Abusive Relationships: Coping Strategies
Being in an abusive relationship can be an extremely frightening and lonely experience for anyone. Most of us wonder why the victim won’t “just leave”. As outsiders, the solution seems obvious to us- to simply walk away from the unhealthy relationship. But, this oversimplified ‘solution’ fails to acknowledge the complexity of a traumatic situation where one is abused- physically, psychologically, or both- by their partner.
Leaving an abusive relationship often proves to be more difficult than it seems. A number of factors contribute to the victim’s decision to stay in the abusive relationship – commonly, the victim is financially dependent on the abuser, they have nowhere else to go, they are just too afraid of being alone, they believe that they are the ones at fault and deserves the abuse OR the victim’s cultural or religious beliefs may proscribe separation. Oftentimes, threats of violence made by the abusive partner scare the victim into staying.
So… are we saying that there is no hope for somebody who finds themselves in an abusive relationship? Thankfully, there is- for the victim of abuse, the abuser themselves, as well as for a concerned bystander.
What You Can Do - As the Victim
Know that Abuse is NEVER okay
It is important to know that an angry shove in the middle of an argument or an isolated epithet hurled at the other is an expression of violence, no matter how minor and forgettable the transgression might seem. If one’s partner has been abusive on one or two occasions, the odds are that such behaviour will take place again.
It is imperative to be cognizant of the early signs of abuse in one’s relationship before the frequency and intensity of abuse escalates beyond control.
Don’t wait for a bad situation to get worse. If you think that you are in immediate danger, you probably are: trust yourself enough to act on the situation when it is worsening. Get out of the house/away from the abuser when things are getting out of control. It’s always better to be prepared by having a safety plan in place so that you know what to do when things get out of hand.
Develop a Strong Support System
Work on creating a strong web of social ties, be it with friends, family members, or even coworkers. Having a strong system of social support can help you to deal with the harmful effects of abuse.
If you feel that you are a victim of abuse, and are unable to manage this process yourself, or feel overwhelmed, it may be a good idea to consult an objective professional, such as a psychologist. Your collaboration with a professional may go a long way in making you feel more empowered to manage stress. Alternatively, you could look for domestic abuse shelters or helplines.
As the Abuser
Recognise Your Actions
Try and introspect to realise whether or not your actions towards your partner are abusive in nature. Try and think of the emotional, psychological and practical consequences of your actions- not only on your partner and the relationship but on you as well.
Remember – EVERYONE can Change
Believe that you can change and get help to deal with your violent and abusive behaviour, either from a trained psychologist or from relevant support groups.
As a Concerned Party
Reach out to the victim. Hear the victim out, be supportive and suggest alternative options available to them. If possible- and more importantly, if safe (for both, you and the victim) – reach out to the abuser and try and talk to them about their behaviour.
Avoid Telling them to “Just Leave”
Instead of telling the victim to pack their bags and walk out of the relationship -which might not always be feasible, let them know that you realise how difficult their situation must be. If, despite placing the option of leaving the relationship on the table, the victim decides to stay, continue to be supportive of them.
Help with Safety Planning
Encourage the victim to leave the physical space that the abuser is in when things get violent. Help the victim to come up with a safety plan that includes picking a place to go to and materials to carry along in such cases.
Offer Whatever Help You Can
Help the victim in whatever little ways possible. Even with seemingly minor tasks such as shopping for a few groceries or dropping and picking up the kids from school, help offered can go a long way in lessening the burden experienced by the victim.
Keep a Database of Domestic Abuse Shelters and Helpline Numbers
Have a database of agencies that cater to victims of domestic abuse ready, and use it in emergency situations especially if and when the victim is in danger. In extreme cases, call the police if the need arises.
If the suggested strategies do not work for you, or if you are unable to implement them, you might find counselling or therapy helpful in enabling you to identify, understand, and cope with your concerns.
If you or someone you know are struggling to cope with abusive relationship, an InnerHour therapist might be able to help you.
My friend has been in an abusive relationship for years. She has also been depressed for several months, because of the stress. Even then, she refuses to leave. I am frustrated that I cannot help her.
It must be difficult to see someone you care about in pain, especially when you feel like you cannot do anything to help them. However, it’s not true that you cannot help. Emotional support is often the most valuable thing you can provide to someone in distress. Let your friend know that she can rely on you to listen to her and help in any other way you can. If she has been refusing to leave her relationship despite the abuse, she probably has reasons for not wanting to leave. Even though that might be frustrating for you as her friend, try to understand what those reasons are, and explore other viable options with her. You can help her develop a safety plan and implement it when necessary. Also, assist her in accessing psychological support from a professional, if the need arises.