How to help a family member get out of an abusive relationship

How to help a family member get out of an abusive relationship

Seeing someone you love get abused can get very frustrating and scary. You may fear for their life and wish to help them. Below are ways you can assist.


According to statistics, one in five women in South Africa experience domestic violence. What's even worse is the number of women who get murdered by their partners.

City Press  reports that every six hours, a woman is killed by her current or former intimate partner.

Sadly, abuse does not only affect the victim. Family members of people in abusive relationships also take strain.

Having to witness bruises that your loved ones suffer can cause you to want to intervene and help them get out of the relationship. However, it's always important to bear in mind that as much as you would love to help save your loved one, the decision to leave the relationship has to come from them. Before they make that decision, however, you can offer help by doing the following:

Let them know you don't blame them for the abuse

Abuse can sometimes make people feel worthless and as if the whole world is against them. Sometimes the victim can even blame themselves for the abuse. This is because abusers tend to make victims feel they are to blame. Saying things such as 'I love you', 'You are important', and 'It's not your fault that this is happening' will make them feel better and know that even if they decide to leave the relationship, their life is worth living.

Do not be judgmental

It's easy to judge both the victim and the perpetrator, but the first step in reaching your loved one is to try and not be judgmental. Thinking and making them feel like they are a fool for staying in the relationship will not help. Remember that people stay in relationships for a number of reasons. Sometimes it's because they can't imagine a life on their own, they are scared to leave, they have been threatened by their partner or they choose to stay for the children. But whatever the reason might be, to them, it's worth the risk.

Don't make them feel guilty

The last thing any victim needs is to have their family members make them feel guilty about their decisions. The one thing they need to never doubt is your love and support. Let them know that you are there for them in times of need.

Don't make them feel like a failure

You may not agree with their life choices, but make sure you don't make them feel guilty. They are already feeling miserable and don't need to feel they are also under attack from their own family.

Build them up

Abuse also has a way of making people lose their self-esteem. Build them up by complimenting them and reminding them of their good qualities. This can restore hope in them and can encourage them to know that they are not worthless, as the abuser makes them feel.

Don't constantly criticise their partner

This may cause the victim to eventually shut you out. Remember the victim might love the abuser and may even try to make excuses for the abuser. You constantly criticising their partner won't help in anyway. They might see it as you trying to destroy their relationship.

Stay out of their affairs

Unless asked to intervene, don't try and resolve their issues for them by interfering. Let them resolve their own conflicts. Unless there is physical abuse - in that case, it is advisable to call the police.

Help them develop a safety plan

Let them know that if they do decide to leave, they can find temporary shelter at your place or a safe place nearby.

Suggest they get help from an expert

Never force your opinion on them, rather allow them to make decisions. Often victims feel powerless as abusers tend to constantly take away the other partner’s right to make their own choices and have their own thoughts or feelings. So you don't want it to also seem like you are taking away their power. Just offer solutions and let them know you are there for them. Pressurising them usually does not help as they may move out from their home to please you, but go back shortly afterwards.

Encourage them to speak to professional counselors and let them know of support groups such as POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse) and FAMSA (Families South Africa).

Also read: Why I chose to abstain from sex after my divorce

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