In the past few months there has been more attention and awareness about domestic violence in the media, thanks in part to the success of the HBO show Big Little Lies, which centers around a realistic abusive relationship. Part of the reason why Big Little Lies was so jarring for many people to see was that the featured couple (played by Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård) didn't seem to fit the typical description of what domestic violence "looks like." But that's just the thing — domestic violence doesn't have a cookie-cutter look, because it can happen to anyone.
Domestic violence also doesn't always present as physical violence, which is a common misconception that people have, says Rachel Goldsmith, LCSW-R, associate vice president for the Domestic Violence Shelter Programs at Safe Horizon. "People presume that if you have not been physically abused, then you're not a survivor of domestic violence," she says. But simply put, domestic violence is defined as a pattern of power and control in a relationship. "A person can try to take power or control over another person in a lot of different ways that aren't physical, and still could be controlling that individual," Goldsmith says.
There are a whole list of abusive behaviors that would fall under the umbrella of domestic violence, and being able to spot them is key to prevention. If you think that a loved one might be in an abusive or violent relationship, express your concern about the things you're seeing from a place of compassion, and provide concrete examples, Goldsmith says. "Know that it can take a while before someone feels safe enough to admit they're experiencing abuse, but it's never a waste to express to a friend that you're concerned," she says.