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How to Help A Loved One in an Abusive Relationship

Two women sitting on a dock, one with her head leaning on the other with her arm around her friend, staring out at a lake.

“Why don’t you just leave?”

“You know they’re bad and it doesn’t make sense why you’re still in this relationship.”

“It’s your own fault if you get hurt again.”

When I was younger and long before I became trained in domestic violence, those were some statements I made to people who claimed to have been stuck in abusive relationships. I am not proud of my former views on abuse victims and admit that I had a more conservative victim-blaming mentality. Through education and exposure to domestic violence firsthand over the years my paradigm has shifted to a trauma-informed approach and I hope that our readers will follow these tips to helping your friends and family members in these situations.

1. Victims know their abusers best. If you suspect a loved one is a victim of domestic violence, it is important to be patient for several reasons. Those that are still in abusive relationships may display readiness issues and if they are already being controlled by their abusive partner, the last thing they want is to feel like they are being controlled by others. Approaching a victim with a “know-it-all” mentality could drive them further into a corner, and it might make them defend their abuser. You have to trust them in order for them to trust you.

2. Try to maintain contact with your loved one. Start off by asking basic questions such as how they are doing. If they do not feel like talking as much, let them know it’s okay and that you will be there for them. Do not pressure them to come forward with intimate details; they will reach out for help when they are comfortable and ready.

3. Demonstrate empathetic listening, not judgment. Words of encouragement, support, and validation are effective at giving your loved one power to leave themselves rather than the victims feeling pressured to leave. Instead of saying, “Why don’t you just leave?,” say, “I’m so sorry that this is happening. I’m here for you and I am available if you need any help.”

4. If your loved one is ready to leave and needs help leaving or fleeing, work together to create a safety plan for any possible scenario. Safety plans vary for every victim because every relationship dynamic is different. Things to consider when safety planning include but are not limited to:

  • Physical Safety – Where is a safe place for you and/or your children? Where can you go to if you need to flee right away?

  • Communication – Can you turn off my GPS or location tracker? Are your texts and calls being monitored?

  • Finances – Where can you store cash? Are your debit/credit cards being tracked?

  • Transportation – Do you have enough gas in the tank to drive away? Does your abuser have spare keys? What do you do if you cannot take the bus?

  • If possible, can you notify more friends, neighbors, family members, or coworkers of the situation and ask them for additional assistance such as holding on to documents or allowing you to stay in their home.

It’s difficult for victims of domestic violence to reach out for help, let alone come forward with the details of their intimate relationships. With support and encouragement, victims can transition to survivors and begin the next chapter in their lives in a healthy environment.

For more information on this topic, we encourage you to also check out “Healing from Sexual Violence: How Friends and Family Can Help” from Medium.