Opening up the conversation
Remember that an unhealthy relationship doesn’t just happen to people who are romantically involved, it can be between siblings, carers, child-to-parent – any relationship in a domestic setting can be unhealthy.
Talking about an unhealthy relationship might not be easy, neither for the person who is in that relationship, nor for you, as the person who is trying to support them.
It’s important to remember, when speaking to someone about their situation, to:
- Think through what you are going to say before the conversation
- Go at their pace, try not to force the conversation, this will help you to maintain their trust
- Be non-judgmental
- Remain calm
- Be supportive
- Steer them to seek professional help, especially if you feel they may be in immediate danger
- Focus on their (and their children’s) right to live free from fear and harm.
It’s not necessarily your responsibility to sort out other people’s relationships, or to give them advice about their relationship – but opening up a conversation can be really helpful. You can help them to move out from behind closed doors.
Here are some tips to help you to open up a conversation about abuse:
- Before having a conversation, find out about different types of abuse, and the different signs and symptoms.
- Also find out where you can find local help and support.
- It’s important that the person you are speaking to feels safe at all times, so create an environment where they feel supported and secure.
- You could show them this website, for example “Have you seen the new Open the Door website, I took the relationship quiz and it was a real eye opener.”
- Ask open-ended questions, for example “How are things at home?” or “You seem a bit fed up. What’s up?”
- Ask questions about how they feel. Keep the conversation open, ask simple questions about how they feel about their situation, and encourage their feelings to be shared openly. For example: “Are you comfortable with that?” or: “How does that make you feel?”
- Reflect back on what they are telling you. For example: “So, you’re saying that they won’t allow you to talk to your family?”
- Share why you feel it’s important to talk about unhealthy relationships. Remind the person they are talking to how common it is and that they are not on their own.
- You may have had experience of an unhealthy relationship yourself. If you feel comfortable, share your own experiences.
- If they start to blame themselves, point it out. For many people in an unhealthy relationship they feel, or are made to believe, that what they are experiencing is their fault, and this may come out through their language. Remind them they are not responsible for the other person’s behaviour.
- Focus on children’s safety. If the person you are talking to has children, ask how they are affected and how you can help keep to them safe.
- Keep the door open. Ensure the person you are talking to knows they can come to you at any time.
- GET HELP. If the person you talk to mentions any serious harm e.g. strangling, suffocating, drowning it is time to get more help. Call the 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline free on 0808 2000 247 or if they are in immediate harm call 999.