Is someone you know experiencing abuse in their relationship?
It’s hard to see someone you care about in an unhealthy relationship, but it can also be hard to know how to help or if you should get involved at all.
While you can’t magically fix the situation, you can help them feel supported and less alone.
We spoke to Family and Relationship Counsellor Shirley Hussie to offer some advice to help someone in an abusive relationship.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 000.
Create a safe space to talk
Offering an empathetic ear can make all the difference for someone struggling.
Find the right time to check in and ask how they’re doing. This should be when you’re in a quiet, private environment. It can help to ease into the topic by raising it after some initial chitchat.
It can be very hard for survivors to talk about their abuse as they may feel embarrassed and ashamed. You want them to feel comfortable discussing their situation with you, and they may shut down if you come across as preachy or judgemental.
“Listen to their story without judgement,” Shirley advises. “Get curious without judgement, and have no judgement around the decisions they make.”
Shirley also suggests discussing the different types of domestic violence and controlling behaviours with your loved one.
“Share stories to invoke insight and awareness around what abusive behaviour looks like. Abuse isn’t just physical.”
Remember they may not want to share certain details, or they may want to skip the chat entirely. Respect their boundaries and comfort and let them know you’re there whenever they need to talk.
Don’t pressure them to leave
It’s normal to want your loved one out of a dangerous situation and on a happier, healthier path. But pressuring them to leave their partner can make them feel worse during an already difficult time. It may even damage their trust in you and prevent them from opening up in future.
“They may already feel worthless and powerless, and putting pressure on them may make them feel ashamed, guilty, inadequate, and even more powerless to initiate change,” Shirley explains.
Abusive relationships are complicated, and leaving isn’t always easy. The most dangerous time for a survivor is often right after they’ve left their abuser.
“There can be a huge amount of fear attached to leaving, and it takes a great deal of courage to leave. That courage has to be built into the survivor’s belief system,” Shirley explains.
“Let them know that you love and care about them and their safety, and you’ll support them with whatever decision they make.”
Keep offering support
Gently and consistently check in on them to stay up to date with their situation and how they’re feeling. Some abusive and controlling partners make it difficult for survivors to keep in touch with friends and family, so be patient and understanding if they’re not always as responsive as you’d like.
Ask how you can help and suggest different ways you can support them, such as assisting with a safety plan and offering them a safe place to stay if they need it.
“Share information with them in a way that will not put them at risk,” Shirley advises. “For example, don’t give them support service pamphlets if there’s any chance the abuser will find them.”
Relevant support contacts might include:
1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732
DV Connect Womensline: 1800 811 811
DV Connect Mensline: 1800 600 636
Sexual Assault Helpline: 1800 010 120
Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Our support services
There is still hope for some unhealthy relationships. If your loved one doesn’t know whether their relationship is abusive or toxic, they don’t need to have the answers.
Our counsellors can help individuals and couples work through their relationship problems. Counselling appointments can be booked by calling 1300 364 277.
You can learn about our Domestic and Family Violence Prevention services here.