My good friend got into a huge fight with her girlfriend the other day, and I saw the girlfriend slap her in the middle of the hallway. Everyone else (including my friend) laughed it off and called it “drama,” but I feel really uncomfortable. Isn’t that abuse? What should I do?
You’re right—any kind of physical violence or aggression is definitely abusive. It’s great that you recognize this. Too many people (including many people at your school, and maybe even your friend), don’t realize that abuse is just as common in LGBTQ+ relationships as other relationships. Because of this, unhealthy and abusive behavior often gets dismissed as “drama.”
Keep in mind that physical abuse isn’t the only kind of abuse, though. Emotional and verbal abuse (which includes behaviors like calling someone names, threatening them, or discouraging and criticizing them) is real abuse, and creates very real pain for the people who experience it.
The biggest thing you can do is to be there for your friend.
Abusive relationships can be incredibly damaging to young people’s emotional health and sense of self-worth. It may seem confusing that your friend is dismissing what happened, but that’s actually very common in abusive relationships. Your friend may feel that the abuse is her fault, or that she did something to deserve it. She may not see what’s going on as abuse.
Have a conversation with your friend about what happened. It’s not a good idea to immediately accuse someone’s partner of being abusive—often, that will make them feel defensive. Try to keep the conversation focused on your friend and how she feels—not on her girlfriend. This way, your friend may be more likely to trust you in the future. Don’t be judgmental or accusatory. Instead, ask her about what happened, and listen. How did what happened make her feel? Has her girlfriend ever been violent, aggressive or threatening before? Do they fight a lot? How does she feel about the relationship?
Don’t tell your friend what to do.
Only she can make decisions about her own life. Try to avoid being judgmental. Instead, be respectful and affirming. (“It sounds like you really like her, but you end up fighting a lot.” / “I understand this is really hard for you to talk about.”) Help your friend see that she deserves respect, support and safety. Violence is not a normal part of relationships. Reassure her that she can always talk to you.
Make sure your friend has resources and people she can go to for help and advice. This is especially important if your friend’s parents don’t know about her LGBTQ+ identity or aren’t supportive of it. You can:
- Offer to go to the school counselor with her.
- Let her know about Love is Respect. She can call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522 to begin a text conversation.
- Suggest making a safety plan.
- Look up resources in your community that she can use, like support groups or advocates.
- Check out the power and control wheel with her, so you can both learn more about what abuse is.
Your friend may choose to continue her relationship with her girlfriend. This may feel confusing, but remember that there are lots of reasons that people choose to stay in abusive relationships. Keep checking in with her, and let her know that you’re there for her no matter what (and will continue to be if she ever ends her relationship).
Remember that just by being there for your friend, you are doing so much for her.
If you’re 10-22 years old and live in NYC, your friend can also make a free, confidential appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. Our mental health providers can help her figure out how to stay safe, process what she’s going through, and build healthy relationships in the future.