How To Help Someone In An Abusive Or Controlling Relationship: 6 Tips

How To Help Someone In An Abusive Or Controlling Relationship: 6 Tips

4. Counteract Economic Abuse. 

One of the hallmarks of coercive control is depriving a victim of resources such as money and transportation. Some abusers do not let their partners work outside the home, while others obligate their partners to turn over their paycheck. Abusers may use the money to threaten, reward, or punish, or make victims “earn their keep” by obligating them to do things against their will.

Abusers will often steal from their partners and ruin their credit, making it more difficult for victims to break free.

You can counteract economic control by asking what your friend needs. Likely possibilities include money, food, childcare, pet care, transportation, information, a job, and a place to live or store their belongings. While you probably cannot provide all this yourself, perhaps you can hook up your friend or family member with community-based resources. Make only those promises that you can keep.

Related: 10 Things That Happen In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

5. Counteract the Entrapping Effects of “Acts of Love.” 

Abusers often act highly romantic and loving when it seems like a useful tactic to keep the victim in the relationship. Your friend might want to tell you about the good parts of their relationship.

Listen to these and honor them—do not discount them. Comments such as, “It sounds like your relationship is amazing at times,” will help the person know they are understood.

If it seems okay, you can encourage the person to keep track of the days the relationship seems great, okay, or terrible. You can gently share your worries if the time seems right. “You looked afraid when I saw you with James this morning…” “You seem timider and quieter than you did years ago…” “You have described to me some great times and some scary and dangerous times in your relationship. I’m wondering what this will look like in a year or ten years…” “Do you have reasons to think your relationship is getting better or worse?”

From the outside, it may be clear to you that romance and acts of love are just other manipulative tools. However, a person who is thirsty for love and affection may give in to their allure.

6. Counteract Physical Violence. 

In coercive control relationships, typically most of the violence is relatively mild but frequent—slapping, pushing, grabbing, shaking, and rougher-than-desired sex. The victim is unlikely to report these acts to the police. When abusers become more physically violent, they typically blame the victim for the abuse—saying that she provoked the violence by doing or failing to do something.

If you see signs of fear or violence, comment on them gently. For instance, “That looks like a bruise on your arm,” or “It looks like someone kicked that wall.” If your friend describes threatening or violent incidents, empathize with phrases such as, “that sounds terrifying,” or “that sounds so painful.” Remind the victim that there is no acceptable reason to frighten or hit another person, no matter what they did or said.

Ask about signs of lethality such as using or threatening to use a weapon, extreme jealousy or control, sexual assault, or strangulation. If these are present, tell your friend that these are indications that the abuse may become fatal and that you do not want them to end up dead.

Finally, discuss safety planning. Do not insist on discussing physical violence if your friend does not want to discuss it with you. Focus on your connection and ways to counteract isolation.

Related: Emotionally Overwhelmed or Feeling Trapped In An Abusive Relationship? Here’s What You Can Do

A Great Deal More

Stalking, threats, sexual coercion, manipulation through the children, harassment through the legal system, and the ways culture and gender intersect—these are all relevant to coercive control and domestic abuse but lie beyond the scope of this piece.

Being controlled by a partner is confusing, lonely, and extremely damaging in the short and long term. Supporting your friend can help so much.


Written by Lisa Aronson Fontes
Originally Appeared In Psychology Today

When you want to help someone who is in an abusive and controlling relationship, always remember that standing by them and supporting them can go a long way in making them feel better. Sometimes, it is the mental and emotional support that gives them the courage to get out of a toxic situation like that.

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How To Help Someone In An Abusive Or Controlling Relationship: 6 Tips
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How To Help Someone In An Abusive Or Controlling Relationship: 6 Tips
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Lisa Aronson Fontes Ph.D.

Lisa Aronson Fontes, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and author of numerous publications including the books: Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship, Interviewing Clients Across Cultures, and Child Abuse & Culture: Working with Diverse Families. She has dedicated two decades to making mental health, criminal justice, and social service systems more responsive to culturally diverse people. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, Dr. Fontes is a popular trainer, consultant, and speaker for audiences around the world.View Author posts