Supporting a loved one

If your alarm bells are ringing and you think your friend, relative, colleague or neighbour is experiencing abuse behind closed doors, you might feel helpless, but there are ways you can support her.

The first response she receives about her disclosure is key

Women often don’t report or disclose domestic abuse to the police and many underreport it in surveys.

This is due to a variety of reasons: they may feel shame, or fear they won’t be believed, or they want to protect their abusive partner because they love them, or they don’t recognise what they’re experiencing is domestic abuse, especially when it’s coercive control. But sadly, it’s very common, and it’s not always physical so it’s not always obvious.

Given that 1 in 3 women aged 16-59 experience domestic abuse in their lifetime — whether we realise it or not — we probably all know a survivor and the first person they disclose it to is usually a trusted friend or family member. So we hope the advice in this page empowers you to be there for her and create space for her to feel less alone, understand the signs, and seek our support.

Remember, you might be the first person she is disclosing to so your calm, empathetic and supportive response is really important. If she feels heard, validated and supported, she’s more likely to speak out again, and hopefully seek our support.

  • Create a safe, private space to check in with her and let her know you’ve noticed something’s wrong
  • Give her time to talk, but don’t push her to if she isn’t ready
  • When she opens up, actively listen, trust her, take her seriously, show empathy and don’t judge her
  • Acknowledge it takes strength to talk to someone about experiencing abuse
  • Acknowledge she is in a frightening and difficult situation
  • Reassure her that it’s not her fault, no matter what her abuser has said
  • Remind her that she is not alone and that there are solutions, but allow her to make her own decisions. She needs to decide what she needs to do.
  • Document what you can safely, to collect evidence if she ever needs it
  • Don’t pressure her to leave the relationship if she’s not ready – that’s her decision, but offer to help her prepare an emergency bag
  • If she’s local to Swale, encourage her to contact us when she feels ready

Which approach to take?

This is a useful map of the various outcomes depending on how you approach your support for your friend. Designed by Your Best Friend.

  • She avoids talking about her partner
  • If she does talk about her partner, she minimises the abuse
  • She seems to be losing confidence in herself
  • She seems depressed and scared
  • She has become increasingly distant
  • She gives vague explanations for not meeting up with you and hanging out
  • She can’t remember details well (which is caused by stress and trauma)
  • She has injuries that don’t seem consistent with the explanation
  • She’s developed increasingly unhealthy coping mechanisms
  • She’s started self harming
  • She’s lost a significant amount of weight (from the nerves of walking on eggshells all the time, or from pressure to look a certain way for her partner)
  • “I believe you”
  • “That sounds really difficult to deal with.”
  • “I can’t imagine how hurtful it must feel for someone you love and care deeply about to say/do this to you.”
  • “I’m here for you no matter what you decide to do.”
  • “You didn’t cause this and it’s not your fault.”
  • “You don’t deserve to be hurt by the person you love.”
  • “You deserve to feel safe.”
  • “You deserve healthy and respectful love.”
  • “I’m worried about your safety and well-being.”
  • “It feels like a big step to take, but there is help and support for you. SATEDA is a charity which has services especially to support women in your situation. I can help you contact them if you’d like.”
  • “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to”
  • “You’re brave for telling me and I really appreciate it.”
  • “But he didn’t physically hurt you.”
  • “You have to leave.”
  • “Why didn’t you leave the first time he did that?”
  • “What did you do to make him do that?”
  • “I wouldn’t put up with it if I were you.”
  • “He seriously sucks.”
  • “Did he really do that? It seems so unlike him.”
  • “He probably didn’t mean it.”
  • “Maybe you’re too sensitive at the moment.”
  • “Don’t dwell on it, everyone fights in relationships.”
  • “It could be worse.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “It’s in the past now, just move on.”
  • “How does it feel when he does XYZ?”
  • “What is it like when you two have an argument?”
  • “How do you wish things were different between you two?”
  • “When did you last feel truly safe and happy with him?”
  • “Would you like me to help you work out a safety plan, just in case?”
  • “Would you like me to help you contact SATEDA when you feel ready?”

Checking in with her

Here’s how you might put the above advice in action. The most important thing is to actively listen to what she says, and make her feel heard even if you might not agree with what she is saying. Your reassurance and support could be really life-changing for her.

I just wanted to check in on how you’re doing because the way he spoke to you the other day took me aback. How are you feeling?

Yeah, he just gets like that when he’s had a drink, don’t worry.

It’s just it’s not the first time I’ve noticed he treats you disrespectfully and I’m worried about your wellbeing. If you want to talk about anything, I just want you to know I’m here for you.

I don’t know…he doesn’t mean it and it was my fault really. He’s already stressed with work and I stressed him out more. I shouldn’t have brought up what I did with him. It’s been a bit difficult recently but it’ll get better. We’re really good together most of the time.

I’m sorry it’s been difficult. How long has it been like this for?

I’m not sure. It kind of gradually happened over several months.

That’s quite a long time, how has it been making you feel?

Drained mostly, and confused. Recently I’ve felt like I don’t recognise him and it’s made me feel more anxious I think.

Thank you for sharing this with me. That’s really tough… and I’m sorry you feel anxious and drained like this with him. You should feel safe and comfortable. Is there anything I can do to be there for you more?

We care about her

Encourage her to contact us when she is ready. We’ll be there for her. In the meantime, please reach out if you have any queries, and look after yourself too — you can’t pour from an empty cup.