Two years. That’s how long I watched my best friend date a human piece of garbage.

He was a man who seemed to lack any kind of empathy and hurt her again and again without a care in the world. He was arrogant with a quick temper and somehow derived pleasure from hurting her. Sometimes he would even provoke her into a fight just for his own amusement.

When they first started going out, she was so happy. But it soon became clear that he was a total jerk. After only a few months in, he would start ignoring her calls and texts for days on end only to turn around and act like nothing ever happened. No apology, nothing.

But there’s a surprisingly thin line between asshole and emotionally abusive. And he crossed it numerous times.

As their relationship continued, things only got worse. He seemed to be able to switch his personality at a moment’s noticed and constantly manipulated her into thinking that any fight between them was all her fault. He would convince her that there was something wrong with her and that she was the reason he had to get so hostile. He played on her emotions like a fiddle and without remorse.

I thought perhaps he suffered from some mental health issues (not that that would excuse his behavior but it might explain some of it). Either way, it was clear he was extremely unstable. He once even threatened to kill himself if she left him. It truly doesn’t get more manipulative than that.

As her friend, I felt like I had to be careful how I talked to her. I was deeply concerned about her well being and the last thing I wanted to do was push her away. I tried to alternate between sympathy and anger. Sometimes I only provided a listening ear while other times I tried to convince her to leave him already.

I was always afraid that if I became too insistent she would stop telling me things. I couldn’t take that risk. God forbid things should go south, I needed to know about it.

To my knowledge, he never laid a hand on her. But he owned a gun that he kept in his house and it scared the shit out of me.

[Related: Why I Stayed In An Abusive Relationship]

You’re probably wondering at this point why I didn’t call the police. Trust me, it crossed my mind. But with no physical evidence, I doubted they would’ve done anything. It’s incredibly difficult to prove emotional abuse and unless she was cooperative with them, it would’ve ultimately resulted in nothing but a rift between us.

Time went on and she started attempting to break up with him, but it never stuck for more than a week. I began to worry about a possible engagement and I knew that if they ended up getting married, it would be so much harder for her to leave.

Watching my best friend date such a piece of shit was one of the hardest things in my life. I felt powerless. I would listen to her cry on the phone and all I could do was sit there.

I was so ill-equip to deal with the whole situation. I feared for her happiness, and sometimes for her safety, but at the end of the day, you can’t force anyone to do anything. She knew he was manipulating her but she loved him.

Out of the blue, he suddenly broke up with her. I was shocked. To this day, I still don’t understand why he did it. But it was the best thing that could’ve happened.

Within 24 hours of their break-up, she suddenly snapped out of his spell. It felt like a miracle. Her love turned to pure anger and like that he was out of her life forever.

I wish I had advice for anyone else dealing with what we’ve dealt with. There’s nothing more horrible than watching your best friend in constant pain.

But the truth is, I still don’t know if I handled the situation correctly. If things had gone the other way and he had physically hurt her, I never would have forgiven myself.

There’s probably only one thing that you can do: be there. At any time, any hour. Without judgment or criticism.

That last part is going to be the hardest. You’re going to want to shake her and scream, “YOU NEED TO LEAVE!”

But trust me, that’s not going to help. The truth is she probably already knows, deep down, that she’s in a toxic situation.

So be there for her. As difficult as that’s going to be. Because damn, it’s going to be really freaking hard. For both of you.

Want to read the other side of the story? Check out my friend’s account of why she stayed in her abusive relationship here.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, head to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website. The organization has resources for both victims and friends/family. If you’d like to call the hotline, the phone number is 1-800-799-7233.

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