Several weeks ago, I married to love of my life.
The wedding day was perfect, it went by without a single hitch, and we danced the night away surrounded by a close-knit group of our dearest loved ones.
After the festivities, a group of us returned to our hotel and continued the party in the common area.
There, one of the groomsmen informed me of a dire situation. He said he believed one of my wedding guests and closest friends, Sara, had gotten into a physical altercation with her boyfriend on Friday night, the night before the wedding.
Following our conversation, I connected with the two witnesses who had seen the incident with their own eyes. They were in the hotel room next to Sara and her boyfriend, and the story started with them hearing screams and then a loud thump. They rushed out of their room and found Sara outside her door, covered in bruises, with her boyfriend nowhere to be found. Sara and her boyfriend’s fight alerted so many other guests that the police were called. Sara was extensively questioned, but she refused to press any charges.
This heartbreaking experience has been a reminder that abuse happens all of the time and navigating it requires some foresight/contemplation. If you are in a similiar situation with a friend, keeping the following pieces of advice in mind.
Reacting emotionally at the moment isn’t going to help anyone.
Several days after the wedding, some of us got together, including my friend Sara. Sara was covered in bruises from head to toe, and her elbows had burns on them as if her boyfriend had dragged her across the carpet.
Her boyfriend was there for a short moment, and I felt my whole body burning as all I wanted to do was scream at him. When a friend asked what had happened to Sara and she mumbled an excuse, he finally just stood up and left. None of us asked about where he had gone.
Although I wanted to say something, it wasn’t the right moment because we were in a public situation. At one point I couldn’t hold it all in and I told her I was worried about her, and she laughed and asked, “why?” to which I didn’t respond. The reality is that I needed to wait and gather my composure before telling her the truth, even if it went against every instinct.
Nothing you say will change their mind.
As someone who has been in an abusive relationship, the closest analogy I can use for someone who can’t quite relate is to imagine that you are swimming underwater. Although you can hear some things happening above the surface, the sounds are muffled and hard to decipher.
The reality is that Sara will not leave until she decides to leave. Love, or what we believe is to be love (As true love does not include abuse), truly is blind.
Several weeks after the incident, Sara and I grabbed dinner. I told her I knew what had happened, and he was very calm. In hindsight, she likely knew I would find out and had prepared. Instead of defending him as I expected, she made the excuse that he had used mind-altering substances, and that was the cause of his violence.
All you can do is offer unconditional love and support
Before speaking with Sara, I called one of my best friends, who was previously in an abusive marriage. Although I work with victims of abuse/usually feel equipped in these situations, this is the first time I’ve had it happen with a friend where we had spent a significant amount of time with her partner.
My friend provided fantastic advice. She reminded me that if I weren’t careful, Sara would put the walls up and that I only needed to keep these three critical things in mind.
- Nothing that I said/did was going to change Sara’s mind at the moment
- As someone who has been in an abusive relationship, I should know firsthand how hard it is to see the light
- Unconditional love and support were what I could offer; even if Sara didn’t want it now, she would need it later.
Witnessing a loved one go through abuse is heartbreaking and, for many, uncharted territory. There is no “perfect” way to handle the situation. Every case is going to be a little different.
This experience has reignited the flame within me. At times it can feel like the abusive relationships are in my past as I am not personally experiencing them anymore. However, Sara is a reminder that it is too easy to fall into an abuser’s web, and getting out is one of the hardest things.
But, as I can attest to, along with other survivors… it CAN be done, and you can emerge on the other side even stronger.