Talking About Relationship Abuse

Discussing relationship abuse with someone who is actively experiencing an abusive situation is never easy. While every situation is unique, there are several basic ways to facilitate affirming conversations that meet survivors where they’re at.

  • Acknowledge that they’re in a difficult and scary situation. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they’re not alone and that there’s help and support available, including from yourself.
  • Be supportive and listen. It will be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. Telling survivors what they can and cannot do will only serve to isolate and disempower them further. Your first priority should always be to support them with what they need to make their own decisions.
  • Be non-judgmental. Respect the decisions that a survivor makes. There are many reasons why they might stay in an abusive situation. They might leave and return to the relationship many times. Remember not to criticize their decisions or guilt them — they’ll need your support even more during those moments. Keep in mind that experiencing shame and guilt from friends and family may not only widen the gap between their support system, but also further expand the isolation tactic their partner may already perpetuate in the relationship.
  • Remember that you cannot “rescue them. It’s difficult to watch someone you care about get hurt, but ultimately they are the only one with the right to make a decision about what to do. It’s important to support them no matter what they decide, even if you don’t agree. Remember that abuse is about power and control and making decisions for them can only add to the disempowerment they’re already experiencing from their partners.
  • Help them develop a safety plan. We’ve put together information on creating a safety plan for any stage of leaving an abusive relationship, whether they’re choosing to leave, preparing to leave, or have already left. Keep in mind that leaving is not always an option for everyone and a safety plan may mean focusing on how to stay safe while remaining in the relationship.
  • Encourage them to participate in activities with friends and family. Helping survivors identify and build support networks can help them recognize alternatives to the abusive situations they’re experiencing and build the confidence they need to leave their relationship.
  • Encourage them to talk to people who can offer further help. Identify a local service provider for counseling or support, or reach out to us to get a referral for a program near them Offer to go with them to any service provider or legal setting for moral support.

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