Changing the culture that leads to domestic violence.

If you need a quick exit, here is an escape button for you to use.


Language Matters: How to Bring Up Abuse

The language we use matters.

If there is someone in your life who you suspect is going through abuse in their relationship, how do you bring it up?

It can feel uncomfortable, or like none of your business, but staying silent only feeds into the isolation that someone may feel about the situation. Or maybe they haven’t even considered that what they are experiencing is abuse.

So, how do you bring it up?

We often say don’t use the language of “domestic violence” or “abuse” or “battered” because these words and phrases come with stigma.

They can often make folks compare their situation to someone they know or to what they believe those words to mean.

Often, people associate these words with physical violence, and if the physical violence is either not present or extremely rare, they may disregard what you are saying even though we know that abuse is not only physical.

Instead, we invite people to bring up specific behaviors:
  • “I’ve noticed this change in you and I am really concerned, is everything ok?”
  • “I notice that you are getting bombarded with notifications and there has been a definite change in your mood, what’s going on?”
  • “Every time we hang out with your partner, you don’t seem yourself in these ways and I want you to know that I am here for you and I just want to ask if everything is ok.”
  • “The way your partner was talking to you the other night at dinner, especially saying this specific example, was kind of uncalled for, does that happen often?”

All of these approaches are gentle, and point out specific behaviors that you have seen or noticed.

Being specific can help someone feel like they are seen, like they aren’t crazy for how they have been feeling, and like you aren’t asking them about triggering language that can put up a barrier. 

Sometimes, the person is ready to talk and other times, they may still shrug it off like everything is totally fine. Both are valid reactions.

Be ready for both. This time we will talk about the latter. 

There can be a multitude of reasons that someone may shrug off questioning violence in their relationship.

Some include: 

  • Maybe the action was just an isolated incident, it could be possible. 
  • They have been coping mentally through dissociation and haven’t really paid attention to what they are experiencing. 
  • What they are experiencing has been modeled to them through parent and/or other family relationships around them. They think it’s how love is supposed to look. 
  • They truly feel like it’s due to some sort of external factor, like work stress, and that once the stress passes so will the things they are experiencing. Note: These external factors may contribute to causing harm in a relationship, but should not be excused. 
  • They think that the good times are worth the bad times. 
  • They don’t know what it will mean to admit that these things are happening to them. Leaving someone you love is scary, and in a DV situation, it’s also dangerous. It often means figuring out a lot of big changes, and that can feel daunting.
  • And still, you’ll likely hear, “at least I’m not being physically harmed.” 

What do do if you hear some of these things: 

  • Don’t give up on them. Isolation is a big part of domestic violence, part of it comes from the person causing harm, but part of it can also come from people wanting to help and getting exhausted of their efforts when the person just won’t leave. Remember that it takes on average 5-7 times before someone leaves for good. 
  • Know your responses to some of these things they may say in rebuttal to your concerns. Sometimes having some talking points ready can move the conversation along. 
  • Know that it can take far more than one conversation. It may take years of conversations. 

It can be extremely difficult to bring this conversation to the table with a loved one.

Hopefully, this serves as a starting point to the conversations that make things slightly easier. 

In a future post we will cover what to do in the event they are receptive to what you bring up. 


By Amanda Salgueiro


DVN Director of Research & Impact