Recognizing and Supporting Someone In an Abusive Relationship

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If you believe that a friend, family member or co-worker is in an unhealthy relationship, it’s important to reach out to that individual. It may be a difficult and uncomfortable conversation to have, but it is one that could ultimately save someone’s life.

Domestic violence takes many forms that include verbal, physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and economic. No two relationships are the same, and therefore, domestic violence will look very different across different relationships. It’s important to look for patterns of behaviour and trust your instinct about an individual you suspect might be in an abusive relationship.

Below are possible signs of domestic violence:

  • obvious injuries such as bruises
  • wears clothing inconsistent with the weather, ie. long sleeves or scarves in the summertime
  • sloppiness in dress or appearance, obvious fatigue
  • withdrawn or becoming isolated
  • behaviour out of character, ie. coming to work late when they were always on time
  • no longer participating in activities or hobbies they normally enjoyed
  • appears distracted, has trouble concentrating on tasks
  • uncharacteristic signs of anxiety, fear or emotional distress
  • minimization or denial of harassment or injuries
  • receives frequent and/or harassing personal phone calls, emails, text messages or voicemails

If you notice something is off and decide to have a conversation with someone, first start by finding a closed and private location to have the conversation. Approach the situation with genuine care and concern and sensitivity. Ask open questions – this lets the other person know that you are a safe person to open up or to share what’s going on. Examples include: “I’ve noticed … and I am concerned about you. If there anything I can do to help?” “I’ve noticed … and I’m worried about you. Are you ok?”

If they chooses to disclose they are in an abusive situation, here are some guidelines to follow in order to support the disclosure:
1. Listen. Listening is the first step; be mindful that this might be the first time this person has opened up about the abuse. Remain non-judgemental and understand that they may be reluctant to disclose everything that’s going on in the first conversation.
2. Be Supportive. Validate their strength for coming forward and let them know that no one deserves to be abused, and this is not their fault. Understand and express that this is a difficult situation and that they are not alone in this, you will be there to support them.
3. Provide Information. Learn about some of the resources available in Calgary to support individuals dealing with abuse and refer the individual on to one of these services.
4. Respect Their Decisions. If someone chooses to open up to you, be mindful that this conversation took a lot of courage for them to have, so it is important that you respect where they are in their journey and the decisions they make. They may decide to go back to the relationship and it’s important not to criticize them for this choice or make them feel guilty. Ensure if they do return to the relationship that they have the proper resources, such as community supports, number to call and a safety plan in place.
Domestic violence is a crime and if you believe someone is in immediate danger, contact the police.


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