(Originally from Suite101, 2008)

Unfortunately, women (and men too) at one point or another know someone who is in a bad relationship, and often its hard to know what to do, and how to help. Even if you’ve reached a point where every fiber in your body may be telling you to ditch this friend and stop returning her phone calls, your friend may still need you to hang on a little longer. Below there are some suggestions that may help.

First, on You

First thing to do is to analyze how you feel about the situation. Is this friend a long time friend or an acquaintance that has taken to coming to you with her problems? Are you sincerely concerned with her wellbeing or are you already at the end of your rope? Figuring out how you feel about the situation is key in identifying the type of help you can provide. Sometimes you may recognize that you’ve done all you can, and the best thing you can do is refer her to someone who may be able to do more.
This can be done many ways: talk to a friend or professional about how you feel about the situation, keep a journal, or, next time your friend comes to you with her situation, think about how you feel about it. Are you empathetic or would you rather be doing something else? Are you upset that she hasn’t listened to you yet? Unfortunately, no one can help your friend unless she wants them to, and it may take many false starts in order for her to make permanent positive changes. You must be prepared to be in it for the long haul if need be.
How You Can Help
  • Be there to listen
  • Be prepared to repeat yourself
  • Be a good friend
  • There is violence. In many cases, she may feel physically and emotionally unable to leave the relationship. If the relationship is violent, keep a log and be prepared to show it to the authorities.
  • There are children involved. Remind her that it is not only her safety at stake, but the children as well. If she doesn’t listen and the children may be at danger, many child social services programs take anonymous calls. Sometimes you will have to make that call.

As much as you may want to give advice, you’d be surprised how fast people clam up when given unwelcome advice. Be sympathetic, listen, and only reply when expressly asked. Many women lock themselves in dangerous situations because they feel they have no one to turn to, or someone will judge them. Sometimes just asking, “Would you like to talk?” is more than enough.
Chances are, your friend believes things will miraculously fix themselves. If she leaves the relationship and is considering returning, remind her why she left in the first place.
Keep in mind, leaving an abusive relationship is sometimes like breaking a drug habit. She may relapse, crave the “drug”, and turn on you. This is when she needs you to be the most supportive an non-judgemental.
Consult a Professional
If you’ve done all you can, if you need advice, or really, any reason you see a red flag and want to speak to a trained professional, there is help available.
The YMCA has a sexual abuse hotline in most regions. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE. Many states have valuable resources that you can suggest.