By Heather Teater, See the Triumph Contributor
When someone shares that they are experiencing domestic violence, it can be easy to assume that they are ready to leave their violent relationship and fervently start thinking of ways help them get out. If, however, we hear that they are not yet ready to leave the relationship, sometimes our enthusiasm to help falters. We can get so caught up in trying to convince them to leave or judging them for making “poor choices” that we forget that this is a crucial time for us to be supportive. In fact, it is important for us to be willing to support survivors of domestic violence no matter where they are – in the relationship, leaving the relationship, or out of the relationship. There are other great posts regarding supporting survivors that you can read, so I won’t go into great detail, but here are just a few ways that survivors in all stages of DV may need your support:
There are many reasons that one might be unable or unwilling to leave a violent relationship for the time-being. While it may be tempting to spend all of our energy giving them a million reasons why they need to get out of their abusive situation, those who are in a violent relationship need to be the ones who decide to leave, and our efforts can be better-spent in other ways. For example, you might be a part of your friend’s safety plan and provide a safe haven when things get difficult. Perhaps they need someone who is willing to watch their children for an evening to keep them out of harm’s way. Or maybe they just need someone who knows about their situation and can check in with them on a regular basis.
Those who are in the process of leaving an abusive relationship need support in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways. They may need practical support, such as a vehicle to help them move some of their belongings or a place to stay while they determine their next steps. They may also need help navigating the process of taking legal action to gain custody of their children or to keep their ex-partner from harassing them further. They, too, may simply need emotional support as they deal with the transition of starting a new life.
Once survivors have left a violent relationship and appear to be out of harm’s way, sometimes we forget that they still need support. But the effects of domestic violence remain well past the last violent incident. Survivors of DV may still need practical and emotional support long after we may think they should be “over it.” They could need help rebuilding their support system. They might need help determining red flags for future romantic relationships. And, yes, they may need help healing emotionally as well.
When offering support to someone who is experiencing or has experienced domestic violence, it is important to offer the support with no strings attached (e.g. “I’ll only help you if…” or “Once you leave, then…”). Whether they have decided to stay in the relationship, are trying to get out, or have already left, survivors of domestic violence need us to be willing to support them in whatever ways we can. Remember that everyone’s experience of domestic violence is different, and the best thing you can do is simply ask how you can help and follow through, no matter their situation.