I know you will want to protect her, to shelter her from suffering by his hand again. You will want nothing more than to remove her from this situation, and I’d be concerned if you didn’t. If you’re reading this, you’re looking for ways to help support her and I think that’s wonderful. You are exactly the person she needs right now.
The best (and of course, most cliché) advice I can give you is to make sure she understands that she isn’t alone. Whether this is the first or millionth time she’s hearing this, the level of relief one can kind in hearing those four words is astonishing.
Remember that she is allowed to be frightened even if he doesn’t hit her. Remind her that she doesn’t have to stay silent, and encourage her to speak up. She deserves to feel safe. Tell her over and over again how whatever it is that her partner is doing, whether it’s simply making her feel inferior or if she is genuinely feeling unsafe is not her fault, and she doesn’t deserve to be treated this way.
Do not tell her to “just get out if it’s really that bad”
Do not dismiss the abuse just because it hasn’t gotten physical.
Just because someone out there has it worse does not mean she’s not suffering. It does not lessen her pain, or even begin to excuse her partner’s abusive behavior.
Let her know that not only is it okay for her to want out, but that it’s still understandable if she doesn’t just yet.
Make sure she understands that you care about her and want her to stay safe, but that you recognize that doesn’t take away her right to make decisions for herself. If she is not ready to leave a relationship for any reason; whether she’s waiting to see if things will get better, she’s relying on them for housing or financial reasons or anything else for the time being, or a host of other reasons, this does not mean she deserves to be dismissed. This does not make her problems any less pressing.
I don’t know why people in our society today seem to think that if a woman must not really feel threatened if she isn’t jumping to remove herself from the situation; that she must be seeking attention by speaking up about the warning signs she sees all around her.
Our culture denies women a safe space to speak up about what they’re going through if she’s not ready, be it physically or emotionally, to make the convenient decision at a given time. We deny them this space, but then we get even angrier when time passes and their situation has stayed the same. Telling someone in an abusive relationship to get out will not save them, and you should never expect it to.
What will potentially save someone is allowing them to speak freely and without judgment, and giving them somewhere to escape to when things get rough if you’re able. Understand that with time and the right support system she will realize what she’s worth and she will seek that out. This is temporary.
For as frustrated as I expect you to be when she inevitably returns to the situation after the most recent big blowout, do not direct your anger at her. In fact, try to remain as neutral as you possibly can whenever she opens up to you about what she is going through. You may be the only person she is comfortable telling the truth to. This is an honor, and you do not want to lose it. This would likely mean she’d be forced to keep things to herself from that point on- to hide what she’s going through from not only everyone else, but from you too.
On average, an individual leaves their abusive partner seven times before getting out for good. It’s extremely unlikely that she will leave him right away, and it’s unreasonable of you to expect this from her.
Not only that, but you must assume that he, like most abusive partners, is doing everything in his power to place the blame on her. He is trying to make her feel like she deserves to be treated the way he is currently treating her and attempting to make his behavior appear normal so she is more likely to stay with him. He is most likely also trying to absolve himself from guilt, and may even be trying to convince himself that he is innocent. This is dangerous territory.
The second you yell at her for returning, she starts hearing from both sides that what she’s doing is wrong. The lack of support she will feel is counter-productive and is not conducive to empowering her and leading her to a place where she will feel safe enough to escape. In fact, you’ll be pushing her even deeper into that relationship.
Watching somebody you care so much about hurt, watching them feel so lost, will undoubtedly take a toll on you too. This does not make you selfish. It means that you’re so empathetic that you’re willing to take her pain on as your own. This trait is incredibly admirable, but this, unfortunately, does not necessarily make it any easier for you.
Remember that no matter how badly you want to save her, this is not your role. This doesn’t mean that you specifically aren’t capable, but that she is not in a position to be saved. It is not up to any outside force to save her, but for her to find the strength to walk away on her own. Make sure that you take care of yourself while you support her and remember that just like it isn’t her fault, it isn’t yours either.