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10 pieces of advice for relatives

Do you suspect that someone you know is in a dangerous, violent or dysfunctional relationship? Are you desperate to get them out? Do you find that they are withdrawing more and more?

Here's what to do as a relative of a victim of psychological abuse.

Reach out

In psychologically abusive relationships, the victim becomes isolated from friends and family over time. As a relative, you might initially think it's cute that they're always together, but over time it might surprise or annoy you that he (/she/they) is always there. At the same time, you will begin to experience that your acquaintance withdraws, acts differently and does not reach out. 

It is very important that you keep reaching out. Be there and show that you keep wanting your acquaintance. 


Your acquaintance is not going to tell you everything about what is happening in the relationship. There is also a high probability that they will even hide or lie to you. Therefore, it is important that you do not push. Instead, show that the person can open up to you by listening non-judgmentally and without pressuring. This will hopefully make them want to come to you when they are ready to open up more. 

Ask questions

When your acquaintance talks about the relationship, be curious. Ask how the person feels, how they feel about their partner, what they are in love with, what is difficult, what they feel during arguments, how the communication is - etc. In this way, you help your acquaintance to reflect and put words on. Ask special questions about the incidents that seem clearly borderline to you, but which your acquaintance may have difficulty realizing as wrong. If you come to teach and judge, your acquaintance will withdraw and feel wrong and stupid. 

Talk about other things

Avoid constantly talking about the boyfriend and the relationship. Talk about other things - your acquaintance's work, family, hobbies and life in general. Show your acquaintance that there is room for them with you and that you are interested in their lives. 

Address transgressive and violent behavior

If your acquaintance tells about violent incidents or arguments with the partner, show them that it is violent. Say, for example: "It's probably very borderline, it must have been really difficult for you - what were you thinking when it happened?". Articulating the violent or unacceptable behavior must not become ultimatum-like or judgmental, but must instead be reflective. Your acquaintance tells you about it because somewhere inside they know it was wrong, but their reaction is not welcome in the relationship. It must be with you, and you show that by mirroring it. 

Accept that it is impossible to "just go"

Leaving a psychologically abusive or dysfunctional relationship is NEVER "just" leaving - so never ask your loved one why they don't just leave. There are many things at stake in the dysfunctional relationship, which means that your acquaintance may time and again choose to stay or choose to go back to the partner. Familiarize yourself with what kind of mechanisms are at play so that you can best help your acquaintance get out of the web. Leaving an abusive partner is a slow process, and you have to prepare for a long time of having to remind them that the relationship is not healthy. 

Don't judge

Be aware of your body language and facial expressions. Your acquaintance is already hypersensitive to being judged (from the relationship) and if they feel condemnation from you, they will feel stupid and wrong and withdraw. The psychologically abusive relationship is enormously complicated. You can't judge it from the outside. If you want to help your acquaintance, you have to be able to accept that they make some choices that you cannot relate to.

Talk about times before the partner

Your acquaintance will most likely change over the course of the relationship. It is part of the psychological violence that they break down and doubt themselves. Help them connect with who they used to be by naturally talking about memories you have together. Help them remember what they used to think was exciting and fun. 

Be there - even when they struggle to let go

Your acquaintance is very likely to go back to the partner after a breakup. There will be many mini-breakups in the relationship, where you might hope that now it will finally happen. Because of the psychological violence, your friend is trapped in an addiction that is difficult to break. Help your acquaintance get in touch with gut feeling and inner values by asking questions and being supportive, without sweeping the dysfunctional under the carpet. 

Lovingly remind them of who they are

Your acquaintance will eventually have his self-esteem eroded in the relationship. As a relative, you have an important role in reminding them of who they are and what they are worth. Tell them what you like about them, what aspects of them you think are absolutely amazing and unique. 

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