Talking to someone about their abusive behavior

Let’s be real, most of us think of an abuser as an easy-to-spot evil monster. So it’s hard to admit or even recognize when someone we care about is being abusive. When we do start to see it, some of us want to vote them off the island and some of us want to stick our head in the sand.

But what if we want to continue to be in community with folks who have done harm? What if they are our family? What if they are our friend? What if we love them?

How do we convey that we won’t tolerate this behavior while staying connected and asking them to change?

We believe the answer lies in having conversations and being real. We hope to encourage you to talk with a person in your life who is struggling in their relationship, who maybe isn’t their best self, and who has the will to change.

It might seem kind of scary and it might be uncomfortable, but YOU CAN DO IT. Think of yourself like a farmer; no matter what happens, you planted the seeds and gave it your best shot.

Here are some strategies that will help you to have the conversation that you want:

  • Address their behavior privately. Be direct but loving as you challenge their actions, words, or violence.
  • Focus on the behavior. Talk about the behavior and how it impacts you. Be clear that you don’t think they are a bad person.
  • Ask a question, listen up and stay connected: “Hey, I’m worried about you… is everything ok?” “Things don’t seem right in your relationship. What’s going on?” “Sometimes I’ve noticed… How do you feel about that?”

Remember, it’s not your job to change someone. You can’t make someone change, but you can hold up a mirror and support them. You can also get help! Talk to your trusted people and reach out to experts.

You can do it!

Special delivery

I’ll admit it. It’s a work day, and I am goofing off. It’s one of those days where every task looks either insurmountably difficult or just too eye-rollingly boring. I pick things up and put them down again and again. Do you ever have days like that, or is it just me?

Super frustrated, I wander down the street for some caffeine. Maybe a reset will help.

Coffee in hand, and still not convinced I have it in me to get a single useful thing done, I follow a delivery guy back into my building. He holds the elevator door for me.

I study the four boxes on his handcart. They’re for us! Inside squeal. I know what these are. Things are definitely looking up now.

I start talking with the guy. I talk to everyone. This works exceptionally well for me because I have no children to embarrass.

So while I’m yammering with the delivery dude, I unlock and hold open the door. He hands me the electronic thingie to sign and he says, “So what do you guys do here anyway?”

Me: (blah blah blah my brief and generic answer about what one would do at a domestic violence coalition if one were not goofing off.)

Him: “I ask ‘cause I’m the victim.”

Me: (nonverbal tell me more signals)

Him: “Well, I’m really kind of on both sides.”

Me: (more nonverbal now-we’re-on-the-right-track signals)

Him: “Do you have places to send people? Like counselors? I mean I’m willing to be accountable for what happened. She’s not, but I am.”

Me: (Wow, he actually said the word accountable. I wonder where he learned that word and what he means by it?) “Well, you can only be responsible for yourself. You can’t control other people.”

Him: (Surprisingly knowing nod.)

Me: “SafePlace knows a lot more than me about who the good counselor folks are in town. Give them a call.”

Him: “It was my drinking.”

Me: (more sympathetic signals) “Yup, all those things get tangled up with each other.”

Him: “Yeah, I got 90 days.” (From the context, I assume he means sober, not jail time.)

Me: “That’s great! You have kids?”

Him: “Four. They’re proud of me. 90 days.” (I’m right, sober.)

Me: “Yeah, grownups need to get their acts together for their kids.”

Him: “Yeah.” (Gathering up his stuff.)

Me: “Really, call SafePlace. They’ll be able to help you. Good luck and hang in there.”

Him: (Friendly departure.)

Still wondering what was in the boxes that I was so excited about? Irony of ironies, and honest for real. Here’s what he was delivering: How’s Your Relationship? Conversations with someone about their abusive behavior.

cards in box

This weekend, we gave 1,500 sets of these cards out to the crowd of people who showed up to run or walk or volunteer at the Goodwill Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field.

My fondest wish is that you hear my story of the delivery dude and imagine that you can have a conversation this casual and kind. Support your friends, brothers, or delivery guys to take tiny steps. Help them because you can. Talk so they’ll figure out what they are doing that hurts themselves and others and how to turn it around. You can do it!

P.S. Feeling inspired to donate some money to this prevention campaign? Here’s a link to the fundraising page I set up for the Goodwill Refuse To Abuse® 5K. Donate today!

Can you talk to a friend about their abusive behavior?

Yes, you can! But it’s not easy and you could probably use some advice, right?

It’s hard to admit or even recognize when someone we care about is being abusive. When we do start to see it, some of us want to vote them off the island and some of us want to stick our head in the sand. But what if we want to continue to be in community with folks who have done harm? We’ve got a new guide How’s Your Relationship? Conversations with someone about their abusive behavior that will help you talk with a person in your life who is struggling in their relationship, who maybe isn’t their best self, and who has the will to change.

 How’s Your Relationship? Conversations with someone about their abusive behavior

 

No more. Do more.

Living near Seattle is an absolute trial for someone as indifferent to football as I am. Before this past summer, I had never heard of Ray Rice and I didn’t know Baltimore had a football team. But suddenly I know these things. I would not ordinarily consider commenting on football, but knowing absolutely nothing about domestic violence has not stopped sports commentators from weighing in.

Contrary to what you might expect, I am not a fan of player suspensions for the same reason that I am not a big fan of the criminal justice system. Ejecting people from sports or from our communities and throwing them away in prisons doesn’t actually work that well. Ask a bunch of survivors if you don’t believe me.

How about turning these non-consequential consequences on their heads? Rather than throwing people away, how about we try the opposite: pulling them closer?

Instead of suspending players, put them into “suspended animation” that looks something like this:

  1. Take away their salaries and send the money to organizations that work to counter the wrong they’ve committed.
  2. Have the player sit on the bench at each game during their suspended animation wearing a T-shirt that reads “I’m sitting here thinking about why I’m not in the game.”
  3. When the player has a clear idea about what they did wrong, allow them to call their entire team to hear them out. The team’s job, to a man, is to fire up and fine tune their bullsh*t meter and judge what the player has to say.
  4. No matter how long it takes, the team keeps the player on the team (and among them) and only when the entire team’s meters fall into the “I believe you really get the wrong you did” zone, can the player be reinstated.

I floated this idea to some people who responded, essentially: “Yeah, right. Teams will just close ranks, slap a lot of backs, and let the dude off because it could be them tomorrow. Even if all the bullsh*t meters are smoking from being so far into the crap zone, the guy will be playing the very next week.”

I was disappointed by how little faith my friends had in men’s ability to step up. That is, men’s willingness to hold one another accountable with real integrity. The bar for men’s involvement in ending  violence against women has been so low for so long that we’ve practically given up on the idea.

But that has got to change. I felt vindicated by the ads that the NFL aired on Thanksgiving. They actually showed some men (who I assume are well-known football players) in full screen looking not just uncomfortable, but positively vulnerable.

So okay then. Men have raised the bar a half inch. After the football season’s over, will more men step up and help build and maintain momentum here?

Men, thanks for supporting No More. Now do more.

The Revolution Starts at Home

What does it mean for an abuser to be held accountable? What does justice for a survivor look like? And how do we get there?

I’ve been studying domestic violence murders for the past 7 years and have seen time and again how the legal system is profoundly limited in its ability to provide justice, safety, or healing for survivors of abuse. But focusing on the failures of the police and courts can feel hopeless, because it is not clear where else to turn. I envision that our own communities can step up to confront abusers and support survivors. Yet it is hard to imagine communities where sexism, homophobia, isolation, and victim blaming don’t get in the way.

A new book, The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities, is a collection of stories from people who have also wrestled with these questions. The authors are activists working against racism and homophobia. It makes sense that the people trying to figure out how to hold abusers accountable within their own communities are those that have been the least served and most harmed by the criminal response to abuse—LBGTQ folk, people of color, immigrants.

The stories bring to life both the hope and promise of community solutions to domestic and sexual violence, and how painfully difficult this process can look on the ground. In one essay, a grassroots activist group describes how they organized to address abuse by one community member toward another. Their process had all the key ingredients for justice: a focus on the survivor’s safety and healing, treating the abuser with respect while demanding real change, and directly confronting the conditions that allowed the abuse in the first place. And yet, their efforts took years, required massive energy and commitment, and they found it was hard to know whether they were making real change.

Reading this book left me feeling both excited about the creative work being done and overwhelmed with the work left to do. The efforts, aspirations, and even failures in these stories felt like a call to action for all of us working to end domestic violence. As Andrea Smith says in the introduction, “the question is not whether a survivor should call the police, but rather why have we given survivors no other option but to call the police?”