4 Ways to Combat Isolation in an Unhealthy Relationship

sad woman symbolizing isolation in abusive relationshipIf you’ve ever been in an unhealthy, or even abusive, relationship, you know just how isolating it can be. You may have withdrawn because you feel embarrassed, or ashamed, or otherwise don’t want to be judged. Or, you may be withdrawn because your partner is controlling and only allows you to speak to certain people, or go certain places, or only go places during a certain time of day.

Or maybe you’ve ended the relationship, and while you are happy to feel safe, you are finding you also feel alone. Abusive relationships can alienate us from others and one day we might look up and realize we’ve lost friendships, or that our ties to family, work or school have been eroded. This is common when people experience isolation in an unhealthy relationship – it is not your fault, but rather an outcome of situations like this.

You might also be interested in: You Are Worthy of Love

Whatever the reasons for isolation in your particular situation, it’s important to find ways to get out of isolation and find connection with someone outside of your relationship.

Tips to Combat Isolation in an Unhealthy Relationship

Before we get into the 4 ways you can combat isolation, if you are in an abusive relationship, we want you to know that you are not alone, and there is help if you are ready. We are not here to tell you what to do, or judge you for staying in your relationship. The reasons people stay are varied, and we understand that your reasons to stay make sense to you. Whatever your reasons, we want you to know that we respect your decision.

We still want you to be safe, though. If you feel like you can’t leave (but want to), please read this and visit our sister organization’s abuse resources page. There is help, and change is possible. If the abuse is getting worse, or you or your loved ones are in physical danger, please contact someone immediately and have them help you develop a safety plan. From what we know, both statistically and personally, it is not going to get better. In fact, it’s likely to escalate.

That said, here are 4 ways you can combat isolation in an abusive relationship:

1. Identify lost friendships.

Making a list of lost friendships can help you remember that there is a life outside of the relationship. It can also help you realize just how much this relationship has changed the way you interact with the world.

If, by doing an audit of lost relationships, you find that you have lost many or most of your important connections, it may be time to evaluate how this relationship is affecting you.

When we’re in an unhealthy relationship, erosion of friendships can happen slowly and quietly, almost as if it’s happening somewhere in the background. Then one day, you look up and realize the friendships that made up the fabric of your social circle have started to unravel. For many of us, it is seeing these loose threads that make us realize just how disconnected we’ve become.

This exercise can be the first step toward lasting change. After all, if we are to fix a problem, we must first be aware that there is one.

2. Reach out to a minimum of one friend and plan coffee, or a walk, or an otherwise safe get-together.

This is where you put that list from exercise #1 to good use. Yes, a list is a great start, but in order to realize its usefulness, it’s important to take action.

If the mere thought of this exercise makes you uncomfortable, you’re not the only one. There can be a real and legitimate fear that we will be judged by those we’ve become distanced from. It’s important to realize, however, that much of the time, we find our friends actually miss us. They want to be a part of our lives. And if they are a true friend, it’s likely their concerns stem from a place of love, not from judgment.

You don’t have to solve everything in this exercise. All you need to do is identify one safe friend and plan to get coffee, take a walk, or sit together in your next class. If you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, remember you can keep this light at first. It’s okay to focus on easy chit-chat during this exercise if that’s all you can muster. Deeper connections will come organically if you just commit to spending some time with an old friend.

It is important to be mindful of your relationship dynamics during this exercise. If your partner is controlling and keeps tabs on where you are and when, make these connections in a manner consistent with your normal routine. Consider inviting a friend to your workplace for lunch. Maybe try meeting a friend for a walk during your break. Try sitting with them in class. Be creative – there is always time for friends and this is an important step if you want to overcome isolation.

If your freedom is truly limited, and you find it difficult or nearly impossible to hang out in person, try this exercise via phone. Even a solid conversation over the phone can buffer feelings of loneliness. Start with baby steps and move forward as you feel comfortable.

3. Identify opportunities for connections with new people.

Ending isolation in an unhealthy relationship isn’t limited to rekindling lost friendships. It also includes putting yourself out there to meet new people. For many of us, this can be particularly nerve-wracking, especially if our abusive relationship is all we’ve known for some time.

You can ease into this exercise if that feels more manageable for you. You can commit to just striking up a conversation with somebody new. This is a simple step that can lead to more meaningful connection over time. For now, just identify one or two people you think are interesting, and make it a goal to have a quality conversation with them next time you see them.

If you are in a controlling relationship and don’t have a lot of freedom to socialize, you can look within your daily routine and find some interesting people you would like to get to know better.

Some suggestions are:

  1. Daycare
  2. Coffee shop
  3. Work
  4. School

Even if you don’t develop deep connections with everyone you put yourself out to, each conversation serves as practice. It can feel intimidating to interact with people again, but each time you do it, it will get easier.

4. Identify an existing friend who is safe and supportive, and in whom you can confide.

Explain to them your relationship, its effects on you, your social life and your situation. Sometimes just telling someone what you are experiencing can bring a sense of relief.

You can take this a step further and ask them to hold you accountable. Whether it’s accountability for maintaining contact with your support network, accountability for implementing a self-care regimen, or accountability in reaching out for help when you’re ready, let your friend be a source of support to you.

If you struggle to implement any of these steps, but you are ready for change, there are several resources that can help. Start by visiting our resources page, contacting a non-profit such as NoSilence, No Violence, or searching the Web for organizations in your area.

And remember, you are valuable, you matter, and you have the right to safety, peace and happiness. You are worthy of love.





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