7 ways to support someone who may be in an abusive relationship

Trigger warning:

If you have experienced/or are experiencing violence please be aware that this blog entry may bring up feelings of past trauma. Please reach out for help if this is the case, though this blog is here for informational purposes, I wouldn’t want to re-traumatize anyone. Also please note that if you fear for your safety, there are websites where you can hide the page if your partner walks in the room, I do not have this feature so please proceed based on your level of current safety, or click here www.thehotline.org to access such resources safely.


Even though I work in this field, I am not an expert, I learn new things every day. This list is not exhaustive, and some may disagree with some of them, and that is ok.

While working in the domestic violence field I have often been asked the question, how can I help my friend/son/daughter/acquaintance who I think maybe in an abusive relationship. Especially in my personal life when people know I work in the field, and they don’t know where to turn for help.

Abuse can happen to anyone, young or old, men or women or non-binary, gay, straight, two spirited, bisexual, transsexual, questioning, A-sexual, and anyone else on the spectrum. This is why throughout this article I do my best to be gender neutral, I want this to be an inclusive resource. None of us are exempt from entering into a relationship that is abusive. I cannot tell you how many people say:

“I never thought I would be the sort of person who let this happen to me”

Well I am here to tell you, you didn’t LET this happen to you, someone DID this to you.

For those of you who identify yourselves as having abusive behaviours, there is help out there for you too, a huge part of change is being able to acknowledge that you have acted abusively, as so many continue to live in denial and blame their partner for their abusive behaviour. You are the only person who can stop your abuse, break the cycle now and seek out your local counseling agency for help. A good place to start is here: http://services.findhelp.ca/ovss/#results:m=TOPICS&q=P4

If you know a child under the age of 16 who is being abused, call your local children’s aid office or the police as soon as possible, you can even do it anonymously if you are worried about retaliation.

7 Ways to Support

1.  Above all, be willing to listen without judgement.

You will hear this a lot I am sure, but what exactly does it mean to listen without judgement. It means not giving advice unless you are asked to. The best way to do that is to acknowledge a person’s feelings, by making statements like “You must be so stressed” Or even asking them how they feel, “Do you feel scared/Upset/angry?”. If you feel as though you want to offer advice, ask them if it is ok first. Try to avoid making judgements about them or their partner, instead stick to facts and feelings.

2. Ask them how you can support them.

Ok so you have listened, now it’s time to ask the most important question. How can I help you? How can I make you safer, what can I do? Probably more important than asking this question however, is being ok with the answer. Because the answer might be…nothing, or I don’t know. It might be that they are too scared, too worn down, to know what they need. And you need to be ok with that. They may want to stay with their abusive partner, and any negative comments you make about that partner, may drive them further away. Instead tell them that you understand it must be difficult to think about leaving someone they care about, and make sure they know that even if they want to stay with their abusive partner, you are still there for them.

3. Do not give ultimatums, or threaten to cut this person out of your life.

This is going to be hard. Very hard.  It will be emotionally draining to watch someone you love go through this. But please remember that abuse is not the same as addiction. With addiction there is a concern known as enabling, where family and friends enable that individual to continue to use because they offer support (financial, emotional). In abusive situations their partner may be attempting to socially isolate their your friend/family member. They may do this by discouraging their partner, and making statements like “I don’t like the person you are around them”. Their partner may at some point attempt to end your friendship or relationship with that person. with family. Although you cannot control them or change your friend or family member’s mind, let them know that your door is always open to them, and that you are there for them even if they choose not to take your help.

3. Help them safety plan.

A safety plan is there to help someone in an abusive situation be prepared to leave quickly if there is an abusive incident, as safely as possible. Tell them you will hold onto a bag of essentials for them, such as toiletries, clothing, medications, and cash. This bag could be picked up by them anytime if they have to leave the house quickly. This is part of safety planning, which will make it easier for that person to walk out the door knowing that they have essentials nearby. Offer to store other items for them if possible, such as money, furniture, personal items, important documents. Come up with code words that they could use to let you know to call 911 without alerting an abusive partner. Help them plan an exit route from their house, making sure that they know where all the exit doors are. You can get more detailed information about safety planning here: http://www.fsws.ca/safety.htm

4. Do not confront the abusive partner.

Some people may find that they are really angry at the abusive partner, and this anger makes them feel helpless. Some people may be fighting the urge to approach this person. Please take a moment, and a few deep breathes. This can have some very negative consequences for your loved one. The most serious of these consequences is that it may put them in danger. The confrontation will mean that the abusive partner knows that your loved one has been talking to someone about their abusive behaviour. That takes away their control and may lead to them lashing out at their partner. The second consequence is that you may push your loved one farther away. If they are already being socially isolated, this may become a justification to cut off contact with you. Abusive relationships sometimes become them against the world as family and friends try to dissuade them from being together.

5. Do not imply that abuse the person experiencing the abuse is at fault.

Although you may not realize it, your reaction could be implying that the person experiencing abuse is at fault. Often their are societal or cultural reasons why family members or friends try to justify the abusive partner’s actions. Statements like:

“What did you do to make them so angry”

“Well maybe if you hadn’t done that…”

“You shouldn’t have called the police, this is a family matter”

imply that the situation could have been prevented in some way by the person experiencing abuse. There is nothing that you can ever do that gives someone the right to punch you, kick you, throw objects at you or around you, yell at you, or put you down. If someone thinks they are to blame, encourage them with statements like:

“Nothing you do justifies someone being abusive towards you”

“It is not your fault”

6. Do check ins.

Don’t let a month go by before you check in. If possible schedule a regular time to meet and just talk, or do an activity outside of the house such as going for a walk, or out to dinner. Maintaining regular contact will let them know that you care, and you will follow through with your support.

7. Don’t be afraid to call the police if a life is in jeopardy.

Abusive relationships, especially abuse involving children, is hinged on the misguided belief that domestic issues should be kept secret, and should be dealt with inside the family unit. This continues the cycle of abuse because it gives the abusive partner complete control over all members of the family, and socially isolates their partner and children. Never promise to keep secrets, always be 100 percent upfront and honest, tell them from the start that if you fear for their life, you will have to call the police. Keeping a secret about abuse lets the abusive partner keep the control and power. This does not mean that if they disclose to you that they have experienced abuse you will immediately involve the police, but it does let them know that you have their safety in mind, and that if you feel there is an imminent threat to their life, that is when that call will be made. Letting them know this ahead of time instead of promising them secrecy means that you don’t have to break your promise later if  they are mid-assault and asking you to not call the police. Please understand that if it is a life-threatening situation, the police have to be notified or your friend/family member may lose their life or be seriously injured. If you need advise on when to call, speak to a domestic violence hotline in your area.


If this blog entry triggered you in any way, of if you would like more information on resources on this topic, here is a short list of resources relevant to North America, if you are a reader from outside this area and you are having difficulty finding resources, let me know, and I can try to help you find some.



National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224


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