It can be very difficult to witness a loved one being abused by their partner. You may feel unsure how to support them or worried that your actions could make the situation worse. These are completely understandable – and valid – reactions.
Domestic violence can indeed be dangerous, and any action or decision should be led by the survivor (your loved one).
Every survivor’s situation is unique, and chatting with an advocate can be helpful.
Additionally, consider the following tips:
-Any conversation you have with your loved one should be outside the presence of their partner/others.
-You might consider letting this person know that you are worried about them or concerned for their safety. Ask if they would like to talk, and if they would be open to you sharing some of what you’ve noticed about their partner’s actions. Respect their boundaries if they aren’t ready to talk, but let them know you are available if they change their mind.
-Be supportive. Listen to your friend or family member. Remember that it may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. Let them know that you are available to help when they may need it. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen to them.
-Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation. Let your friend or family member know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they are not alone and that there is help and support out there.
-Follow their pace. Don’t push them to talk about something they don’t want to, tell them what they “have to” do, or give them an ultimatum.
-Be non-judgmental. Respect your friend or family member’s decisions. There are many reasons why victims/survivors stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them. They will need your support even more during those times.
-Remember that you cannot “rescue” them. Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately any action or decision taken should be led by your loved one. It’s important for you to support them and help them find a way to safety and peace in their own time.
-If they are open to your help, help them to develop a safety plan. Contact a local domestic violence program for more information on how to safety plan with your friend.
-Tell your friend that they deserve a healthy, non-violent relationship.
-Encourage them to participate in activities outside of the relationship with friends and family, or other things they enjoy doing, if it is safe for them to do so.
-If they end the relationship, continue to be supportive of them. Even though the relationship was abusive, your friend or family member may still feel sad and lonely once it is over. They will need time to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at that time.
-Encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance. Find a local domestic violence agency that provides counseling or support groups. Offer to go with them to talk to family and friends, if you’re willing to support in this way. If they have to go to the police, court or a lawyer, offer to go along for moral support (again, if you’re open/able to provide this type of support).
-Take care of yourself. Witnessing the pain of someone you care about can take its toll, and you may even experience vicarious trauma. Seek the help and support that you need, while still respecting your friend’s privacy and confidentiality. Also consider what kinds of support you are able to provide your loved one and what kinds of support you can’t. It is likely unsustainable for you to be the only source of support for a wide variety of one person’s needs, but your loved one may be able to connect with other people or organizations who can help in ways you cannot. Contact a local domestic violence program for more information about resources available.