Sometimes, a seemingly perfect relationship is playing out very differently behind closed doors.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 20 people are abused by a domestic partner every minute in the United States.
What’s even scarier is that a third of all women have been victims of some form of violence at the hands of their significant other in their lifetime.
Just because domestic violence is prevalent doesn’t mean that it’s OK. Still, victims sometimes stay in these unhealthy relationships for a host of reasons: they are attached to their partner, they have children, they are financially dependent — the list goes on and on.
Do you have a gut-wrenching feeling that a friend is in a relationship that might be abusive? If so, you probably want to help.
We spoke with Rachel Goldsmith, the AVP of Domestic Violence Shelters at Safe Horizon, a victim assistance organization based in New York City, to learn about some of the signs that might suggest someone you know is in an abusive relationship.
1. Her Partner Doesn’t Like It When She Spends Time With You
Spending less time with your friend when she enters a new relationship is normal.
However, there is a point where it can become excessive and signal that something isn’t quite right.
Rachel Goldsmith, the Vice President at Safe Horizon explains that it’s, “Common for abusive partners to not want their victims to have a life outside of their relationship.”
If your friend’s significant other is discouraging her from spending time with you, chances are they’re also discouraging her from spending time with everyone else too.
2. She Started Dressing Drastically Different
Someone may choose to change their style for many reasons, but if your friend who you’re worried about has appeared to do so unwillingly, you might see it as a sign her relationship is to blame.
Rachel tells us that a change in appearance is a red flag especially, “When the individual didn’t want to make those changes and they were made at the pressure of the partner.”
3. She Started Abruptly Canceling Plans
It’s always a little disappointing when a friend has to cancel their plans. However, things come up from time to time and we understand the predicament.
That being said, if canceling plans is out of character for your friend, and you have a feeling that her partner, or their jealousy and control has something to do with it, you might be onto something.
Moreover, if your friend does keep plans, but spends a lot of time checking in with their partner using their phone or social media, it could be just another control mechanism for the abuser to keep tabs.
4. She’s Noticeably Unhappy More Often
We can all understand being invested in a relationship and letting the inevitable ups and downs affect our behavior and mood from time to time.
However, have you noticed that your friend is especially sad lately? Abusive partners have a habit of breaking down their victims emotionally by discouraging, or shaming them.
Of course, someone’s down mood could be caused by a number of things, but Rachel points out:
If you notice a change in the demeanor of someone who used to be cheery and hopeful, it’s a sign that something could be going on. If you’re seeing the other signs too, you might be able to attribute their mood to the relationship.
5. You’re Uncomfortable With Her Partner
If the friend you’re worried about is close to you, you’ve probably met her partner at least once.
Did you get a bad feeling when you met them? If so, you should probably trust your instincts.
It’s important not to jump to conclusions, but if you noticed any hints of abusive behavior with your own eyes, you should probably keep a close eye on your friend too.
However, Rachel stresses that its important for you to not say anything to the abuser directly. Your friend, or even you, might bear the brunt of a confrontation.
6. She Has Frequent Cuts Or Bruises
This seems fairly obvious, but if your friend seems battered or bruised, and doesn’t do activities or work in a profession which may cause little accidents, it’s a very bad sign.
Since physical violence is serious, this could warrant a conversation with her about what’s really going on, or for you to get her the help she needs.
7. He Often Uses Rough Language With Her
This may also go without saying, but the way your friend’s partner speaks to her can be very telling of what might happen behind closed doors.
Does he use a lot of curse words or speak down to her? If he’s doing it in front of you, he’s almost definitely doing it without you there.
Make sure you let your friend know that she doesn’t deserve to be spoken to in such rough language if its the case.
8. She Puts His Needs Before Her Own
If someone becomes abusive in their relationship and victimizes their partner, they expect the victim to cooperate.
Abuse in a relationship can often happen slowly, which makes it hard for the victim to identify that their behavior is wrong, or unusual.
However, Rachel says that if, “the person feels like they can’t prioritize their needs because they have to meet the needs of their partner,” that the relationship could be entering abusive territory.
9. Her Partner Has A History Of This Kind Of Behavior
Chances are, you don’t have access to your friend’s partner’s full history. However, there are certain signs that you can talk to her about which may be cause for concern.
For instance, Rachel explains, “The way people who are abusive describe their past relationships is in a way that is extremely critical of their partner.”
She goes on to say that the abuser may paint a picture that their past partners were “crazy” or “problematic.”
Most importantly, abusive partners will often display, “A lack of accountability for challenges in past relationships.”
10. She’s Clearly Afraid To Admit There’s A Problem
No one likes to admit that they are being treated poorly, especially by someone they might love.
Rachel explains that, “people who are abusive don’t admit to being abusive,” which makes it all the more difficult for the victim to come to terms with.
Another issue Rachel points out is that people feel a lot of shame surrounding abusive relationships, which will make them less likely to openly admit that they are a victim of one.
For which reason, your friend might not be ready to volunteer that there is a problem, or in extreme cases, might not even be aware.
Something else that makes admitting there’s a problem tricky is that your friend might not be ready to leave the relationship, and doesn’t want you to hate their partner, or put either of you in more danger.
If you are afraid that your friend is in an abusive relationship, it’s important to approach her with care and compassion.
Rachel gives us an example opener, “I’ve noticed these changes and wanted to check in because I’m concerned about you.”
She says its very important not to blame their partner at this time. The victim likely feels aligned with and even protective of them. Demonizing their partner will only drive them away further.
It’s also important to note that there are plenty of resources for people in abusive relationships who aren’t ready to leave their partners yet.
If you or anyone you know would like to speak to someone regarding rape or sexual assault, call our 24-hour anonymous hotline at 212-227-3000.