(The Root) —
“A close relative is involved in a physically and verbally abusive relationship with her boyfriend. She constantly complains about him and says she wants to leave him, but she never does. I can’t keep her away from him even though I have tried. (Once, when she stayed at my house and was leaving to go to his, I took her keys.) She deserves better than this and knows better. Is there any way to get through to her?” —X.K.
Honestly? There’s not much you can do about it. Your relative does deserve better. No one — man, woman, child — deserves to be mistreated in any way, but as much as you want more for a loved one, you won’t see any changes in his or her behavior until that person wants it for him- or herself.
As hard as it is to know what’s going on with your relative’s relationship, I’d encourage you not to get involved. I completely get the rationale for taking her keys to prevent her from spending time with her man, but that isn’t your place. If she’s an adult, she is free to make her own choices, even if that means picking a mate who is abusive and choosing to stay with him.
The best thing you can do for her, though it won’t be easy, is to continue to support her emotionally. That’s probably draining for you, but her self-esteem is extraordinarily low, and it’s important that whenever, or even if, she has a breakthrough moment of clarity and decides that she’s had enough of her volatile situation, she knows that someone has her back.
Also, since she’s repeatedly mentioned ending the relationship, there is some hope that she genuinely wants out; she may just not know the best way to detach herself. The next time she complains and threatens to leave, ask her, “What would it take for you to stay away from him?” Help her become proactive by creating a plan of action. (Be forewarned: Even if, in the best-case scenario, she leaves, it does not mean she will stay gone.)
I know that doesn’t exactly sound like doing much, especially when you want her to end the relationship now. But it could make a difference down the line. Abusive relationships are often alienating to the people in them. The initial secrecy of the abuse, the lies to cover it up and the self-seclusion because of embarrassment when the secret is discovered are often discussed. Rarely do I hear about the alienation by frustrated family and friends who can’t take being sucked into the drama or sitting idly by to watch a loved one self-destruct. Knowing that you are there and you love and support her unconditionally could eventually be a turning point for your relative.
Unfortunately, I’ve been in a situation similar to yours. A friend who lived nearby once called me, asking to borrow $20. It sounded urgent, so since I was headed out of my building and in her direction, I volunteered to drop the money off. I knew something was wrong as soon as she opened the door. She looked fine, insisted she was, but she had a nervous energy about her.