How to Help a Friend in an Abusive Relationship

Last June, collegiate students nationwide were silenced by shock and sadness after news of the murder of UVA lacrosse star Yeardley Love surfaced. Article after article proceeded to litter the Internet about Love and George Huguely’s relationship, many claiming there had been telltale signs that his violent temper would lead to serious danger. However, what Love should have specifically done about those telltale signs to avoid her tragic end remained unanswered.

Love’s heartbreaking death gained immense media attention. The fact that two collegiate athletes, enrolled at a prestigious university, were involved in such a catastrophic and horrific event blew the minds of the media. However, their tumultuous relationship, soaked with alcohol-fueled fights, is far from exceptional.

In college, at least 32% of females have been involved in an abusive relationship of some kind. Although the abuse can be categorized as physical or emotional, it is equally disturbing in either form. The stories of abuse will never don the cover of People magazine or be number one on Google trends. But, they deserve just as much attention and concern as Love and Huguely’s relationship.

Abusive relationships are tricky, especially at this age. There are copious resources at universities that protect victims from terrible outcomes. But, students are often too scared to tell on their partner or friend’s partner because the social repercussions would be terrible.

For instance, a friend of mine had been dating a boy for several months. After a debaucherous night, he “accidentally” struck her across the face. At the time of the event, I was livid. I talked with her and begged her to leave him, but I did nothing beyond that. He went to AA, claiming the alcohol had caused his problems, and vowed to never hurt my friend again.

As he attempted to reform his life, she stayed with him. I remained supportive of their relationship, truly believing he would never touch her badly if he remained sober. However, he is drinking again (heavily, mind you) and his girlfriend doesn’t seem concerned. He hasn’t been violent toward her since the first incident. But, I sometimes fear he will blackout and attack again.

These kinds of situations are extremely fragile. One misstep and you can shatter your friend’s trust. So, it’s important to know what to do when a friend is wrapped up in an unhealthy relationship.

Go directly to her first Discuss your views (and worries) about her relationship. Ask her if it’s worth it. Force her to think about the pros and cons of her relationship. If it’s emotional abuse, gently remind her that that can be just as oppressive as something physical. Forcing her to tease out her feelings and speak of her relationship out loud can be extremely clarifying.

Intervene When things are physically violent, there is a point that you, as a friend and outsider, need to get involved. This usually means taking it a step beyond simply talking to your friend. Talk to her boyfriend, stick up for her when he publicly degrades her. If he touches her negatively in front of you, say something. Not only will this raise his attention about his treatment of her, but it will raise others as well.

Take threats seriously When he drunkenly yells at or harshly texts your friend, don’t shrug it off. Refuse to let her go home with him that night. Be an annoying cockblock. In the morning, she will be thankful.

Stay away from drugs In the case of Yeardley Love, her friends did as much as they thought they could. Yeardley broke up with Huguely and had freed herself from his grip. However, as is typical in college, Huguely responded with a temper and a ton of alcohol. In these kinds of relationships, it’s important to help your friend stay away from drug or alcohol-influenced exes and completely cut them off.

Don’t be afraid to get professional help Campus resources that assist students (particularly females) coping with relationship violence should not be shrugged off. And, by bringing out the big guns, you can genuinely shape your friend’s future. Yes, it can be a burden and puts you in an awful position. But she may be too blind to see how absolutely unhealthy and frightening her relationship is. And, it’s your job to instill bravery – and support – within her.

If you are unsure of how to handle a friend who is involved in an abusive relationship, call your campus’ resource center. Or, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. You can get professional advice to help you and your friend without having to face the social shunning that can occur when you get a fellow student suspended or expelled. However, when you feel a line is physically crossed, you need to report it to your university immediately — before it escalates any further.

Let her know she is not alone Remind her that she can leave the relationship — that she can say no to the man — and not feel deserted or lost. Because, at the end of the day, she has you to fall back on. It’s your job to be her courage and her support system.

Be prepared to lose a friend Sometimes, your friend may be so blind to the realities of her relationship that she refuses to listen to you. Sometimes, that refusal can turn into a hatred. You cannot predict what will happen when you confront your friend; all you can do is share your love and concern and hope they accept it.

You may have to act as some superwoman, putting yourself in danger for your friend. But, when you care enough about someone, it’s worth it in the end.

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