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How To Help a Friend In an Unhealthy Relationship

By: Leah Hovey

Through the past few years I have watched the friends around me go through various relationships. Some that shaped who they were, some that are still going strong, and some that ended in tears. The relationships I have seen blossom before me have all impacted my friends in a multitude of ways; but it is the toxic, abusive, unhealthy relationships that have done the most damage.

Abusive behaviours, gaslighting, controlling personalities, manipulative tactics and unfaithfulness can all be a part of a toxic relationship. We all can say we have watched at least one friend go through a type of commitment like this, but did we know how to help them at the time?

Research has found that when an individual is in a toxic relationship they will disclose to at least one informal person in their lives (this could be a friend, coworker, family member etc.) and the most helpful response is emotional support from said confidant (Sylaska & Edwards, 2014). The trouble with this however, is that many of us don’t know how to truly help a friend going through something as traumatic as this. Some may think to refer said friend to couples counselling but this is a mistake. If there is a power balance within this relationship, and many times there will be in toxic relationships, counselling may not be the best option (Colorado State University). This is because the individual with the most power can flip the situation and manipulate the other partner to not expose their true feelings.

So what can we do? Based upon the research from various research articles as well as from personal experience, here are six things one can do to help their friend leave a bad relationship.

  1. Do not criticize them or use judgmental language. This can make your friend feel invalid and this may cause them to never open up to you or anyone else about the relationship.

  2. Disclose with them your past about unhealthy relationships you have been involved in. This could provide them with similarities between your story and theirs. By seeing how you dealt with toxic behaviours can give them a guide on how to deal with their partner.

  3. Remember to voice your concerns in a gentle, compassionate tone. Again, judgemental or harsh language could make them turn to their partner as a response. Their partner may even influence them into believing your concerns are invalid.

  4. Listen. This is always key. By listening to their concerns this will help them feel validated and cared for.

  5. Remember to check in with them often to see how they are. Ask questions and always try to spend time with them.

  6. If you are informed by your friend that the relationship has turned violent and dangerous, immediate action should be taken. Talk to their family or close friends and recommend resources for your friend to call. You may even want to call specific resources to intervene and take action.

Remember, if violence is occurring in the relationship you must tell someone. Refer to the following link for various contacts to help a friend: References

A Guide for Supporting a Friend in an Unhealthy Relationship. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Bosch, K., & Bergen, M. B. (2006). The influence of supportive and nonsupportive persons in helping rural women in abusive partner relationships become free from abuse. Journal of Family Violence, 21(5), 311-320.

Sylaska, K. M., & Edwards, K. M. (2014). Disclosure of intimate partner violence to informal social support network members: A review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 15(1), 3-21.

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