What Can We Do?

Practitioners may find themselves challenged to understand the level of power and control a person has over their intimate partner. This lack of understanding can inadvertently add to the harm caused by abuse (1).

In order to not cause further harm to people experiencing abuse, we need to understand the fuller context of the situation. To start, we can work to distinguish who is doing what to whom and with what impact.

By doing so, we can better understand any given act: the intent of the person abusing, the meaning to the person being abused, and the effect on the person being abused.

Knowing the circumstance is very important. The following three questions will help.

1. Is this action part of an ongoing pattern of behavior?

For example: Your colleague calls in sick from work a lot, and more than once you’ve heard her on the phone with her husband whispering “please don’t be mad.” Abusive behaviors don’t happen just once – they occur over and over. It is a pattern.

2. Does this pattern of behavior instill fear?

Fear is a powerful way to exercise control over someone. A person who abuses may use ongoing threatened and actual violence, isolation, economic, or emotional abuse that instill fear and exercise control.

3. Does this pattern of behavior result in control over another person?

A key element of intimate partner violence is control over another person. Intimate partner violence allows a person to exercise control over one’s partner. If the balance of power shifts, there is a risk of escalating abuse and violence to maintain control.

What else is important?

Listen with support and without judgment

  • Be thoughtful in our responses

Show respect to parents around their children

  • Talk respectfully
  • Respect their wishes
  • Talk to parents privately away from their children for sensitive conversations

Offer practical resources

  • Find out what immediate needs the family has (e.g., food, housing, medical care, sleep, cell phone)
  • Find out what other needs the parents and children have (e.g., someone to watch the children, car repairs, assistance with utility bills, job, support in school)
  • Help parents spend stress-free time with their children

Talk with parents about the harm caused by the abuse

  • Discuss how children are impacted by intimate partner violence
  • When people question the impact of violence or abuse and believe things will change if they do something different, discuss ways that they can reduce the possibility of harm and increase safety
  • Discuss the risks of intergenerational transmission of abuse and how to break the cycle


  1. Adapted from “Repairing the Harm: How Family and Friends Can Help Battered Mothers and their Children” (Praxis International).