Staying Safe: Tips for Understanding and Diffusing Domestic Violence

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Unfortunately, there are times while supporting someone through a split that your loved one may be faced with potentially aggressive situations. It can be helpful to have a general understanding of the pattern of domestic violence in knowing how to recognize and diffuse a potentially dangerous situation.

The Post Separation Power and Control Wheel is a helpful tool in understanding the overall pattern of behavior used by one to establish and maintain control over the partner during and after separation. (This wheel is written with the male as the abuser; however it can be adapted because certainly both men and women find ways to gain power and control in a relationship.)

As the support person in a split, it is important to understand that violence rarely happens out of a vacuum, but instead usually erupts from an accumulation of the behaviors listed on the wheel. If you feel your loved one could be at risk for violence, review this wheel together to better understand the red flags of intimidation and control in the relationship. This understanding may help you be proactive in diffusing aggression before it escalates.

If you believe your friend/family member is a risk of domestic abuse from the former spouse, here are some guidelines to follow:

Find a safe and confidential place to talk, and honestly express your concern for her safety. Explain specifically what it is that you see (using the power and control wheel can be helpful) that warrants your concern.

Help your friend create and rehearse a safety plan. Discuss a code word or action that she can use to signal you if she is in danger and needs help. Help your friend download a safety app on her phone. Circle of 6 is one example of an app that alerts contact numbers of danger. Encourage her to have documents, spare keys, an overnight bag, and money stored safely so she can access them quickly in an emergency. Identify a safe place for her to go should the need arise, and encourage her to review the plan with her children.

Encourage your friend to develop a comprehensive support system and connect him/her with domestic violence resources, crisis lines, counselors, safe houses, etc. in your area. Provide him/her with the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

Encourage your friend to utilize safety precautions like changing her phone number, routines, routes to work, or businesses she frequents. Your loved one may also want to install a security system, and alert neighbors, school authorities, and police officers of the concern.

Should you be called by your loved one to assist him/her out of a dangerous situation, stay calm and non-judgmental. Allow everyone in the situation to keep his/her dignity. Identify the situation, not the person, as the problem. Help define the situation as fixable, and provide hope that a solution can be found. Ask good questions to help both parties think logically. Encourage a “time-out” for both parties to calm down, and then suggest a follow-up meeting in a calculated setting to address the concerns that were upsetting. If the situation cannot be de-escalated in this manner, then do not hesitate to involve law enforcement to ensure everyone’s safety.

Being familiar with the power and control wheel, and discussing and rehearsing these guidelines can help you be prepared to stay calm and resourceful in assisting your loved one with aggressive situations that may arise.

Nancy Schornack
NANCY SCHORNACK, LMHC focuses her clinical work toward women and marriages and holds her practice at Family Legacy in Johnston, Iowa. She has extensive experience in the areas of shame and vulnerability, anxiety, depression, abuse recovery, marriage counseling and divorce recovery. Nancy has been counseling for nearly 30 years and is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the State of Iowa. She is also a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator and Consultant and has received extensive training to deliver the model based on the work of Dr. Brené Brown. Phone: 515-727-1338 Email:

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