How to Support a Loved One in an Abusive Relationship

 In Domestic Violence in Indian Country, Family Violence, Trust and Respect

“Why don’t you just leave?”

“Why do you put up with it?”

“Why do you keep going back?”

When it comes to domestic violence, many people focus on why the victim would willingly stay in an abusive relationship, especially if the person returns to their abuser more than once.

On average, it takes a victim seven attempts at leaving before they leave for good. Leaving a relationship is never easy and It takes a lot of strength and courage to leave.  What most people don’t realize is that leaving can be one of the most dangerous times for a victim of abuse.

The dynamics of an abusive relationship are complicated. Victims of abuse often feel trapped and isolated from loved ones. They may fear being identified as a victim or retaliated against for speaking out. Trust is another big issue when it comes to reporting abuse to local authorities, and the gaps in supportive resources in Indian Country don’t always make it easy to reach out for help.

In many cases, the consequences of speaking out about the abuse can be enough to silence a victim entirely. Remember, domestic violence is about maintaining power and control over their partner. It can include a mix of abusive behaviors that can appear and escalate at any time.

There are so many reasons why someone would stay with an abusive partner. Some of the reasons can include:

Fear: fears their abusive partner and what will happen if they leave

Love: has love for their abusive partner

Family: wanting to maintain harmony within the family

Community: escaping the abuse means leaving their tribal community, or concerns over what community members will think if they found out about the abuse

Low Self-Esteem: makes excuses for abuser’s behavior, blames self for the abuse, or feels hopeless

No Money/Resources: has few or little resources to leave their situation, or feels responsibility to financially support their abusive partner

Denial/Shame: doesn’t want to admit or is embarrassed that they’re in an abusive relationship

Leaving is not easy. Despite what we may think is best, the person experiencing the abuse is the expert when it comes to their safety and the safety of their family. They know what they need to survive. So how can you support a friend or relative who decides to stay in an abusive relationship?

  • Understand they did not intentionally choose to love someone who hurts them. In the beginning, it’s not always easy to tell if a relationship will become abusive. While there are early red flags to watch for, abusive behavior can appear at any time in the relationship, whether you’re dating, married, or if you have children together.
  • Believe them. If a friend or relative confides in you that they are being abused, listen and take the situation seriously. As Native people, we find strength in each other, so be patient and let them know you are there to listen, not judge. Allow them to tell you as much or as little as they are ready to share.
  • Trust in their resilience to do what’s best. The most important message you can share with friend or family member dealing with domestic violence is that you love, care and support them, no matter what. It’s okay to share your concerns and offer helpful resources, but always allow your loved one to decide what they need.
  • Find healing for yourself. It can be hard to know the right thing to say when you know your loved one is being abused by their partner. In this case, it may be helpful to speak with someone to help you cope. The StrongHearts Native Helpline – 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) – can assist in navigating difficult conversations and how to be supportive.

There are many reasons why your friend or relative might decide to stay with an abusive partner. Your role is to be a good relative by supporting them in making their own decisions and acknowledging that leaving is not an easy decision to make.


If you’re concerned a loved one might be in an abusive relationship, call the StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Central time to get help. Callers after hours will have the option to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or to call back on the next business day. Domestic violence affects us all.  

For more reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, read the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s 50 Obstacles to Leaving series (1-1011-2021-3031-4041-50), based on Sarah M. Buel’s “50 Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a. Why Abuse Victims Stay.”

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