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July's Ask An Expert:

I am worried my adult child is in an abusive relationship. What do I do?

It can be difficult to watch your child make choices that you wouldn't make. Sometimes, we just don't like the partner they've chosen and it's good to be aware of where your judgements are coming from. But if you really believe that your child is in a relationship that is unhealthy or abusive, it is absolutely understandable that you'd want to intervene and 'save them'.

However, if you step in uninvited, you risk alienating your child, making them even more unsafe, or possibly impairing your ability to be an avenue of support for them. So what can you do?

  • Be honest: you can tell your child what you see and hear and what concerns you about the relationship without being critical of them. Ask them how they are feeling about what you've perceived; is there anything that is making them feel uncomfortable or unsafe?

  • Be compassionate and respectful: whatever you may think of their partner, your child chose them for a reason. Be respectful of their choices. Relationships are complex and challenging. Don't make them feel like they're failing.

  • Be supportive: whether that's offering a place to stay; or ensuring they and their partner are welcome at family gatherings; or providing your child with resources for counselling and help, all of these things keep them actively supported. The last thing you want to do is isolate your child if they are in an abusive situation.

  • Set clear boundaries: this may sound counterintuitive to being supportive. But you have to think of your own mental health, too. If there's a point where you just can't talk about the relationship further, tell your child that you need a break. Or that you're concerned but feel you don't have the knowledge to help them with their current issues. That doesn't mean you abandon them - just that you give them other options rather than having them entirely depend on you. 

  • Learn to let go: sometimes, our children don't want to hear what we have to say or they are not ready to acknowledge the abuse. Rather than harping on it, let them know you're there and allow them to make their own choices. If they aren't alienated from you or isolated from you, you are still an avenue of safety and support for them if they ever need it.

We know this stuff isn't easy. Maintaining healthy connections with our children, no matter their age, requires a lot of juggling, understanding, and biting your tongue sometimes. The worry and stress can sometimes feel overwhelming. But please know that you are doing everything you can when you foster healthy relationships with your children. If they feel supported and safe with you, they'll know that they can come to you when they need to.

If you are looking for information on supports in your area, give us a call or email us. We can book you for a phone consult with one of our clinical team who can help find resources for you and your loved ones. 780.460.2195 ext 301 or For 24/7 services, check out our Info & Help section. If you or anyone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911.

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