Helping a friend in an unhealthy relationship or friendship

If you see the signs of unhealthy behaviors and suspect that someone you care about may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship of any kind, learn how you can support them.
Listen and provide support. Your friend needs to be the one who decides to end their relationship.

Table of Contents

What you need to know

If your friend is in an unhealthy relationship, they may not even realize what they’re experiencing is unhealthy or abusive. If they are aware, they could struggle with planning the right time to leave. Your friend might think it’s their fault, causing them to stay in the relationship even though it’s unhealthy for them. 

While you can support them, your friend must be the one to decide to end their relationship. Whatever decision they make, it’s important for you to respect their feelings while also showing you care about them. 

What you can do

Let your friend know that you’re there for them. Sometimes just listening and being supportive can really help. Here are some tips:

  • Be a patient listener. Let your friend know that you hear what they’re saying and that you’ll support whatever they decide to do.
  • Remind your friend that they deserve respect, honesty, and open communication
  • Help them to see that abuse is never okay, and that it’s never their fault
  • Keep the focus on your friend and not on the other person in their relationship. It will help your friend feel comfortable talking to you about the relationship, even if it continues.
  • Don’t contact the other person in the relationship or post about the relationship on social media. That will only make things harder for your friend.
  • Search for resources in your community that can provide information and guidance, and share them with your friend
  • Help identify and connect with a trusted adult to bring in support for both you and your friend
  • Continue being there for your friend after the relationship is over. Your support matters just as much then.
  • Practice self-care and boundaries. You can be a good friend and still prioritize taking care of yourself. 
  • Help them seek professional help when they are ready. If you don’t know how to approach this subject with your friend, you can chat with an advocate from the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline. Call: (866) 331-9474 or text: loveis to 22522.
  • If your friend is in an abusive relationship and decides to leave the unhealthy relationship, help them connect with a safe adult to develop a safety plan, which is a personalized, practical plan to help keep them safe if they are in an abusive relationship. A personal safety plan will address their physical safety and emotional safety and may include information about how to leave the relationship and find support legally or with safety and law enforcement. 

What you can say

Begin a respectful conversation about your concern by asking:

  • “How are you feeling about your relationship?”
  • “I’ve noticed that you feel bad when [person] gets jealous. Does that happen often?”
  • “You seem upset with [person] today. Do you want to talk about it?”
An illustration of three speaking bubbles

What if your friend is being abusive?

It’s difficult to see someone you care about hurt others, but it’s important to speak up and let your friend know what you’re seeing.

Your friend is the only person who can decide to change their unhealthy behavior. It’s not easy for people to accept responsibility for their unhealthy behavior, but you can help by talking to them about how to have healthier relationships.

What you can do

  • Learn the warning signs of abuse so you can help them recognize their unhealthy behaviors 
  • Don’t let your friend blame others for their behavior 
  • Help your friend focus on the feelings of the person they’re hurting and not the reasons for their own hurtful behavior 
  • Be there to support them. It may be hard for them to face their own hurtful behaviors 
  • Remind them that making a positive change will create a better, healthier relationship for them and the people they care about 
  • Set an example by treating them with respect and having healthy relationships in your own life 
  • Help them seek professional help if they are willing. If you’re not sure how to approach this subject, you can:

What can you say

If you notice unhealthy behaviors, here are a few ways to start the conversation:

  •  “How are things going in your relationship?”
  • “Things seem intense with you and [person], can we talk about that?”
  • “I care about you, but I’ve noticed that our friends are feeling hurt by you lately. Is everything okay?”
An illustration of three speaking bubbles
Reach out to the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline. Call: (866) 331-9474 or text: loveis to 22522

Wondering if a relationship is healthy? Take the RESPECTfully Healthy Relationships Quiz.

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