Communication tips

He never talked about it, not even to me, until nearly 60 years later.

Clear communication is a cornerstone of developing and maintaining positive, supportive relationships. Through communication we let people know what we are thinking and feeling and we hear from them about where they are at, what their interests and concerns are.   

Whether someone has disclosed abuse or not, all relationships benefit from communicating in a way where each person feels connected and supported, listened to, respected, heard and understood.  Below are some general communication tips. 

Keep communicating, connecting and checking in 

Create a safe, supportive and non-judgmental space for you both to connect and express yourselves.  

  • Prioritise communicating to connect, to be there with and for each other: sexual abuse and dealing with its effects can be a profoundly isolating experience.  
  • Check in regularly, maybe at the beginning or end of the day/week, to hear how each of you is travelling? How are you feeling?  
  • Make time for both individual and relationship ‘check ins’ – How are you? How are we?  What’s been happening or is on your mind?  
  • While face to face communication may be preferable, do make use of texts and Apps to keep communication going and to connect around everyday activities, fun and enjoyable stuff. 

Regular check ins and supportive conversations provide a sense of connection and belonging.  Just to know someone is there, is thinking about you, cares and is concerned for your wellbeing is helpful.   

Active listening  

Active listening is a communication skill that involves going beyond just hearing the words someone is saying.  It’s about demonstrating genuine interest in the person, about seeking to understand their experience, the meaning and intent behind the words. It’s about listening:  

  • to understand each other’s point of view 
  • to understand each other’s experience 
  • to understand each other’s sense making and the impacts of an event or experience 
  • to hear what is important or is troubling them in the present or has been in the past  
  • to hear what will assist them 
  • Active listening can involve, repeating and reflecting back and seeking clarification that you have heard what the other is seeking to communicate.   
  • Active listening, is about giving people your attention, providing acknowledgements and appropriate eye contact, paying attention to the tone and non-verbal communication cues, as well as the content of each conversation, taking turns and time to listen without interruption. 
  • Active listening communicates that we are there physically and emotionally present and interested in each other’s wellbeing. 

Communicating with purpose  

While often the purpose of a communication and what someone is seeking is clear from the outset, it can on occasions be useful to check in and clarify how you can best support the person. A partner, family member or friend may: 

  • want to update you or let you know what is going on and nothing more at present 
  • just want to talk something through or express frustration or distress 
  • be seeking your assistance in looking at options 
  • value your guidance and support in addressing a difficulty 

When someone is articulating a personal experience or difficulty, be careful not to move too quickly into problem solving mode.  Knowing that someone cares and is there with them can it assist in addressing the impacts of trauma.   

It can be helpful to ask ‘How can I best help?’ – recognising that you do not have shoulder or share the burden, that it can play a valuable role in gathering information, finding and linking someone in with a GP or other professional support.  

People communicate in different ways at different times 

There is no established communication handbook or style guide, people are different and communicate in different ways at different times.  

  • Everyone is different – survivors are individuals with different experiences and challenges and these can change overtime 
  • Sometimes people need time to think things through or work out what it is they want to say.   
  • Sometimes it is hard to find the words to express an experience or say what you are feeling.    
  • Keeping the connection alive, listening and communicating care and concern and interest in the person’s wellbeing is valuable.   
  • Sometimes going for a walk, watching a program or sporting event together or just sitting with someone without speaking, is a most powerful form of communication. 

Foreground supportive communication 

Communication is enhanced through speaking and acting in ways where each person feels that: 

  • they are appreciated, valued and respected,  
  • they are listened to with empathy and compassion 
  • their individual knowledge, skills and choices are acknowledged and respected.   

In seeking to foreground supportive communication, particularly when talking about distressing or challenging topics, it is useful to: 

  • Maintain an awareness of your own and the other person’s energy level, needs, boundaries and limits 
  • Own what is yours, use I statements.  Stay focused on the present topic of conversation.   
  • Develop an awareness for when the communication may be caught in a negative spiral or loop, when the conversation is going too deep or is no longer helpful. 
  • Be prepared to push the pause button and call ‘Time Out’, when you are feeling overwhelmed, are struggling or concerned about safety.  Do this in a way that acknowledges the importance of the topic of discussion and prioritises supportive communication.    
  • Recognise the value in talking about positive achievements, interests, everyday activities, fun and enjoyable experiences.    

In communicating and being with someone who has experienced childhood abuse, it is useful to recognise that 

  • Some topics and life experiences are difficult to talk about and to avoid pressure cooking or forcing conversation.   
  • Everyone has their own story to tell and their own experience (both survivors and supporters).  Listening is a two way street.    
  • It is unlikely to be useful for partners, family members or friends to hear ‘all the details’ of an experience of abuse or ‘all of the impacts’.   
  • Recovery and change is not linear: there may be significant steps forward and new challenges to navigate.  Noticing the small wins, offering words of encouragement and support can help sustain us all through difficult times. 
  • Communicating and acting with kindness, empathy and compassion benefits all of us.   
  • For people who have experienced abuse and their loved ones, it is helpful to prioritise communicating, connecting and checking in.   

SAMSN wants you to know that you are not alone and that you are valued and appreciated and help is available to assist both survivors and supporters. 

We recommend you also check out our companion pages on  

Prioritise safety and wellbeing 

Please note the information contained on this page is general in content and is not a substitute for professional advice.  We encourage you to prioritise your safety and wellbeing at all times and to consider speaking with a qualified health care professional.