5 ways to help a friend in a coercive relationship
We all have that one friend that disappears the minute she meets a new bloke - six weeks later, shes back wanting to dominate your Saturday nights - until the next 'the one' comes along..... but hold on, this feels different. Things are a bit 'off'. She says she is deliriously happy but .... you can't quite put your finger on it .... she seems a little nervy, doesn't seem to be able to make plans without checking its okay with her man, almost seeming to ask his permission. She has stopped going to the gym and hasn't been to her dance class for a while. When you have seen her, she has seemed a little anxious, checking her phone, responding to texts with a little worried frown. And she seems to have completely lost the ability to be impulsive and decide that a lunch may turn into an impromptu girly afternoon on the wine - in fact, it has been months since your last girly night out - which ended early because he picked her up!
These could all be signs your friend is in a coercive relationship. Abuse isn't always about physical violence. It can also by psychological. Your friend may confide in you that things may be a little tense - or she may tell you that everything is great and she has never been happier. So, how can you help a friend that you suspect may be in a controlling relationship?‘
1 - Talk to her - Find a way of creating an activity that doesn't involve him like a spa day for example. Share your concerns with her in a non-critical way. Be empathic and show her you are genuinely concerned. Open up the conversation by encouraging her to talk about how she feels. Try to let her do most of the talking so she doesn't feel under pressure or get defensive. Try not to directly call their partner out on their behaviour. So instead of saying 'Mark never lets you come out with us these days' try saying 'I'm a little worried that you haven't been out with us lately'.
2 - Let her know you are there for her - Not to judge or tell her what to do - but just to listen and support. Telling a friend to 'get out of it' or that they 'shouldn't be putting up with it' may leave them feeling more isolated and confused. She may not even realise what is happening. She may think they are in the throes of true love and her partner loves her so much, he can't bear to spend a second without her. But even if she does realise, she may feel ashamed or scared.
3 - Stay in touch - Ask your friend what is the best way to stay in touch - her partner may monitor calls, texts and emails so think of other ways to connect. Maybe have secret code words or emojis you use so she can let you know if she is feeling unsafe. Check in often. Try not to feel annoyed if you do not hear from your friend. She may be focusing all her efforts on not upsetting her partner.
4 - Empower her - Unless you believe your friend is at significant risk of harm, she should be making her own decisions and choices with your support. If you are very concerned, you can ring the one of the numbers at the end of this blog for advice on how to support a friend in these circumstances.
5 - Look after yourself - Although it can be really upsetting and difficult to feel that a friend is in this situation, its important to remember that your health matters too. Take care of yourself, be ready to help when you can but realise that ultimately, your friend is responsible for herself and her emotional safety. Check in on her, give her your support but also make sure you are spending time on your own emotional and physical health.
I have written this under the assumption the abused is female and the abuser is male, in a heterosexual relationship but coercive abuse can exist in any relationship regardless of sexuality or gender.
National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 200 247
Mens Advice Line - 0808 8010327
National Gay, Lesbian and Trans DV helpline - 0809 995428