image of a woman who has been abused by her partner

For anyone doing any sort of coaching (certainly relationship coaching), we have a responsibility to have an understanding and comfortability around assessing for, and talking about, relationship abuse. And to be confident creating space where the folks we are working with are able to engage in conversation with us around these very vulnerable and often scary parts of life. 

Given the statistics alone, the likelihood of working with folks who either have experienced or are experiencing some sort of relationship abuse is exponential. In order to provide safe space, we walk into this work with the expectation that everyone joining us in this space has either has been or is being affected by relationship abuse. What that means is that as coaches, it is imperative that we are incorporating language and opportunity for assessment, and infusing messages of our being a safe place for our clients to share. 

In order to successfully assess for abuse, we will be covering the following topics:

  1. What is relationship abuse?
  2. How do I embody the energy of being a safe, non biased, unattached space?
  3. How do we ask questions around relationship abuse that feels open and non threatening, and creates an experience for the person we’re working with of feeling seen, heard, connected to, honored?

What is relationship abuse?

Relationship abuse, relationship violence, and domestic violence all are interchangeable words. The basis of relational violence is one partner intentionally manipulating and/or controlling another in an effort to make someone feel powerless and or act a certain way. Abuse is a cycle, and tends to get worse over time. The cycle is: 1. Tension building, 2. Incident of violence, 3. Reconciliation. Relationship violence can be physical, emotional, and economical.

What does relationship violence look/sound like?

Coercion, belittlement, humiliation, intimidation, isolation, stalking, gaslighting, physical violence, emotional manipulation, constant monitoring, threats against children, financial withholding, religious manipulation, and can be physically violent or not.


How do I embody the energy of being a safe, non biased, unattached space?

  • Attitude of approachability:

When we are talking about conversations directly speaking to relationship violence and assessing, that our ATTITUDE be one of approachability. This is by far the most important thing. We do this by using a soft voice intonation, using body language that’s approachable, being present physically and mentally, and by using open ended questions.

  • Believe the person’s account:

We ALWAYS believe the person’s account of what happened. It is not our job to decide if this person’s account is accurate or not, it is our job to support them in getting the helps and safe space that they need. 

  • Respect for the integrity and authority in each person’s life

We do this by infusing the clients with the belief that we trust their ability to make decisions for themselves. This can sound like:

-”You tell me where you are ready to go from here”

-”We are on your timeline”

-”I trust that you know what is best for you”

-”I see you as someone who is capable and brilliant at taking care of yourself”


How do we ask questions around relationship abuse that feels open and non threatening, and creates an experience for the person we’re working with of feeling seen, heard, connected to, honored?

Normalizing that many people go through this, reminding the client that they are not alone, and instilling messages that we are available should they ever want to discuss this topic is the first step. We want to come into this conversation with the energy of “I am here for you, and this is a safe place for you to share.”

Asking indirect questions and framing the questions:

Before we ask the (sometimes hard) open ended questions, we can frame it first with a soft opening, and then follow with a more direct open ended question. This can sound like:

Asking Indirectly:

-”How are things at home?”

-”What about stress levels? How are things going at work?  “

-”How do you feel about the relationships in your life?”

-”What, if anything, has happened in your relationship that you never thought would?”

-”What challenges, if any, are you experiencing in your relationship?”


Framing the Question

-”I’ve missed signs in the past because I haven’t asked the right questions, so I wanted to talk to you about your relationship.”

-”We pay a lot of attention to our physical health (exercise, heart disease risk etc) and yet we need to focus equally on the health of our relationships. How would you describe the health of your relationship?”

-”Violence affects so many families, causing physical and emotional issues for parents and children. I can help connect you with services if you’re interested.”

Throughout this process, we want to ensure we are not letting our experience/bias/agenda get in the way. In order to be a safe and effective coach for those experiencing relationship abuse, the goal is not to “save” people from unhealthy relationships, but rather to support them through the process. Our goal, over time, is to instill a belief that the options aren’t “unhealthy connection vs no connection” but rather “unhealthy connection vs healthy connection.” When we show up as safe, securely attached, unbiased support systems for our clients, we get to support that learning process. 

If we ever feel that we are experiencing something outside of our scope, find ourselves triggered or wanting to impose an opinion on what the client “should do,” it is imperative for the wellbeing of the client that we refer them to someone else. 

For any extra support or questions, we encourage you to reach out and get in touch with us via email or phone. There is further information as well at the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.