When a woman has experienced abuse from an intimate partner, friends, family and helping professionals tend to be very free with their advice. Women get told they should try harder to make the relationship work. They should have better better boundaries. They should love their partners more or they should be patient and wait for change. Other times women are told they should leave or they should press charges. All these shoulds are hard to deal with. The advice is usually unhelpful and potentially very dangerous. For example, it can be very dangerous to leave an abusive man. If a woman is going to leave, she needs to do it with as much care and planning as possible to try to increase her safety.
Shoulding all over a woman suggests that she does not know what is best for her or her children, which is not true. We always say to women, “you are the expert on your life.” This is something we all need to remember! No one has walked in that woman’s shoes. No one knows all the complications and fears she is facing. There are no easy answers. If there was an easy answer, she would have found it by now. One of the hallmarks of abuse is the abuser takes away all the good choices and leaves only crappy choices.
So don’t “should” on a woman. Listen, listen, listen and then listen some more. I have found that any time I thought there was an easy answer, I have simply not heard enough of the story. There is a piece I am missing, like she really loves the guy or he has threatened to kill her family if she leaves. If I fall to advice giving, I disempower the woman and set myself up as the expert. This is either useless or dangerous. It also further oppresses the woman and sets her back further.