How to Help Adult Children to Recognize Abusive Relationships

by Kimberly Turtenwald

Looking from the outside of an abusive relationship, it is easy to recognize the abuse and wonder why a loved one stays. However, when you are in this type of relationship, especially when the only abuse is emotional or verbal, it can be hard to recognize what is happening. It is easier to rationalize what is going on or believe that you are in love and this is just who the person is. As a parent, you may try to protect your adult child from an abuser, but you can only help him recognize the situation.

Learn to recognize the signs associated with different types of abuse. The signs of physical abuse are much easier to see than those from emotional abuse. Reading books about abusive relationships can help you learn more.

Seek the help of a counselor to learn how to handle the situation. If you do not approach your adult child carefully, you may find her pulling away from you rather than listening to you. A counselor can help you work through your own feelings and guide you in helping your adult child.

Set aside a time to talk to your adult child about what is going on in his relationship. Let him know you are there to listen and help in any way you can. Avoid telling him what he should do, as an abused person may see this as another form of control.

Encourage your adult child to seek counseling for herself, either with you or alone. A neutral third party can help her sort out her own feelings and see what she needs to do more clearly.

Listen to what your adult child has to say and offer your support. Sometimes he will need you to just listen. At other times, he may need you to offer a place to stay or a way out. Listening to what he says will help you know what he is looking for in terms of support.

Follow the lead of your adult child, especially once you have expressed your concerns. Some people take longer than others to take action in an abusive relationship. Give her time to absorb the information and reach out for your help. Once she knows you are there, she will come to you when she is ready.


  • Avoid dealing directly with your adult child's significant other. This can make things worse for your child instead of better because the abuser will be angry at the thought of losing control.

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