What Can I Do?

A look at how we can be supportive friends, family, and co-workers to someone in an abusive or unhealthy relationship

Do you have a loved one who is in an unsafe relationship? Or someone who is causing harm? Are you worried about what might be happening in a loved one’s relationship? Do you feel helpless in wanting to support them? You are not alone and support is here for you! 

We often see and hear about resources for those experiencing abuse, but not often resources for the family, friends, and co-workers of those surrounding the individuals possibly in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Unfortunately, many times the last people to know of an unhealthy relationship are loved ones, but we would like to help change that. So having tools and knowledge for how to support someone struggling in their relationship, while also taking care of yourself is very important. 

The most important thing you can do for a loved one in an abusive relationship is to be there for them. Support them, show you care, and that you are not there to make any decisions for them. You are there to support them regardless of what decision they make. Make your conversation about supporting them and not about their partner. Be there, without judgment, to listen, bounce ideas, and give support. 

What can I do to be a supportive loved one to someone experiencing abuse? 

  1. Ask a question: “How’s it going?” or “How are you feeling?” can be powerful 
  2. Listen! Being heard helps us feel understood and supported. 
    1. A few examples of things to say to someone who has experienced harm
      1. I believe you
      2. I am concerned about ‘give an example’
      3. Thanks for sharing this. 
      4. You are not alone 
      5. It’s not your fault 
      6. You get to choose what you do next. 
  3. Stay connected: While we are currently being asked to physically distance ourselves from each other, we must not socially distance ourselves. Domestic violence lives in the dark, so we have to make sure that we are not letting darkness creep into our connections with each other. 


Example dialogue: 

Carla is worried about her friend Jane. Jane has been dating her partner for the past six months and since Jane hasn’t been attending their normal Thursday night walking group (which the pair never missed prior to Jane’s new relationship), she isn’t responding to her texts, or acting like her normal bubbly self. Their text conversation is below:

Keep reaching out to your loved one every time you notice something is off. Always accept their answer without guilt or shame – you always want to be a safe option for them to reach out to when they are ready.


What if I start to feel really worried? 

Signs of high risk for serious harm include: 

  1. Access to firearms
  2. Suicidal thoughts/threats
  3. Prior strangulation

If any of these are present in the relationship, please reach out to one of our advocates for support and help. Reaching out to Harbor House is 100% free and confidential. Our 24/7 Helpline: 920-832-1667. 


Feeling nervous about where a conversation might go and not knowing how to respond? 

  • If the conversation is going nowhere: When you’re getting silence or one-word answers, it’s best to back off and try again a different day. Just asking questions lets people know you are someone they can turn to when they are ready.
  • When you don’t know the answer:
    Try saying: “Honestly, I don’t know. Let me do some research and then we can talk more tomorrow.”
  • Being overwhelmed or frustrated by the information they share:
    It’s ok to be overwhelmed and/or frustrated! It is important to not let your loved one know that you are overwhelmed or frustrated as it will put more pressure on your loved one. Let Harbor House or your local domestic violence program be your support. We are here 24/7 to answer questions and provide you with the tools you need to better support your loved one.
  • Questioning your own relationship after hearing something they share:
    You don’t need to have it all figured out to support someone else. Remember, you can always reach out to one of our advocates at 920-8332-1667 and think about who might be open to listening to you, even if they’ve never asked you about your relationship.

How do you talk to someone about their abusive behavior? 

**Many of these strategies are also helpful for conversations with someone who has or is causing harm.**

No one wants to imagine that someone they care about is hurting another person. Feeling uneasy about reaching out to someone who has hurt someone else? Ask yourself: How would you want to be treated if you caused harm? 

You can use the same advice we gave earlier on supporting someone in an abusive relationship: ask a question, listen up, and stay connected. The best thing you do is let them know you are concerned about them. If you believe you or someone you know are choosing to use abuse or power and control in a relationship, call our DVIP advocates for an assessment at 920-955-9151. 

Assessments provided look at the whole individual. The purpose of the assessment is to determine supports, challenges, resiliency, and any needs for further programming and services.  DVIP also makes recommendations for outside services. 

  • Approximately one-hour session
  • $35 fee (cash or money order).  No shows will be charged $50 when they re-schedule


Taking care of yourself

Helping other people with their relationships shouldn’t take over your life. You need people to support your well-being too. We are here 24/7 to answer any questions, be a sounding board if you’re feeling challenged, and to offer our support. Please call us at 920-832-1667.

Just letting someone know that you’ll be there if and when they want to talk is a HUGE. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, try the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise or another form of mindfulness to connect to your senses, which can help settle your mind.


We MUST, as a community, make it a priority to reach out and support our loved ones. In a time right now when we are trying to remain physically distant, we MUST NOT be socially distant. Domestic violence lives and thrives in the shadow, by staying connected with our loved one we don’t give domestic violence a shadow to hide behind. Harbor House is here 24/7 to support our community with any questions or concerns you might have, please reach out at 920–832-1667. 


Your continued presence, connection, and support are what people need to get safer and thrive. 

Together we can end domestic abuse in the Fox Valley and beyond. Together we Rise. 



Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence wscadv.org/get-help-now

Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs

Love is Respect

The National Domestic Violence Hotline