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Domestic Violence Awareness Month: How You Can Help A Survivor | Guest Column

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by MARYANA KLEYN|| It is extremely difficult to watch someone you know and care about be in an unhealthy, hurtful relationship. As you read this, I invite you to try to understand, instead of judge, those who may still be with their abusive partner and those who may never leave.

Abusive relationships are never just black and white; why people stay and why they may be afraid to disclose details about the relationship are complex, and if you find yourself struggling with how to support someone, you’re not the only one. 

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” -To Kill a Mockingbird


Before we jump into how to be supportive, I think it’s important to address why women stay. 

Abusers are extremely manipulating and charming. They apologize after hurting their partner and then try to make amends with gifts and apologies. They swear they “didn’t mean it” and that it will “never happen again.” Due to their remarkable charm, their partner believes them. And let’s face it — it’s so much easier to believe the abuser than to admit that you’re in an abusive relationship. But we know that domestic violence is a cycle; it’s like riding a roller coaster. 

I wrote a blog just about why women stay. Read it here.

If you just found out that someone you know is in an abusive relationship: 

  • Listen.
  • Show respect.
  • Try not to give advice. 

Listening is the most powerful thing you can do. Listen to the needs of the person you want to support; they are an expert on their lives. If they tell you that they do not want to leave their abusive relationship – that is their choice to make. The more you push, or the more you try to bargain with them, the more they will likely resent you. Instead, offer a safe space for them if they decide to reach out and talk to you. Please remember, it is not up to you to fix their relationship or to “save” them. 

Offer to create a safety plan with them. This can be as simple as having a code word between the two of you. If they start to feel unsafe while their abusive partner is around, they can text you the agreed upon safe word, which means you know to call the police, a family member, etc. Or the safety plan can be created for once when they decide to leave the relationship. You can even offer to store a packed bag for them full of clothes and copies of important documents. Just remember, everyone is in different stages when it comes to abusive relationships, and although you may want them to leave, they may not be ready.  

For more on safety planning, take a look at these suggestions.

While it is incredibly difficult to see someone you know live in an abusive relationship, it is also important to set your own boundaries. Listening and empathy go a long way, but you cannot take on the burden of trying to “save” your loved one. You may be able to list all the reasons they should leave, but it is ultimately their choice. So, while you offer support, remember to take care of yourself. You can be there for someone without burning yourself out. 

Other Resources:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Maryana Kleyn is a licensed master social worker for Hopeful Horizons (Beaufort, SC) focusing on survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. She has a Master’s in Social Work from Rutgers University (NJ), with a certificate in Violence Against Women and Children.  She grew up in Atlanta (shout out Atlanta United soccer!) and spends her weekends re-watching The Office.  She currently lives in Savannah, GA with Frankie (cat) and Gus (dog).

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