National Friendship Day: How to Support a Friend in an Abusive Relationship

Throughout our lives we are blessed with friendships. Some friends pass through our lives, leaving only memories behind. Others stay with us on our life journey. Some friends have been with us for a very long time, like childhood best friends, or that first friend we meet when we move to a new town for university or college. And we forge some of our strong friendships with people we meet later in life, coworkers, parents of our children’s friends, neighbours or others that become part of our social networks. Friends are who we call on when we need someone to talk to. They’re who we feel most comfortable confiding in. It’s not surprising then, that many survivors of domestic violence will tell a friend about the abuse they are experiencing before they will make a formal report to police or even before they will seek help and support from a support service.

Two female friends with their backs to the camera and their arms around each other

As National Friendship Day comes up (July 30th), it’s critically important to think about how to be there for a friend experiencing abuse. The Neighbours, Friends and Families campaign can help you learn how to listen in a non-judgmental way, how to offer support when needed, and, if need be, how to make sure our friends are safe.

When it comes to serious concerns about domestic violence, friends are in a really unique position to help. They’re often the ones who are most aware when something is happening and the first to recognize warning signs or when a friend is in danger. If you have a friend who you believe is dealing with trauma or abuse of any kind, it’s crucial to step up and be a friend, offering as much help and support as possible. Here’s how to help a friend who is in an abusive relationship:

Mature woman comforting friend

8 Ways to Help a Friend in an Abusive Relationship

1.    Recognize warning signs of abuse so you can be on the alert for signs of domestic violence. While these can obviously vary, there are typical and common warning signs of domestic abuse, to alert you if your friend is in need of help.

2.    Talk to her about your concerns. Remember that when voicing your concern, it’s important to be non-judgemental. Ensure her that you’re coming from a place of concern, and most importantly, remind her that the abuse is NEVER her fault.

3.    Help keep her safe. If she’s planning on leaving her partner, her safety is of utmost concern. Leaving an abusive relationship increases the risk of serious danger or death. A safety plan MUST be in place before doing so and it’s crucial her partner doesn’t know of her intentions to leave. You can help her with this:

4.    Help her find resources in the community to support her. This page will help find community resources, numbers and shelter information for all across Canada.

5.    Offer your home as a safe haven for her, her children and her pets. If this isn’t possible, make sure she knows of nearby shelters and let her know you’ll help her get there whenever she is ready. Shelter Safe is an excellent online resource for finding women’s shelters across Canada.

6.    Write down important numbers for her and make sure she keeps them in a safe, private place where her partner will not find them. Crucial phone numbers to be aware of in Canada are: the Assaulted Women’s Helpline; her local shelter; the police.

7.    Encourage her to talk to her employer about the abuse so they can put a safety plan into place at work. Make It Our Business has tons of resources on how to help make the workplace safe, including this safety planning guide.

8.    Support her. No matter what. Refrain from becoming angry or frustrated with any of her decisions. The most important thing you can do is be a strong pillar of support, a confidant, and a safe place for her to go when she needs help.