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, you can support them and help them stay safe.

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What you need to know

If your friend is in an unhealthy relationship, their feelings may be complicated, and they may not realize what they’re experiencing is unhealthy or even abusive. Your friend might feel like it’s their fault. Even if they realize that their relationship is unhealthy, they may stay in the relationship.

Your friend must be the one to make the decision to end their relationship. Even if you want them to, they might not be ready. If they do choose to leave, they may feel sad and lonely when it’s over. You can respect your friend’s feelings while also showing that you care about them.

What you can do

  • If you have a friend who you think needs help, let them know that you’re there for them. Even if you think there’s not much you can do, just listening and being supportive can really help. 
  • 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. Nobody deserves a relationship that includes violence of any kind.
  • Keep the focus on your friend and not on the other person. It will help your friend feel comfortable talking to you about the relationship – even if it continues.
  • Don’t get involved in contacting the ex-friend or partner, or posting about the relationship on social media. That will only make things harder for your friend.
  • Get informed about resources in your community that can provide information and guidance – and share those resources with your friend.
  • If your friend decides to leave the unhealthy relationship, help them develop a safety plan.
  • Continue being there for your friend after the relationship is over – your support matters just as much then.
  • 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.

What you can say

Here are some ways to respectfully begin a conversation about your concern for your friend:

  • “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?”

If your friend is being abusive

It is difficult to see someone you care about hurt others. You might not want to admit that your friend is abusive. It’s hard to speak up, but if you remain silent or make excuses for them, you’re supporting their hurtful behavior.

Your friend is the only person who can decide to change their unhealthy behavior, but there are things you can do to encourage them to respect their friends and/or the person they’re dating. It’s not easy for people to accept responsibility for their unhealthy behavior. If they try to justify their hurtful actions, you can speak up. You don’t need to turn against your friend, but you can help by talking to them about having healthier relationships.

  • Learn the warning signs of abuse so you can help them recognize their unhealthy behaviors.
  • Your friend may try to blame others for their behavior. Try not to support these feelings or help them justify the abuse.
  • Help your friend focus on the feelings of the person they’re hurting. Don’t minimize the severity of their 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 tell you that they want to work toward changing their unhealthy habits. If you don’t know how to approach this subject, you can chat with a National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline advocate. Call: (866) 331-9474 or text: loveis to 22522.

What you can say

Here are some ways to start a conversation with your friend if you notice some unhealthy behaviors:

  •  “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?”

Additional Resources