To My Friends Who Suspected I Was Abused, But Stayed Silent

by Marla Khan-Schwartz
Originally Published: 
A victim of gaslighting with her legs curled up and on the edge of a bed
bee32 / Getty

I’d love to say that I embraced all of the support I received after my divorce from my ex-husband when I started to talk and give the dirty details of my marriage. I’d love to say I didn’t start to steam a bit inside — like a boiling tea kettle — when some of my friends, family, and acquaintances acted shocked and surprised, yet brazenly reported that they “knew all along” something was not right or had been suspicious as the years wore on.

I’d love to say I didn’t get angry when I realized some of these people knew and had suspicions that there was abuse going on in my relationship, but none of them chose to say anything to me or to him. I’d also love to say I understood the stance that they all felt it was none of their business and not their “place” to say anything.

Here’s why it bothers me: it is your place as a friend, family member and acquaintance, to talk to me about your feelings and suspicions if you truly care about me, my well-being, and our relationship.

Let’s clarify something before we discuss more: by no means do I blame you for my relationship and my choice to stay in it as long as I did. That was my journey to begin and to end. However, your opinions and thoughts may have changed my path on this journey, and I will explain why I believe this.

Being open about these feelings corresponds with trust. When we decide we want to be friends with someone, we make an unspoken pact to be honest and open with each other. We don’t have to be living together, sleeping together, or breathing the same household air to be part of this unspoken pact.

After my failed marriage, I received messages like “I knew that something was wrong,” or “we’ve pretty much known for years.” I even heard some of these people joking about their experiences of what they believed to be abusive in nature at the hand of my ex.

As if I didn’t know. Most people do not understand the dark place you are in if you are struggling with an abusive partner. It’s scary to live life daily as you are terrified and preoccupied with your relationship out of fear. You are embarrassed, ashamed, and afraid to talk about it. You don’t want to tell your friends and family about your relationship because you fear judgment against you, your decisions, and the old school advice you may receive about trying to change yourself to make it better. As unfounded as some of those ideas may be, they are a realistic part of the cycle of abuse.

Enablers play a large role in the abuse process. It’s my belief that if more friends spoke up rather than remaining quiet and continuing to enable, abusive relationships may end much sooner.

In my situation, more than a handful of friends and family either suspected or witnessed firsthand what my ex was capable of doing, but none of them spoke with me about it. They simply shrugged it off or disregarded it as it was happening. The damaging result of this kind of behavior: it leads one to believe that the abuse is acceptable and that the victim of abuse is wrong in feeling that the relationship is unhealthy and dangerous. It makes it incredibly hard to bring it up and seek out support if those closest to you are already ignoring it because they “don’t want to get involved” or it’s not their “problem.”

I want to point out that if our friendship matters, my being in an abusive relationship is your problem. We all choose people as friends for various reasons: they’re funny, they have deep conversations with you, they spend time with you doing the activities you mutually enjoy. But the most important thing in a friendship and relationship is trust.

Keeping your opinions that may save my life a secret is a violation of that trust. It’s putting my life potentially at risk. It’s putting our friendship on the back burner so you don’t have to commit to a serious conversation that you probably would have with someone else about that same situation thus reducing it to gossip.

To be a true friend or engaged family member, let’s make a pact to each other — I care about you, and I know you care about me. I care about your feelings, health, and life, and I know you care about mine. Don’t enable an already dangerous situation. Talk to me. I will talk to you. When you talk to me, I may garner the support I need to make changes that are healthy and necessary. I promise I will do the same for you so we can continue to build the trust in relationships that make them fulfilling.

Please don’t enable abuse. Speaking up could save a life.

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