Domestic violence affects each person differently and can happen to anyone regardless of their social, education, or financial status. While red flags are not always proof that someone is in an abusive relationship, they are worth noting, even if your friend does not recognize them themselves. Sometimes it takes another person to point out red flags for the person being abused to realize that their relationship is not healthy. The way you approach and respond to your friend without being judgmental or putting blame on the person can alter the way the view their relationship, which might lead to healthier choices, thoughts, and actions.

How to tell if someone is an abusive relationship

If you think your friend might be in an abusive relationship, there are signs you can look for to confirm your suspicion. Look for changes in your friend’s behavior. This can include them becoming withdrawn, quiet, fearful, and anxious. Here are some signs to look out for:  


  1. Low self-esteem;
  2. Extremely apologetic;
  3. Seeming fearful;
  4. Changes in sleep habits;
  5. Agitation, anxiety;
  6. Developing an addiction;
  7. Symptoms of depression;
  8. Losing interest quickly; and/or
  9. Talking about or attempting suicide.


  1. Black eyes;
  2. Busted lips;
  3. Marks on neck;
  4. Bruises on arms; and/or
  5. Sprained wrists.


  1. They are reserved and distant;
  2. Drops out of activities they would usually enjoy;
  3. Cancels appointments or meetings;
  4. Is often late to work or other appointments;
  5. Exhibits excessive privacy concerning their personal life or the person they are in a relationship with; and/or
  6. Begins to isolate themselves by cutting off contact with friends and family members.

It is painful to see someone you care for be mistreated.  If you have started to notice red flags between your friend and his/her partner and you want to be supportive, below is a guide to help you start that conversation and maybe even save your friend from a harmful relationship.

Intervening in a friend’s relationship by bring up the red flags you’ve noticed can be challenging. You can start by reminding them what healthy relationships look like and ask them how you can help.

What questions should you ask?

  • How have things been with you two lately? 
  • What is an argument between you and your partner usually like?  
  • What have you been doing to try to work things out?  
  • How does [partner’s name] treat you when they’re upset?  
  • What do you wish things between you guys were like?  
  • When is the last time you felt safe and happy in your relationship? 
  • What do you want out of a partner?  
  • How do you see things playing out if nothing changes?  
  • What’s keeping you in the relationship?  
  • What are you thinking about doing?  
  • How can I help?  

How to respond

Understanding the dynamics of an abusive relationship whether it is physical, sexual or emotional, can be really important when responding to a friend. Knowing what domestic violence is and how it can affect a relationship will help you understand your friend more clearly and help you ask less offensive questions.

After you ask the basic questions, let your friend know that you are concerned. They might be too ashamed to talk about it or even defend their partner by making up excuses for them. It is common for people to avoid admitting they are in an abusive relationship.

Avoid telling your friend what they should do. In abusive relationships, the abusive partner is constantly taking away the other partner’s right to make their own choices and have their own thoughts or feelings. Let them know you trust their decision and will be supportive throughout the duration of the relationship.

Encouraging small steps

Encourage small steps to help them find options for their specific needs. This will help them feel more empowered to move toward leaving the relationship, if that is something they want to do. Below are examples to help you suggest small steps.

  1. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline;
  2. Reach out to the National Center for Victims of Crime;
  3. Speak to a counselor or therapist;
  4. Tell them they do not have to make any big decisions right away;
  5. Encourage them to practice self-care;
  6. Help them create a safety plan; and
  7. Identify resources that are qualified.

Practicing self-care after secondary trauma

Secondary trauma is real and common. Supporting someone in an abusive relationship can take a mental and emotional toll on someone in which you can find yourself getting frustrated with your friend. This is a good time to take a step back and focus on your own self-care so your frustration does not come between you and your friend. Taking time for yourself can recharge you and help you further your support for them. You can never save or fix a person and ultimately, it is always the other person’s choice to leave or not.

If you or a loved one are experiencing abuse and need assistance, self-help resources are available via www.texaslawhelp.org.  If you or a loved one are in need of an attorney or would like to explore other resources, you can utilize if they are being abused, you can visit the Texas Crime Victim Legal Assistance Network.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org.