Jealousy, clinginess, constant texts or messages. There’s a reason these qualities and actions make lots of people feel uncomfortable and smothered. It’s because these are three of the signs that you might be in an abusive relationship. Though, it is true, that the appearance of these qualities does not always point to an unhealthy partnership, they should still trigger a red flag.
I won’t go into the signs of an abusive relationship. There are plenty of websites that you can go to for those (https://www.joinonelove.org/signs-unhealthy-relationship/ being just one of them) and there are hotlines to use if you’re in that kind of situation (1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or https://www.thehotline.org/help/ ). What I want to talk about is the language we use to discuss the issue.
I did a quick search for “how to talk about abuse.” Although I have had friends who have come to me about the subject, I wanted an expert’s opinion. After a quick search online, I found lots of different sites with lists of do’s and don’ts, so there are plenty of more reliable places for people to get this information, but the basics are this:
Make them feel comfortable: This is undoubtedly a very hard topic for this person to talk about. Because it is such a touchy subject, you need to make them feel safe. If they feel they are safe around you, they’ll more than likely open up to you. Try taking them to a comfortable, quiet place and let them talk. Don’t interrupt and be patient.
Don’t react harshly: Tying into the first guideline, you always have to make them comfortable. This isn’t your story to tell and it isn’t your battle to fight. Not believing the person, dismissing their accusations, and acting disgusted will shatter this person’s trust for you. However, getting angry -even if it’s directed at the abuser- isn’t helpful either. When someone talks to you about something like this, it is always best to stay calm and caring. Your friend should be your main concern.
Be supportive: This is a big one. It is the single most important rule you need to follow when someone tells you they’ve been abused. Tell them that you are still their friend, you still care about them, you still love them, and that your view of them hasn’t changed. Ask if they’re okay and if they need anything. That kind of support goes a long way with someone who has recently been hurt.
Keep in mind their safety: Remember, some people could get abused more if it gets out that they told someone about their situation. The last thing you should do is go around telling people that “so-and-so is being abused by so-and-so.” It doesn’t help anything and it’s not productive in any way. Your friend told you this in confidence. THey shouldn’t need to worry about their secret getting out.
One of my close friends has been in an abusive relationship before, last year, actually. I’m still kicking myself for not seeing the signs.
Her boyfriend at the time, let’s call him Ed, hated when (let’s call her) Ava would spend time with her friends without him. He would tell her “you must not love me if you don’t want to spend time with me.” He said the same thing when she wanted to stay home, without any company. He used to guilt her with the same story every time: “you must not love me if…” “If you loved me you would…” Another tactic that Ed would use was giving Ava the silent treatment for extended periods of time. He would make Ava feel sorry for something that shouldn’t have otherwise been a problem. These are just a few examples of signs to look out for, especially when you are on the outside of the situation looking in.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website, “Nearly 1 in 3 (29%) college women say they have been in an abusive relationship.” For some, this is probably a statistic that applies to you more in the future, but it’s still good to keep in mind. College is a different environment than high school, but the mindsets of the people there is very similar. They’re still school students trying to juggle school work and a relationship and a social life and money problems etc. Unless they’ve made an effort to change, they are still the same person who did those horrible things.
Which brings me to my next point: most of the time, the abusers aren’t aware of the harm that they are causing. They don’t understand what they are doing to their partner. More than likely, they really do love their partner. And their partner loves them. For those of you who would ask: “why don’t they just leave?” That’s why.
But love shouldn’t hurt.