When Your Family Member is Abusing Their Partner
At The Hotline, we talk a lot about how to support someone you care about if they are being abused. But what if the person you care about is the one who is being abusive toward their partner? What if they’re a member of your own family?
This can be an incredibly difficult situation to deal with. You might love your family member, but you know that what they’re doing is harmful. You may not want to admit that it’s happening, or you may just feel like cutting them out of your life. These are all normal reactions. Relationships with family members can be complicated, and if someone is behaving abusively, that makes things even more complicated.
It’s important to remember that you have the power to be an active bystander. Ultimately, your family member is the only person who can choose to stop the abuse, but there are ways to support them.
Here are a few things you can do to encourage them to behave in healthier ways:
- Educate yourself on the dynamics of domestic violence and abuse.
Abuse is about power and control, and the signs are not always obvious. Learning the warning signs of abuse can help you help your family member identify their abusive and unhealthy behaviors. If you witness behaviors that you feel are unhealthy or abusive, try not to be silent about them. You might say things like, “I don’t think it’s healthy to talk to your partner that way,” or “If you care about someone, I think you should treat them with respect.”
- Avoid blaming the victim or excusing abusive behavior.
If you witness the abuse, or if your family member tells you about a time they behaved abusively, try not to place blame on their partner or make excuses for the abuse. For example, avoid saying things like, “Well, what did they do to make you act that way?” or “You couldn’t help it.” There is no excuse for abuse; it is a choice, and it’s one that no one has to make. Although you may care about your family member, it’s important to focus on identifying the abusive behaviors. Even if their partner stays in the relationship, that doesn’t mean they deserve to be abused. Remember, you’re not turning against your family member. You’re just trying to help them have a healthier relationship.
- Realize that you can’t make them change.
You can’t “save” or “fix” another person. It’s up to them to decide that they want to change. Acknowledging that their behavior is abusive is the first step, and change can be a long and difficult process. Encourage them to seek professional help or to reach out to a confidential, non-judgmental hotline. Remind them of the effects that their abusive behaviors are having on their partner and their family. And remember, your family member’s decision to be abusive is not a reflection on you.
- Practice self-care.
It can be very difficult knowing that someone you care about is an abusive partner. You might feel stressed or emotionally drained, and that’s totally normal. You have the right to take a step back from the situation when you need to and practice lots of self-care! By self-care, we mean doing things you enjoy or that help you feel calm and relaxed. Your own well-being is important, and you can’t put energy into supporting others if you aren’t taking care of yourself.