Sometimes, I learn the most when I simply listen.

I phoned one of my brothers a few days ago. As we were catching up, he mentioned that he and his wife took an out of state trip to Michigan from Kentucky by car. How did he decide on Michigan?
“I wanted to see a car museum, and my wife loves quilting, so I got online and found a location where we could do both.”
This, from my oldest brother who is all thumbs with computers, and whose wife doesn’t travel easily due to health problems. It wasn’t a simple trip, but they both had a wonderful time.
I’ve repeated this story a few times to married  friends this week, and it always seems to catch at the back of their throats, this act of uncommon chivalry more than 50 years into a marriage.

Later, I attended my oldest daughter’s ultimate frisbee tournament.  My more secretive daughter used her quick break from frisbee-playing to visit. She told me that her new boyfriend had objected greatly to her playing frisbee. It kept her away from him, and he maligned her participation on the team. My eyes may have widened, but I said nothing. “And I told him he should be supportive of my hobbies and interests if he wants to be with me,” my daughter said before she re-joined her team.

She’d paid attention. All those years of talking about the signs of abusive relationships had taken root.

When my daughter was a toddler, I got my first and perhaps best job as a domestic violence advocate at the local battered women’s agency. 

We gave clients access to information like the online handout  below from AWAIC. There, I learned the art of active listening. Active listening was followed up with a referral. No one should have to suffer alone, nor should they feel pressured or judged by professionals or loved ones to make the difficult choices ahead. As my girls grew up, I showed them the handouts I used with clients to start conversations, both about my work, and about safe relationships.

How is your relationship?
Does your partner:

  • Embarrass you with put-downs?
  • Control what you do, who you see or talk to or where you go?
  • Stop you from seeing your friends or family members?
  • Take your money or Social Security check, make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
  • Make all of the decisions?
  • Tell you that you’re a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?
  • Prevent you from working or attending school?
  • Act like the abuse is no big deal, it’s your fault, or even deny doing it?
  • Destroy your property or threaten to kill your pets?
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives or other weapons?
  • Shove you, slap you, choke you, or hit you?
  • Force you to try and drop charges?
  • Threaten to commit suicide?
  • Threaten to kill you? 

Listen and refer. That was the essential role of the advocate, as well as safety planning.

We all have opinions about how relationships should go. We want the best for our loved ones. We know they deserve to be treated well. We know emotional abuse is often the first sign of what will later become an violent relationship. 

Do you have a friend or loved one who you think is in an unhealthy relationship? 

Listen and refer. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can find resources accessible to your loved one. 

Do you know of an especially healthy relationship that inspires you?

Talk it up with your circle of friends! We can set these examples as our new normal.
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