3 Questions To Ask Someone You Fear Is Being Abused
I have developed a set of three questions to ask someone you are concerned may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. This subtle approach can help to uncover abusive behavior by evaluating how the possible victim is being made to feel in the relationship through a set of illuminating, nonintrusive questions.
1. Do you feel happy?
Relationships are not happy 100% of the time. However, a healthy relationship itself is overarchingly happy and mutually satisfying. Just because a relationship is not happy does not mean there is an abusive dynamic. But, if someone is in an abusive relationship, it is very likely that they struggle to feel happy consistently in regards to the relationship. This question helps the possible abuse victim evaluate the status of the relationship and is an opportunity for the asker to affirm that healthy relationships are mostly happy, not mostly hurtful.
2. Do you feel heard?
In a healthy relationship, each person feels equally heard. Their thoughts, opinions, personal decisions, and concerns are not only noted but given weight that leads to appropriate action or response by the hearer. In an unhealthy relationship, a person's thoughts, opinions, personal decisions, and concerns are ignored, minimized, mocked, or disregarded. If this happens on a consistent basis or in a majority of instances then this is unhealthy at best and likely a form of emotional abuse which is an open door to other types of abuse.
3. Do you feel safe?
It is natural to have some minor fears surrounding a relationship such as fear of losing a beloved partner, fear of disappointing them, fear of how they may perceive you etc. If these are self-projected fears (fears you project on the relationship due to insecurity or hurts from other relationships) and if they are experienced in moderation they are probably not dangerous (though fears due to past trauma may need to be addressed by a professional). What is not safe is if a partner themselves is causing the other partner to experience fear or concern. If a partner does or says things that make the other person fear for their physical, emotional or environmental safety... then this is not a healthy relationship. If a person feels as though they must walk on eggshells so as not to induce their partner's wrath, violence or neglect... then this is a bold sign that abuse is likely at play.
Answering "no" to one or more of these questions is cause for concern but especially if the individual answers "no" to the last question.
Asking these three questions is a subtle but pointed approach to begin asking someone you feel is in an unhealthy or possibly abusive relationship about their safety. This may work in situations where you do not know the victim well, have trouble getting them to open up to you or for those experiencing denial. If these questions are answered affirmatively follow-up questions are necessary and it is a good idea to suggest that they speak with a professional.
When asking these questions to someone you suspect is being abused, you may not receive a full, open answer. Someone in an abusive relationship may not be prepared to tell you how they really feel and depending on how long they have been abused they may not be sure what it feels like to be happy, heard and safe therefore answering with a "yes". Regardless of their answer in the moment, these questions give an opportunity for further internal evaluation for the individual possibly suffering from abuse. It also gives you a chance to remind them that they are worthy of feeling happiness, being heard and being safe, that you care and are willing to assist them in finding help.
For 24/7 help and advice please contact the RAINN Hotline at: 1.800.656.4673
Please read: How Not To Respond To Abuse Victims
Notes and Sources:
Please note that there are definitely instances where other, more direct approaches are necessary. This is just one tool that may be helpful in your situation of concern. These questions and your evaluation of the answers cannot be a substitute for a professional's evaluation. These questions are simply meant to be used to begin a conversation on a difficult and very sensitive topic.