Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Your Friend is Abusing Their Partner - How to Talk to Your Friend

Last week, we discussed how to react when you find out that a close friend or family member is abusing their partner without shaming the victim.  The second part of the article "6 Ways to Confront Your Friend Who’s Abusing Their Partner" will help you navigate.  Talking to your friend about the abuse can be very difficult.  How you confront them could possibly escalate violence for their partner, so it is best to tread carefully.


How to Confront an Abusive Friend

1. Consult the Survivor

The most important aspect of any anti-abuse work, whether public or private, is to create space for survivors of abuse to empower themselves and make their own decisions.
More than therapists or social workers or activists, it is survivors who best understand the complexities and barriers of their relationships.
If you’re considering confronting a friend who’s abusing their partner, make sure that you contact the partner in question and get their consent whenever possible. They’ll be able to inform you about what’s appropriate, what would be helpful, and what might be dangerous for them.
Remember that it’s not your job to “rescue” anyone, but to help create options for them to choose from.
Starting the conversation with your friend’s partner can be awkward or difficult, but is often also extremely important – many survivors of abuse report wishing that someone had asked them if they were alright or if they needed help.
Conversation starters can be as simple and transparent as:
“Hey, how are you doing? I noticed that Aryn was pushing you at the party the other night, and I wanted to check in with you.”
We don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to, but I just wanted to ask how things are in your relationship with Logan. Tell me if this is none of my business, but it seems like he isn’t always the nicest to you.”
“I might be completely misreading this situation, but I felt like it might be important to ask you how things are going with Alisha.”
There’s always the possibility that your friend’s partner won’t want to have the conversation with you, and that is their right.
Even if the question upsets them, however, I believe that it is worth taking the risk of momentary discomfort in order to let someone know that you see what is going on and are willing to support them. 

2. Consider Safety

No matter what the situation is, it’s always best practice to take a moment to think about safety: yours, your friend’s, and particularly your friend’s partner’s.
If you or the survivor of abuse believe that there is a risk of physical danger, then it might be important to postpone the confrontation with your friend or to make a safety plan first.
Safety plans vary, but usually include making sure that the person at risk has a place to stay, emergency money, and access to basic resources and human support.

3. Prepare Your Friend

“Surprise” confrontations and reality-TV style “interventions” that involve a lot of people and/or cameras usually go really, really, really badly. 
Do not surprise or overwhelm (read: gang up on) your friend, no matter how good your intentions are. On the other hand, it may be a good idea to choose one other person who is close to both of you to accompany you through the conversation. 
Let your friend know that that you want to talk to them about something important (or be even more explicit than that), and schedule a time and place that is comfortable for both of you. 

4. Have the Conversation

Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that telling your friend that you think that they’re abusing their partner is incredibly awkward, hard, and sad. There are few things I’ve done in my life that were harder. It’s possible that there is no “good” way.
Some suggestions I can make, however, include:
  • Speak from a place of loveExplain that the reason you’re having this conversation is because you care about your friend.
  • Own your words, feelings, and judgments. This often looks like using tentative phrases that begin with “I feel that,” “I could be wrong, but I think that,” “It seems to me like,” and so on.  It also means not speaking for the survivor of abuse unless they’ve asked you to.
  • Allow for pauses, gaps, and breaks in the conversation. Acknowledge that this is a dialogue that may have to take place over a few days, weeks, or even months.
  • Resist the urge to give your friend orders or ultimatumsPhrases like “You need to do _____,” “If you don’t stop____, then_____,” and “You have to ____” aren’t helpful. Analyzing their behavior (“Maybe this is because of your past traumatic relationships”) is probably also not that helpful. Instead, point out the behavior that you see as abusive, tell them that you think it isn’t acceptable, and let them draw their own conclusions.
Examples of ways to state that you think your friend is acting abusively include:
“I wanted to talk to you because I’ve seen you push and slap your boyfriend a few times now, and it makes me worried about both of you.”
“I know this is awkward, but I have to tell you that I am worried about the way you fight with Sabina. You’ve told her that you’ll hurt yourself if she breaks up with you, and I don’t think that’s okay.”
One of the most powerful things we can do as friends is hold up a mirror to each others’ behaviors: We show each other what the things we do look like from the outside.
In many cases, this alone is enough to make a huge difference in ending abuse.

5. Follow Up

It’s hard to predict how the conversation will go.
If your friend refuses to acknowledge that they’re being abusive, then it may take a long time, and many more conversations (they don’t all have to be with you) to get the point across. It may become necessary to prioritize supporting their partner instead, whether that means offering emotional care and/or helping them leave the relationship if that’s what they want. 
It’s equally likely, however, that your friend will appreciate your reaching out and might ask you to help them figure things out. Some things you can do in this case are helping connect them to local resources such as community organizations and mental health care. Often, creating support plans between informal networks of friends and acquaintances is also extremely helpful. 
I believe that working with perpetrators of intimate abuse is actually very similar to supporting abuse survivors in that agency is key.
Most people who act abusively do so because they are feeling out of control in some part of their lives, and helping restore that sense of empowerment can make an enormous difference.

6. Love Yourself

I mean this in the active sense: Do things that are self-loving.
Anti-abuse work is hard, unglamorous, and usually goes unpaid. Confronting abusive friends can be emotionally destabilizing and draining. It forces you to re-evaluate everything you know about yourself, about relationships, and the people around you. 
So ask for help. Feed yourself. Sleep. Drink water. Give yourself time to just rest and to feel.
And know that sometimes the hardest things you will ever do are also the most worthwhile.

No comments:

Post a Comment