How to Help a Friend in a Toxic Relationship
by Rebecca Hieronymi
Relationships can take work, but love should never hurt. Sometimes relationships don’t just take a turn for the worse but can become dangerous or even life threatening. Abusive and manipulative behavior can be hard to spot which is why victims often choose to stay in a relationship, attempting to normalize and fix the situation. We understand how hard it can be to intervene if you have a friend or family member who may be involved with an unhealthy romantic partner. If you’re scared for that person but are unsure of what to do, here are 6 ways to help your friend in a toxic relationship.
Don’t judge or criticize them for being in the relationship. Your friend has the right to make their own mistakes, and you should be respectful of your friend’s choice to be with their partner. Although our first instinct is to be protective over our loved ones, it’s a bit more complicated when they can’t recognize right away that they’re in danger. Your friend will be less likely to listen to your perspective if you’re judging or criticizing their actions. Instead approach them from a place of compassion.
Approach them gently about the concerns you have. It’s important to approach your friend gently about your concerns because you don’t want them to feel upset or smothered. If you upset your friend, chances are they will confide in their partner, and their partner may then use that to manipulate your friend and obtain even more power over them. When you talk to your friend, choose a quiet and comfortable environment. We understand it can be intimidating to bring up the topic, but with enough compassion and understanding it can steer in the right direction.
Give your friend a self-esteem boost. Let your friend know that they are loved. If all someone has ever known is pain, disaster and destruction, how do you even begin to tell them that they deserve more? If they’ve never been exposed to a loving healthy relationship, you can’t expect them to know what it is right away, instead lead them there and show them what healthy love means. Help your friend build up their self-esteem and encourage them to be kind to themselves, listen to their needs, and show them that they’re capable of great things.
Tell them about your past experience in unhealthy relationships. If you’re a survivor of intimate partner violence, let your friend know why it didn’t work out and why the relationship had to end. Let them know that the signs weren’t always obvious and you may have even made the same excuses for your ex’s abusive behavior. The best thing about failed relationships is that they make us wiser, and by sharing the lessons you learned with your friend, their perspective can start to shift.
Be honest and check in on them often. Your friend may not heed your advice right away but that doesn’t mean that they won’t later on down the road. So, don’t give up and don’t lose hope. Your friend needs you now more than ever, so be honest. Let them know that you care about their safety; your persistence may even save their life.
If things start to get out of hand, seek a professional.The more support your friend has the better, so inform their family about the situation if they aren’t already aware. Talk to a professional such as a guidance counselor, Domestic Violence Victim Advocate or a psychologist. If things continue to escalate and your friend is in immediate danger, it’s best to call police for help. It takes time for someone to heal from a toxic relationship. Let your friend know about resources they can turn to and continue to be supportive. Let them know they are loved and that they don’t have to face it alone.
We understand how hard it can be to watch a loved one struggle and how challenging it is to intervene. If you or someone you know has experienced intimate partner violence, Crisis Services of North Alabama can help. Please contact us locally at 256.574.5826, on our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000, or at our website www.csna.org.