real life

She's trapped in an abusive relationship. Help.


My older sister is in an abusive relationship and she refuses to leave. As a writer, I have tried several times to sit down and get this out of my system, but it’s an extremely painful and frustrating topic to talk about. I didn’t expect it would be a tweet from Brian McFadden that would finally push me to say something.

Brian McFadden’s tweet

If, as he says, his tweet was about a friend, then I understand Brian’s frustration. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone you care about being abused. Except seeing someone you care about being abused and having them refuse your help.

The way Brian vented his frustration was ignorant and wrong. It demonstrated a complete lack of understanding about what to do when someone you love refuses to leave.

But I think that ignorance is the important message we need to take away from his careless tweet. That is the conversation we need to be having in a public forum: What do you do when they just won’t go?

Recently, during the White Ribbon Day weekend, I read a lot of articles by and about abused women. I read a lot of quotes like: “If someone had offered help, I would have left” or “I came to work with black eyes, and nobody did anything” and “I finally got away when somebody spoke up and helped me”. The message seemed clear: If you see something, do something. And it’s an extremely important message to get out there.

But what if you see something, do something, and that doesn’t work? What then? What comes next? I didn’t come across any articles about what to do in that situation. About what to do if they go back no matter how much help and support you offer them. I’m an intelligent, well-educated and compassionate woman and I’m at a loss. And although I think Brian McFadden was less than eloquent in the way he chose to voice his opinion, it would seem that he is at a loss too. And in that respect, I understand where he was coming from.

What do you tell someone in an abusive relationship?

My sister’s partner was always verbally and emotionally abusive. He would call her an idiot, stupid, ugly – and that’s just what he was willing to say in front of me. He began to isolate her from her family and friends almost immediately.

Anybody who spoke out against him was a ‘racist’ (he’s Lebanese), or had an agenda to split them up because they were ‘jealous’. Ridiculous reasons, but my sister believed them, and slowly her friends started to drop away. She saw her family less and less. Pleasing him became her number one priority. I constantly spoke out against him and that caused tension between us, so I tried to get along with him as best I could for the sake of her and our relationship.


Then I found out he was beating her. My younger sister called me after my older sister had been in the hospital with broken ribs. He had pushed her to the ground and kicked her repeatedly because she ‘had been rude to him’. My younger sister, who up until this point had been my older sister’s only confidant, told me everything in desperation. I was heartbroken when I found out this wasn’t the first time; this wasn’t even the worst time. He was a monster.

I called him in a fit of rage and tears. I told him he would never go near my sister again. Then I called her and told her that I knew everything, and I was so sorry for what she had been through, but it was okay now because I could help her out of it.

And I’ll never forget what she did next. She yelled at me. How dare I call him and say the things I did? How dare I try to come between them? I was making something out of nothing, he lost his temper, I was a racist, she was rude to him…

What? I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. I didn’t know what to do so I called my mum and told her. My sister didn’t speak to either of us for six months.

That was five years ago. This year, she married him in secret and is now pregnant with his baby. The same pattern has continued the entire time: She’ll be in contact for a while, but as soon as anything is said or done that brings attention to the fact she’s in an abusive relationship, she cuts that person off. Currently, I’m cut off.

I’ve tried everything. I’ve offered support, love and a shoulder to cry on. But she always ends up back in his arms. I told our relatives in the hope that the whole family offering support would give her the courage and strength (and financial help) to leave. Instead, all I did was isolate her further: she cut them all off and hasn’t spoken to any of them since.

This is what emotional abuse is like.

My younger sister and mum have managed to keep a relationship with her by doing what she wants: pretending like nothing is going on. But that is something I cannot do. I cannot share a table with the person who beats my sister. I cannot stick my head in the sand. Even though it comes at the expense of our relationship, I just can’t do it.

She knows I’m there for her. She knows I always will be. She also knows that I definitely don’t think that what is happening to her is okay. I understand that my mum and sister just want to see her, but my worst fear is that some time in the future, if she ever escapes, she’ll look back and think “How could they all just sit with him and eat with him and laugh with him, when they knew he was beating me?”


I want to make sure she never has a reason to think that. That when she looks back she can see that there was always one person who refused to pretend like nothing was happening. One person who always stood up for her.

Because sometimes she comes out of her fog and admits she doesn’t love him, but doesn’t know how to leave. Granted, a few days later she’ll be telling me that I don’t understand what it’s like to be with a real man; that real men get angry and show it with their fists; that she can be a bitch and provokes him… But for that brief moment, she’s out of the fog and she’s there. My sister, who I shared baths with, who I waited up on Christmas Eve with, who taught me to shave my legs and helped me when I got my first period – she’s in there, somewhere.

And I’ll be waiting for her if she’s ever ready to leave. Because waiting is all I have left.

I just don’t know what else to do. I’m defeated.

So I think it’s important we think about what motivated Brian McFadden to write that tweet. Insensitive? Absolutely. But I’ve been in that place. That place of complete and utter frustration at the lack of understanding I have for what’s going through my sister’s head. It’s made me furious with her. It’s made me cry for her. It’s confused and bewildered me. It’s left me desperate. Would I have written that tweet? Not today. But the first time she called me a bitch for trying to make her leave, I might have. Because the first time that happens, it’s a massive shock. Nobody prepares you for how to deal with that, and I can understand any kind of reaction that arises in that situation, even the angry kind.

Because when it comes to the complex issue of dealing with a woman who refuses our help, how are we supposed to know what to do? I’ve read so many heartbreaking and brave stories about the women who’ve gotten out and those who have helped them, but I rarely read about the others. The women who just won’t leave. What do we do about them?

Until we start having that conversation, there are going to be people like Brian McFadden; people who are confused and furious at those women. And I know how that feels. You would think that after five years I would have some insight into what can be done. Unfortunately, I don’t. After five years, I’m just as confused. I’ve just replaced being furious with being sad.

The author of this post is a Mamamia reader who has chosen to remain anonymous.

Have you or someone you know been in an abusive relationship? Did you leave? What gave you the courage to do so? What did you do?