victim won’t “just leave”. As outsiders, the solution seems obvious to us – to simply walk away from the unhealthy relationship. But, this oversimplified ‘solution’ fails to acknowledge the complexity of a traumatic situation where one is abused – physically, psychologically, or both – by their partner.
Leaving an abusive relationship often proves to be more difficult than it seems. A number of factors contribute to the victim’s decision to stay in the abusive relationship – commonly, the victim is financially dependent on the abuser, they have nowhere else to go, or they are just too afraid of being alone. They may believe that they are the ones at fault, that they deserve the abuse. In many cases, the victim’s cultural or religious beliefs may disallow separation. Oftentimes, threats of violence made by the abusive partner scare the victim into staying.
So… are we saying that there is no hope for somebody who finds themselves in an abusive relationship? Thankfully, there is – for the victim of abuse, the abuser themselves, as well as for a concerned bystander.
What You Can Do – As the Victim
Know that abuse is NEVER okay
It is important to know that an angry shove in the middle of an argument or an isolated epithet hurled at the other is an expression of violence, no matter how minor and forgettable the transgression might seem. If one’s partner has been abusive on one or two occasions, the odds are that such behaviour will take place again.
It is imperative to be cognizant of the early signs of abuse in one’s relationship – before the frequency and intensity of abuse escalates beyond control. Keep a lookout for signs like aggressive arguments, gaslighting or emotional blackmail and manipulation. In case of financial abuse, you may also frequently notice money or other valuables like jewellery missing.
Don’t wait for a bad situation to get worse. If you think that you are in immediate danger, you probably are: trust your instincts and act upon the situation before it becomes worse. Get out of the house/away from the abuser when things are getting out of control. It’s always better to be prepared by having a safety plan in place so that you know what to do when things get out of hand.
Develop a strong support system
Work on creating a strong web of social ties – be it with friends, family members, or even coworkers. Having a strong system of social support can help you to deal with the harmful effects of abuse.
If you feel that you are a victim of abuse, and are unable to manage this process yourself, or feel overwhelmed, it may be a good idea to consult a professional, such as a psychologist or a social worker. Your collaboration with a professional may go a long way in making you feel more empowered to manage stress. At the moment, you can turn to online counselling platforms for support. Alternatively, you could look for domestic abuse shelters or helplines.
What You Can Do – As the Abuser
You may believe that an abusive relationship involves physical violence. While this is true, there can also be emotional abuse, social abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse or financial abuse. You may have to rethink what abuse is to begin recognising your own abusive behaviour.
Recognise your actions
Once you understand abuse better, reflect on your relationship and try to see whether or not your actions towards your partner are abusive in nature. Do you lash out on them? Is your partner mostly scared of you? Are you two stuck in an unhealthy relationship? Try and think of the emotional, psychological, and practical consequences of your actions – not only on your partner and the relationship but on you as well.
Remember – EVERYONE can change
Believe that you can change and get help to deal with your violent and abusive behaviour, either from a trained psychologist or from relevant support groups. A good programme will help you stop being abusive and help you learn healthy ways of communicating and interacting with your partner.
To help yourself and your relationships, you need to build empathy. Empathy is the ability to see things from the other person’s perspective. In context of abuse, being empathetic towards your partner can reduce unhealthy interactions between you two. When you are able to put yourself in another person’s shoes, you can better understand their perspective – and this prevents you from acting rashly against them.
What You Can Do – As a Bystander
Reach out to the victim. Hear the victim out, be supportive, and suggest alternative options available to them. If possible – and more importantly, if safe (for both, you and the victim) – reach out to the abuser and try and talk to them about their behaviour.
Avoid telling them to “just leave”
Instead of telling the victim to pack their bags and walk out of the relationship – which might not always be feasible – let them know that you realise how difficult their situation must be. If, despite placing the option of leaving the relationship on the table, the victim decides to stay, continue to be supportive of them.
Help with safety planning
Encourage the victim to leave the physical space that the abuser is in when things get violent. Help the victim come up with a safety plan that includes picking a place to go to and materials to carry along in such cases.
Offer whatever help you can
Help the victim in whatever little ways possible. Even with seemingly minor tasks such as shopping for a few groceries or dropping and picking up the kids from school, help offered can go a long way in lessening the burden experienced by the victim. Use these meetings as a chance to check-in with them often.
Keep a database of domestic abuse shelters and helpline numbers
Have a database of agencies that cater to victims of domestic abuse ready, and use it in emergency situations especially if and when the victim is in danger. In extreme cases, call the police if the need arises.
If the suggested strategies do not work for you, or if you are unable to implement them, you might find counselling or therapy helpful in enabling you to identify, understand, and cope with your concerns. If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with an abusive relationship, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional for support.