How to talk with a loved one about violence

Written by Workhorse Marketing

by Diane McDaniel Rhodes, former Chief Program Officer at SafePlace

Friends-talking---creative-commons-license-razbarabaniloAlthough I have worked with abuse survivors for the past nearly 30 years and supervised shelter and counseling and housing programs, I’ve learned most when people I love have been in abusive relationships. You’d guess staff at the local domestic violence and sexual assault programs would know how to react and how to help when a loved one is in the throes of a painful abusive relationship. You’d guess we are immune to this kind of pain ourselves. You’d guess wrong. Just like everyone, we struggle.

When my close friend was in an abusive relationship no matter what I said she was impressively able to gloss right over, or  laugh off, or not see what I saw at all. As her support circle shrank in reaction to the discomfort of her ugly family life, all I could do was hang in there, diffuse the scariness sometimes, take the kids, take them all when needed, tell him his control ended at my doorstep, keep talking about it as honestly and lovingly as I knew how, and… well, hang in there. What I wanted was for them to survive, all of them, and to still be there when the whole thing crumbled or blew. It was hard. It was harder still when things finally broke, and every phone call felt like a hotline call. The lines between working and life got really blurry. We all stayed safe. Everyone is whole and well.

Family violence has disrupted the lives of people I love a couple times since then and will again, I’m sure. Family violence doesn’t respect job titles. Until we find ways to end this kind of violence, we have to do everything we can to be part of a solution. We are all in this together.

Things to do when your friend or family member is in an abusive relationship:

  • Pay attention – You are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in any relationship that isn’t your own. If you are uneasy or concerned someone is being mean, violent or threatening to someone you care about rest assured – worse things are happening in private.
  • Be kind – Kindness diffuses tension and invites trust. Scolding and judging are gasoline on a violent relationship.
  • Be there – You can only help if you are there. Ignoring can mistakenly be seen as approval.
  • Be accepting – Accept people, even when you cannot accept their behavior. No one can hear help from someone who doesn’t accept them.

When a friend or family member is in an abusive relationship, talking with them about it is scary and difficult. What can you say?

  • “I know this is hard and scary, but we can talk about anything.”
  • “You are not by yourself with this. I will help and we can think about this together.”
  • “You are not responsible for his behavior.”
  • “No matter what you did, you do not deserve to be hurt.”

Don’t hesitate to express your concern for her safety and the safety of her children.

  • “I hated the way he talked to you. I’m worried about what might happen later.”
  • “You don’t deserve to be treated that way.”
  • “I’m worried about you. He’ll really hurt you.”
  • “Call me if this gets so bad you have to leave. We’ll figure something out.”
  • “This is awful. What can I do to help?”

Look into resources such as the SafePlace 24-hour Hotline 512.267.SAFE (7233)

  •  Visit our website and learn about safety programs for survivors and learn about abuse, safety plans, legal assistance, counseling, and emergency shelter.

If you need help talking to a friend or would like to know more about our programs for survivors of violence, please call the 24-hour Hotline, 512.267.7233.

*Photo thanks to razbarabanilo on