The holidays are often a time of joy and community, but for people in abusive relationships, the holidays can be stressful and dangerous. Spending time with family and friends, dealing with financial stress and traveling can make safety planning a challenge. Family and friends of survivors may also struggle to find ways to help or be supportive. We wanted to offer a few suggestions for survivors and friends or family of survivors for making the holidays feel safer.
Many survivors feel isolated in their unhealthy or abusive relationships. Reaching out to family and friends can be an important step in healing. It can help to discuss safe times and ways to communicate. You might consider if there are times during the day when the survivor is typically away from their abusive partner. Or, it might be safer for them to email or text rather than call. (It’s best to make sure the abusive partner does not have access to the survivor’s email account or phone before using these methods to communicate). Make a plan to keep checking in during the holidays. You can also create a code word, which allows the survivor to let someone know they need help without tipping off their partner. Be sure to agree on what action the code word calls for: does it mean you will call them, come over, contact the police, etc.?
It may feel instinctual for family or friends to say an abusive partner is not welcome at a holiday function. You have the right to say who is or isn’t welcome in your home, but emotional support and safety planning can help both you and the survivor to move forward. Keep in mind you can talk or chat with a Hotline advocate to figure out what will work best for you. If you’re worried about someone who is experiencing abuse and you’re not sure what to say, learn more about how to help a friend or family member here.
Traveling is a common part of holiday plans. It makes sense that survivors would not feel safe spending time in a small space, like a car or plane, with someone who hurts them. We have tips for safety planning around travel for emotional/physical safety and if you’re traveling with children.
Planning for Visits
A survivor knows best what will help them feel safe, so consider discussing ways to make parties or family visits safer. An example is asking if alcohol tends to worsen an abusive partner’s behavior. Could the family or friend group make a commitment to not have alcohol around, or to limit the amount served? If you’re a survivor who does not feel safe sleeping in the same room as your partner, consider talking with your hosts or family about finding a separate couch or sharing a room with other guests or family members.
Planning for Time Alone
Abuse is about power and control, and many unhealthy or abusive partners may try exert control by keeping their partners from spending time alone or with others. So, it can be helpful to brainstorm ways to get some space. If you’re a family member or friend, you might ask the survivor to go on a shopping trip or errand with you, go for a walk or workout, invite them to a religious celebration or have them help you with a chore/holiday prep activity. If you’re a survivor, consider brainstorming reasons to get out, like helping someone with holiday plans or gift shopping; you can get creative with these ideas.
Safety Planning with Children
Protective parents work really hard to make the holidays a special time for their children. But what can help when your partner or co-parent is abusive? If you have children with you this holiday, our post on safety planning with children is a good place to start. The post covers unsupervised visitation, safe child exchange and ideas for children living with an abusive parent.
The holiday season is stressful for many people, but getting through the holidays while experiencing abuse can feel really overwhelming. Taking time for your health and wellness can make a big difference in how you feel. To learn more about how to build in self-care while staying safe, check out this page.
Seeing someone you care about being hurt is also stressful. Remind yourself that you can’t make decisions for someone else, but you can ask a survivor what they need and offer help. We do our best helping when we are taking care of ourselves, so try to make your own plans to get rest, get good nutrition, talk to supportive friends and do things you enjoy. GoodTherapy.org also has a great page on self-care tips and ideas.
At Safehope, we believe everyone deserves a safe, healthy holiday. If you’d like more help with safety planning or self-care this holiday season, call us anytime at 316-283-0350 or 800-487-0510
This post was contributed by Emma, an advocate at loveisrespect