Here’s how to reach out. Worried about someone you know? Find time alone, just the two of you rather than a group of friends—so they don’t feel ganged up on. Then, use this conversation guide* and tell them why you’re concerned.
First say, “I’m worried about you.” Ask how things are at home. If they tell you everything’s fine, say, “Well, I’m glad, because…” and give examples about why you’re worried (“Bob’s ‘joke’ about your cooking made me cringe. I know you laugh those comments off, but they’re insulting”). Victims of domestic abuse usually feel isolated from friends and family. Remind them that someone is there—you.
BUT DON’T SAY, “Your partner can be a real jerk.” Go easy on the blame and name-calling—don’t use words like “abuse” or “victim,” which might scare them enough that they shut down.
If they do shut down, don’t push. Simply tell them you’re there if they ever want to talk.
If they open up about the abuse, say, “This isn’t your fault. No matter what you did, you don’t deserve this.”
BUT DON’T SAY, “Why are you putting up with this?” “Abuse is murky,” says Elaine Weiss, author of Family and Friends’ Guide to Domestic Violence. “They’re probably convinced that if only they knew how to make meatloaf, or were thinner, or bought the right toilet paper, then everything would go back to the way it used to be. Because all victims started a relationship with someone who treated them well.”
If they keep talking, say, “I know you’re dealing with complicated stuff, and you have hard choices to make.” Acknowledge the situation without trying to solve it for them. “They’re not an idiot,” Weiss says. “They have thought about their options.” So keep it simple and say, “You’re always welcome at my house. Anything I can do to help you, maybe take care of the kids—just let me know.”
BUT DON’T SAY, “If I were you….” However differently you think you would handle things, you can’t truly understand their financial issues, concern for kids or pets, and physical and emotional risk.
Finish the conversation by saying, “It must be so hard for you to keep it together—you’re a lot stronger than you think.” Many people mistakenly think all abused people (women in particular) are weak or have low self-esteem—and they might even think this about themselves. Remind them of just how strong they are to be living their life in the shadow of abuse.
BUT DON’T SAY, “This is crazy” or “You’re in denial,” even if they’re unwilling to change their situation. Give them time to think. As Weiss puts it, “Sometimes you can’t see the picture when you’re in the frame.”
Remember to follow up, especially if you think her situation is getting more serious. “At this point, you’re in it, so you should feel comfortable speaking up,” says Weiss. Say, “I’ve been thinking about what you told me, and I’m beginning to feel like you might be in danger.” Tell them you wouldn’t feel like a good friend if you didn’t share your concern with others who can help them. At this point, hand her a note with a phone number or website where they can get help. They’ll use it when they’re ready, and you should feel good knowing you helped.
Shalom Bayit is here to help. If you would like a safe, confidential space to talk about your friend’s situation and how to support them please call us: (866) SHALOM-7
*adapted from Elaine Weiss, author of Family and Friends’ Guide to Domestic Violence