So, while we’ve given a good amount of solid advice for how to respond when your friend says they’ve been abused, we haven’t really expanded on it or why it matters much. So, here we are, and I want to preface this by saying that if it leaves you feeling in any way called out, reach out to the person in the corner of your mind.
See, I get it. It’s hard to be the friend when any kind of abuse is involved. I know how hard it is to admit that someone you love is abusive (how do you think their victim feels?), so for your sake and that of the conversation, for this stint I won’t even refer to that person as an abuser. We’ll call him Taylor (I’m using male pronouns, but feel free to interchange with female/neutral ones if you prefer). Taylor’s a great guy, and you’ve been friends for way longer than you have known his wife. Why do all these women in his life keep using ridiculous words like “assault” and “abuse”?
What we do here is not about fixing or changing Taylors or their behavior. I wasted years of my life trying to change or explain things to Taylors, and it doesn’t get anywhere. It’s important to note that, as much as it may seem otherwise, this post is not completely about you, the friend. This is about the person who was abused. Because the thing is, abuse of any kind is a pattern and if you, the friend, do nothing, you’ll end up with Taylor continuing to hurt people and his wife alone and likely terrified of her own feelings, especially if she’s been accused of lying or exaggerating, trying to hurt the other person or get attention. The likelihood of her ever speaking up and using words like “assault,” “rape,” “abuse,” if and when it happens again, was just wiped back down to zero. By you.
See, if Taylor gets to treat people however he wants and end up on the other side with all his friendships, worshipers, intact, he’s not going to do anything differently. Losing his significant other, as breaking as he might act like it is, isn’t as important to him and is something he started risking the second he started abusing. And I know it’s hard to lose friends, guys, but it’s harder to watch them evolve into monsters. If someone who loves Taylor has already left, it was probably for a reason.
It's also important to note that, if Taylor isn't forced to look into what he's done face-to-face, that girlfriend or wife could end up with even more manipulation in her life, even if she separates herself from Taylor and from most of the people in his life. About a month ago, I received a message from an abusive ex-boyfriend from high school, recently married, wanting to catch up and get coffee. It might've been the first time in his life he's been told no. Yesterday, a boy who'd used and traumatized me in college liked a series of comments I'd left on a friend's post. Neither of these people are on any of my "friends" lists on any form of social media. Their numbers are blocked. Yet, with the wide variety of virtual connection options, it's easier than ever now for abusers to try to stick a hand in your life just to say "I'm still here; I still see you." I may sound like I'm making too big a deal out of this (and, indeed, I've been told just that in the past), but read any trauma book (The Wounded Heart and Healing the Wounded Heart by Dan Allender are good places to start). This phenomenon is a manipulation tool, a power play. They might not realize or have consciously intended it, but how should they? They (and both of the examples here) never acknowledged their abusive behavior in the first place, and neither did a majority of their friends or other loved ones. I have also, by the way, seen a man lose all his friends, realize he was the problem, embrace repentance, and change.
So, what do you look for? Because we all know false accusations are out there. Ask yourself how Taylor is responding to this situation. Is he focused on defending himself and moving blame? Excuses like "I'm not that kind of person," "I didn't mean to leave a mark," "She was saying yes eventually," "Yeah, I fucked up, but I didn't..." etc.? Making the alleged victim out to be irrational, dramatic, or just plain over-exaggeration? Because, and I know part of you knows this, any response other than "I hate that my behavior has caused this in you, and I'm willing to do what it takes to change" is unhealthy and avoident.