Have you seen a friend or family member insulting his girlfriend? Does he try to control what she wears? Is he constantly calling or texting her? Does he check her Facebook several times a day? Has he tried to damage her car? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, chances are your friend or family member is an abuser.
It’s hard to talk to a friend when you think their behavior is out of control. You want to believe him when he says that you’re wrong, that you’re worrying for no reason. But if you witnessed behavior that makes you think he may be hurting his girlfriend, you owe it to him, his girlfriend, and to yourself to take a stand. It could make a real difference.
How can you tell?
Your friend or family member may not talk to you about his problem, but there are often telltale signs that he’s hurting his significant other.
- He seems angry a lot of the time and has a quick temper, especially when it relates to his girlfriend.
- He seems very jealous of his partner and constantly accuses her of seeing other men.
- He tries to control her every move and restricts who she can see or talk to, and even what she wears.
- You’ve seen him call her ugly names, put her down, curse at her or threaten her.
- His girlfriend seems afraid of him.
- You’ve seen him hit or grab his girlfriend roughly, and/or have seen bruises or other injuries on her that you suspect your friend caused.
- He’s damaged her property, like her car or her locker.
What can you do?
Confronting the abuser and urging him to get help is the best way to demonstrate your friendship.
If your friend is abusing his girlfriend, whether it is physical, emotional or verbal, he needs to know that this behavior is unacceptable and has to stop immediately. And because you two share a relationship, you’re the best person to tell him. Your brother, cousin, nephew or friend more than likely values your opinion of him and wants to maintain your respect. That’s why your words may carry weight and could be just the encouragement he needs to take responsibility for his actions and stop his abuse.
Here’s how to help:
- Call the police or a trusted adult (like a guidance counselor) if you witness an assault. In many cases, the abuser can be required to get counseling.
- Tell him how much you care about him and that you’re worried about the effect his behavior is having on both him and his girlfriend. Stress that he is doing damage to himself and his partner.
- Let him know that violent and emotionally cruel behavior is not okay – it is a sign that he has a problem and needs help.
- Offer to talk with him about what to do when he gets upset and feels himself losing control – cooling off, talking about the problem, counseling, or a support group.
- Remember, your role is to be a friend, not a counselor. There are professionals in every community who provide expert services and advice. You can be supportive by insisting that your friend contact those who can help.
- Be a role model for healthy relationships by treating your friends and partners with respect.
- Take a stand! Don’t reinforce abusive behavior by laughing, minimizing, or ignoring an act of violence or a threat.
- Do talk to the abuser if you feel safe doing so. Talk about your worries and refuse to accept any justifications. Be clear that you are still a friend but you disapprove of the behavior.
- Be there, listen, and stay there. You may feel like a broken record but don’t let up. Your friend may not say it but they are listening.
- Do recognize and praise the good behaviors.
- Do encourage him to be honest, with himself, you and his girlfriend, and show your support when he is.
- Do help him clarify his feelings. Explain that being controlling, possessive and jealous are not signs of love.
- Do understand that abuse is a choice and help your friend understand that abuse is a learned behavior.
- Do encourage him to talk to a counselor. Go with him if that’s what it takes.
- Don’t condone the abuse. Nothing justifies abuse. It doesn’t matter if he had a bad day, was drunk or was really angry.
- Don’t get stuck in the middle. You are not a counselor so don’t try to be one. Don’t try to be a mediator for the couple. You are there to help him change his abusive behavior.
- Don’t cut off your friend. Reject the behavior, not the person. Explain that he is not a bad person; it’s his abuse that’s bad. Choose your words very carefully.
- Don’t encourage the abuse. Laughing at degrading jokes or put-downs signals acceptance.
Note: Although females are statistically more often the victims of intimate partner, we are also sensitive to those males that are the victims of abuse. We have used the term girlfriend throughout the text for space-saving purposes. Please note that boyfriend can be substituted in every instance.