Helping a friend or family member who is in an abusive relationship can be challenging. If you have noticed that your loved one’s relationship is unhealthy, remember that they need your support. Understand that you can’t fix or change their situation. Only they can choose what to do. For example, if they aren’t concerned for their immediate safety, then you have to respect that.
When talking to your loved one about their relationship, be honest about your concerns, but stay focused on their needs and avoid being judgmental. Say things like, “When you said that your partner did this, that scared me,” and “I’m really concerned about your safety.” Avoid statements like, “Your partner is no good,” or “They need to treat you right.” Don’t talk about the partner directly and avoid attacking your loved one’s actions. Doing this will show your loved one that you care for them and will help to prevent them from feeling defensive.
Ultimately you have to let your loved one make their own decisions about their relationship — even if it means that they choose to stay in an unhealthy relationship. Sometimes it’s difficult to do when you feel that they aren’t making the right choice, but you have to respect them. Try to remember that their abuser is probably controlling them at home and the last thing they want is to have their friends and family try to tell them what to do also.
Regardless of their decision, support them. If they choose to stay in the relationship, help them keep documentation of abuse. You can take notes on a calendar, save a file on your computer or take pictures of injuries. Documentation can be used in court if your loved one ever decides to take legal action against their abuser. You can also help them to find resources in their community or to develop a safety plan.
If your loved one decides to leave, know that the road ahead for them will be difficult. They will need your support more than ever. You can even help them to connect with counselors and survivor’s groups to help them as they move forward.
We often refer people to a book called “Helping Her Get Free” by Susan Brewster. It is a guide for family members and friends of people in abusive relationships. This can be an excellent resource for more in-depth information and tips.
If you have any questions please give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). We can help you to find resources, safety plan and give you more information about what your loved one is experiencing.
For today’s DVAM Challenge, practice active listening. You can do this for any of your friends or family, no matter what their relationship status is. Truly listen to a friend or family member and concentrate on what it is that they’re saying. Rephrase what you hear them say so that you are deeply engaged in what they are sharing with you. For example, you could say, “I’m hearing you say _____, is that right?” By practicing active listening, we can give better support to those we love.