Has Time Run Out on this Friendship?



Dear Dharma,

I want to end a friendship with someone I care about but I’m afraid if I do, she won’t have any support.

My friend is in an abusive relationship to the point where the police have been involved and charges have been laid. Unfortunately, once the bruises start to fade and the “so sorry” gifts of jewelry and flowers pour in, she takes him back, time and time again.

Like many abused women, she is isolated and controlled by fear. But on her own, she does not reach out for the help of the resources open to her.

I feel like a terrible person for wanting a break from this drama, and she doesn’t have any other close friends to talk to. I’m her biggest support, but I don’t want to be an enabler.

I can’t condone her continuing to return to this abuse or take steps to free herself from it. Would I be a bad friend for backing away from her and this situation?


Confused for the Abused

Dear Confused,

Such a frustrating to situation to be in. I’ve been in your shoes, and unfortunately I’ve been in hers too. (Her shoes are worse, by the way.)

You wouldn’t be a bad friend for setting boundaries.  You don’t necessarily have to back away from the whole friendship right now, although in the end you might.

The first thing I would do is have an honest conversation with her where you are not trying to give her any advice (ha, this coming from the Queen Bee of advising).

“Sally, I’ve watched you go in and out of this abusive relationship for a long time now, and I’ve always tried to give you the best advice I could.  Nothing I’ve said seems to be of any help to you, and I don’t have any new ideas.  So going forward, we either need to shift our friendship into neutral territory and not discuss your relationship, or I may need to step back for a while as you get this figured out.”

Her reaction to that dictates the next step.

If she goes with Option A, that doesn’t mean she will stop coming to you with this issue – it’s second nature for her.  It will take you repeating the message once or twice and sticking to it for her to take it to heart.

If she doesn’t, well, that leaves you with Option B, doesn’t it.



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  • I would add one caveat to this if you end up in option B, which is to add something like ‘of course if you do manage to leave this relationship, I am here for you’ and leave a way for the person to get back in touch. Abuse does strange things to a person, and she will be grateful to any lifelines left to her if she does escape.

    • Dharma says:

      That’s an excellent caveat to add, Suzie. You’re right that abuse can definitely alter the way people handle things… and then throw human pride into the mix, and that for sure can result in people retreating instead of reaching out when they need help.

      Thanks for your comment!