Friends & Family
A Guide for Friends and Family
Everyone has the right to have healthy relationships.
Do you know someone who is being hurt? Or someone who is causing harm? Are you worried about what might be happening in a loved one’s relationship? You are not alone—we are here to help!
This guide will help you support someone who is struggling in their relationship—and to take care of yourself while you’re doing it. People are more likely to turn to their community (friends, family, YOU) than they are to professionals.
Survivors tell us that what matters most is having someone in their life who is there for them, without judgment, to bounce around ideas, and lean on when they most need support. You can be that person. These tips and tools will help you get started.
How to Help
How can I recognize abuse?
Each person’s experience in an abusive relationship is different, and sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a relationship that is challenging or unhealthy, and a relationship where one person is abusing another. Often, domestic violence is not easy to spot even if you know the person well. Abuse that doesn’t leave physical marks or injuries can be especially difficult to recognize. Even if the person is being physically hurt, these injuries are not always evident if they are covered by clothing or make-up. It is not uncommon for an abuser to behave very differently in other relationships and settings, and also many survivors acknowledge that they did not think of their experiences as abuse.
If they have recognized that they are experiencing domestic violence, they may not tell anyone for a variety of reasons: the abuser may have threatened to harm the person, or others, if they tell anyone; they may worry about getting other people involved; or they may feel ashamed that they have experienced domestic violence. Sometimes, friends, relatives, neighbors and colleagues feel that something is wrong but are not sure what the problem is.
Below are things you may notice that could indicate that the person you know is experiencing domestic violence:
- They seem afraid of their partner or are always very anxious to please them.
- They have stopped seeing their friends or family, or cut phone conversations short when their partner is in the room.
- Their partner often criticizes or humiliates them in front of other people.
- They state that their partner pressures or forces them to engage in sexual activity.
- Their partner often orders them around or makes all the decisions.
- They mention or talk about their partner’s jealousy, bad temper, or possessiveness.
- They have become anxious or depressed, have lost their confidence, or are unusually quiet and withdrawn.
- They have physical injuries (bruises, broken bones, sprains, cuts, etc.) and may give unlikely explanations for their injuries.
- Their children seem afraid of their partner, have behavior problems, sleep disruption, or are withdrawn or anxious.
- They are reluctant to leave their children with their partner.
- They receive excessive texts or calls from their partner asking them what they are doing, where they are, who they are with, and when they will be home.
- Their partner is making rules that the person has to follow, which can include: who they can see, what they can wear, what they can spend money on, and how their home needs to be kept.
- The person asks you to keep things secret from their partner, for example who they have seen, plans they have made, or things they have bought, because they are scared about what will happen if their partner finds out.
- After they have left the relationship, their partner is constantly calling them, harassing them, following them, coming to their house or waiting outside.
- Even if the person you know has ended the relationship with their partner, it is possible that abuse may continue especially if the partner still has the person’s contact details or has access to the person, for example, if they have children together.
VISIT OUR WHAT IS ABUSE PAGE TO UNDERSTAND THE DYNAMICS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
What can I do to support the person I know?
Approach your friend or relative in a sensitive way, letting them know your concerns. Don’t be surprised if they seem defensive, dismissive, or reject your support. They might be worried about burdening you with their situation if they tell you about the abuse. They may not be ready to admit to being abused, or may feel ashamed and afraid of talking about it. They might have difficulty trusting anyone after being abused. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about the abuse. And they may feel like if they love their partner enough, they can save their relationship.
Don’t push the person into talking if they are uncomfortable, but let them know that you’re there if they need to talk. Be patient and keep an ear out for anything that indicates they are ready to talk about their experiences. If the person starts to talk about the abuse, listen with an open mind, compassion, and a supportive attitude, even if you don’t agree with what the person is saying. It can be difficult not to offer opinions about the relationship or their partner, to criticise or to blame. However, this response may decrease their openness and the likelihood that they will be open to your support.
Below are three strategies that will show your willingness to show up and support someone. You don’t need to be an expert or have all the answers. Survivors tell us that having support where someone can just be there and be available is most helpful.
Tip #1: Ask a Question
Asking “How’s it going?” and really caring about the answer is powerful.
Some other possible questions to ask:
- What is your biggest concern?
- What are you most worried about?
- What do you need or want?
- What do you need from your community?
- How can I help?
- What is life like with [partner’s name]?
- How are the kids doing?
- Is this relationship energizing or draining?
- Do you get to do the things you like to do?
- What happens if you disagree?
- What does arguing look like in your relationship?
Tip #2: Listen Up
Really listen. Listen without having your own agenda. Being heard helps others feel seen and understood. Acknowledgment of their experience as real and valid makes all the difference.
Things you can say to people who have experienced harm:
- I believe you.
- I am so sorry this is happening to you.
- Thank you for sharing this.
- I don’t even know what to say right now but I am so glad you told me.
- You don’t deserve this.
- Thank you for telling me.
- It’s not your fault.
- You are not alone.
- You get to choose what you do next.
When you’re listening deeply to someone, you are not trying to assert your opinion, you are trying to hear and understand their perspective.
You’re also listening for what the person thinks about risks, priorities, and concerns. Bottom line: you are listening to hear what the person is experiencing, what they want, and how you can help.
Starting to feel worried? If you’re hearing something (they’re isolated, being monitored or stalked, the person has a weapon) that makes you concerned they are in danger, you (or both of you together) can call the UDVC Linkline OR National Domestic Violence Hotline to come up with a plan to stay as safe as possible. If there are concerns about immediate danger and they are unable to flee, call 911.
Red flags that indicate a potential for greater risk:
- Access to firearms
- Suicide threats
- Prior strangulation
- Threats to kill
Tip #3: Stay Connected
It can take a long time for things to get better, and it can be difficult to hang in there through this journey. But staying connected is one of the most helpful things you can do. When someone is isolated, the abuser has far more power and control over their lives. You do not need to know all the answers or agree with every decision to be helpful. Instead, consistently show up, take on what you can, and ask for help with things that are difficult for you.
Connection also means no ultimatums. We’ve learned that tough love is not what people respond well to. You might be the only person they are reaching out to. If you give them an ultimatum that they can’t live up to, they won’t have anyone left. Instead, try to leave the door open to make it easy to keep coming back to you.
Even if the person you’re concerned about doesn’t reach out, you can be the one to take the first step by reaching out. This can be a lifeline for your loved one. They may not be calling or reaching out because they cannot, not because they don’t want to or don’t need support.
That said, we know that it’s really hard to stay connected when you’re worried and scared, and unsure how to help someone you care about. But it is not helpful to sacrifice your own well-being in the hopes of helping someone else. If you need help, talk to your trusted supports and reach out to experts when needed. If you need to take a break, take it.
Connect to Local Resources
Please visit our Local Resources page for more information on how you can get help.
- Help a Friend – LoveIsRespect.org
- Help a Friend or Family Member – National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Mapping Worksheet – Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective
- How to Help a Friend Who May Be in an Abusive Relationship – OneLove
- Supporting Someone Who Keeps Returning to an Abusive Relationship – National Domestic Violence Hotline
- It Takes a Village People – The NW Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse