Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Move Over Joan Jett—WWYD?

Written by Liletta Thompson
What Would You Do if Your Best Friend Was in an Abusive Relationship?
You know what relationship violence is, and you know that it’s wrong. That's a no-brainer. You also know what the signs are for abuse and you hope you would never allow anyone to cross that line with you. BUT what would you do if you had a best friend in an abusive relationship?

Now at first, you might answer, well duh! I'd tell her to leave the jerk and keep on moving. But what if it's not that's simple? What if the abuse is subtle? What if your friend really, really likes the guy? What if you thought the guy was cool yourself…until recently? Are you sure you would be able to speak to her about the situation?
Before you answer, check out this scenario:
Your BFF has always wanted a boyfriend. Now she has one and at first he seems like the best guy ever. Cute, charming, really crazy about her.

But after a while, things start to get a little weird. Your once really stylish BFF is now wearing very plain, conservative clothing. When you question her about this, she laughs it off and says, “Oh, my guy doesn't like me to wear ‘provocative’ clothing (aka short skirts and every-bra cleavage); he thinks I should save that just for him.”

You also notice your friend is checking her text messages a lot. When you ask her about that, she tells you that her dude likes to touch base. He wants to know where she is, how long she’ll be there, and what time she plans to leave. Always good to play it safe.

Lastly, you notice when they are around other people, dude puts your girl down, saying things like, “I don’t think you would understand,” “You would look nice in a dress like that...if you lost a few pounds,” or “If we broke up, you would never find someone else as good as me.”

Your BFF shrugs this behavior off and says her guy speaks that way because he loves her. One day, she tells you that she’s really falling in love with him and believes she would never be able to find someone else who loves her as much as he does. NOW, what would you do?
Let’s even take this one step further—let’s say you casually mention to your BFF, "Sometimes I’m not sure if your man treats you as well as you deserve,” and then she FREAKS OUT, accusing you of being jealous and saying you just don’t want to see her happy. Then what?
Now, is your answer the same as it was before the scenario? Just that simple. On the one hand, you see that your friend is in a bad relationship and you’re truly concerned that she might not be safe. But on the other hand, you don’t want your friend to get mad at you, or think you had any intention but to help her. But how can you sit back and allow ANY friend to be at risk?

Would a good friend speak out and let her girl know she’s in danger and not stop until her friend gets help or distances herself from the relationship? Or is the good friend move to support her and let her have happiness in dating this guy?
This dilemma is the reason why so many sit back quietly when a friend or family member is in a bad situation. Let’s face it, most of us don’t like confrontation.
Either way you choose is a risk, and you must be prepared to face the consequences. Speaking up about your friend's man might get you in the hot seat, but later you hope she will thank you. Down the line, if she figures out the deal for herself, she might be disappointed that you were afraid for her safety and didn’t speak up. Imagine how you would feel. 

The key thing to know about abusive relationships is the most cliché saying of all: love is blind. It works well when you fall for someone vertically challenged, and it sucks when you’re in love with a douchebag and you can’t see that person for who he or she really is. (Hard to believe and I’d like to think more rare, but yes, girls can be abusive, as well.) So what can you do in this situation?
First, do some research on relationship violence—search the Internet, take a trip to the library, ask your aunt who just got her PhD, your cousin who you’re pretty sure was in an abusive relationship years ago. As we know, knowledge is power. Once you arm yourself with some specifics, you can determine if what you are observing in the relationship in question is reason for concern.

Here are some options:
1. You could take a non-aggressive approach. The old "did you know" might work wonders in this case. You might start off by saying to your friend "did you know that most people our age end up in a violent or abusive relationship at one point?" If she takes the bait, you could start sharing the information with her, never directing it at her relationship, but sharing signs and symptoms. 
2. Pass the buck! This may seem like an easy way out, but hey, let's face it—that's exactly what it is. By passing the buck you could find a guidance counselor, mutual friend, or other trusted person to mention concern to your friend. If you have enough people on your side, you may even want to think about trying an intervention. 

3. Direct Approach! You may have seen relationship violence destroy the life of someone close to you; or maybe you just aced Feminism 101 and you absolutely can’t stand the idea of a man manipulating and controlling a female, so much so that sitting back and saying nothing is not on the menu. You can then go to your girl, start by telling her you love her, and say, "Hey, I've observed these patterns in your boyfriend and I'm concerned that he is showing signs of abusive behavior. He may not be physically hurting you now, but I'm concerned that if you allow this control and manipulation to go on, he eventually may." You can also add, "I know you may not like what I'm saying and the last thing I want is for this to effect our friendship negatively, but I feel I wouldn't be a true friend if I didn’t share my concern."
4. Do Nothing. As stated, this is an option (but come on—not the best one!). You might reason that your friend is old enough to know what she’s getting into and you don't want to risk making waves by commenting on what you observe. Who she chooses to date is her problem, not yours. 
The reality is, usually in matters of the heart, there is no one right choice. And all options have consequences that you should think about before making your choice. So the question remains: What would you do?


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