A therapist shares 5 important strategies to follow if you're concerned about a loved one's relationship with a partner.
When a romantic relationship turns abusive, there are often warning signs along the way. It’s not uncommon for friends and family members to notice that something seems off.
What can you do if you notice red flags? How can you help a loved one who doesn’t realize or admit that something is wrong?
Aleteia spoke to Marianna Taylor, LCSW-C, a therapist with the Alpha Omega Clinic. She shared 5 important strategies to follow if you are concerned about a loved one’s romantic relationship.
For much more information about domestic violence, check out thehotline.org.
1Don’t give your opinion without being asked
The first step is the most important: “Don’t give unsolicited advice,” Taylor said. This might seem counterintuitive when you’re concerned, but it’s one of the most important things you can do.
You want to make sure your loved one feels safe being open and vulnerable with you, but marching into the conversation with your own hot take on their situation blocks them from feeling that way. In particular, don’t start by voicing your concerns about their partner.
“You want to be careful not to throw their partner under the bus,” Taylor said. “You don’t want to be too presumptive because that will put them on the defensive.”
So what should you do instead?
2Ask questions and listen carefully
“Listen first and foremost,” Taylor said. “Ask questions if you’re curious.”
Not sure what questions to ask your loved one? She offered these suggestions:
- What is your partner’s expression of anger?
- Does it concern you?
- How does it make you feel?
- How do you feel about yourself in the relationship?
- What’s that like for you?
- Have you ever thought that’s possibly unhealthy?
- How is your relationship affecting you?
Your loved one’s answers will give you a sense of whether they feel safe or unsafe in the relationship. And your questions will get them really thinking about the relationship for themselves.
“Approach your loved one with care and wonder,” Taylor said. “You’re trying to guide them to figure it out on their own.”
3Create a safe space for them to be vulnerable
Hopefully your thoughtful questions and considerate listening will encourage your loved one to open up to you. When that happens, your goal is to make them feel safe, heard, and deeply valued.
“Ask yourself, ‘Am I creating and holding a safe space for my loved one to come to me? Do they know that I’m a safe space? Am I honoring their vulnerabilities and not throwing their partner under the bus?’”
If you’re accessible, responsive and emotionally engaged, your loved one will continue to open up. Your relationship can be a lifeline for them.
4Validate how they feel
“If they start asking and wondering aloud, validate how hard it must be for them,” Taylor said. “If there are red flags you’re seeing, you might say, ‘That sounds like it’s really harming you. That sounds so rough.’”
Red flags usually involve one partner making power and control moves over the other person. But your loved one might not notice these warning signs because it feels normal to them. This is one of the reasons not to bring up the word “abuse” unless your loved one mentions it first.
“If you say they’re being abused and they’re not thinking that, it will shut the door and create a mental block for them,” Taylor said. “They’ll feel like you aren’t a safe person to talk to and that they can’t be as vulnerable or honest or open.”
Instead, validate their feelings and offer nonjudgmental sympathy and compassion.
5Check in regularly
An important part of your role is just checking in and staying in touch with your loved one.
“Check in with them, ask how they’re doing, and open that door for them to trust you,” Taylor said. “They’re not alone: They have you.”
You might stop by to visit, call or text them regularly, and ask how they’re doing and feeling. If they’ve talked to you about their relationship, you might ask how things are going with their partner.
Your relationship reminds your loved one of a crucial truth: “They deserve to feel safe.”