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How To Talk To A Friend In An Unhealthy Relationship

How To Talk To A Friend In An Unhealthy Relationship

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It’s not easy to know how to talk to a friend when we’re worried they’re in an unhealthy relationship.  We might wonder if it’s even our place to say something – what if we do, and they get mad and we damage the friendship?

We want to assure you that it’s always our business to talk to our friends about their relationships.

The time to start the conversation is at the beginning of the relationship. 

Typically, when a friend starts talking to someone, we say things like, “You’re so lucky!” and “You two are perfect together.” This makes sense – we’re happy for our friend and want to show our support.  But, actually, when we tell friends their relationship is “perfect,” it can cause them to ignore their partner’s unhealthy behaviors, or not share details with us that aren’t perfect because they want to live up to our expectations.

When a friend begins talking to or dating someone new . . .

 

Instead of saying this:

“They’re SO great! You guys are perfect together.”

Try saying:

“You seem really happy! How are you feeling about them?”

 

Instead of saying this:

“OMG you guys are fi-nal-ly together. We’ve all been waiting for this!”

Try saying:

“We thought you liked them for a while. How do you feel now that it’s official?”

 

Instead of saying this:

“Jealous – you’re so lucky/I want your life/Where do I get one?”

Try saying:

“It looks like you’re having fun, but are there things that are surprising you about being in a relationship?”

If we start conversations with our friends when all signs are pointing to healthy, it will make it less awkward if we need to start a conversation about unhealthy behaviors we’re noticing.

 

Label Behaviors, Not People

We might assume that if the relationship were that bad, our friend would leave their partner or talk to us about it, but it’s not that simple.  If we think a friend is in an unhealthy relationship, one of the most important things we can do is start a conversation.  We could save our friend’s life by opening up a dialogue with them.

Just remember, it’s important to mention the specific behaviors we’ve seen, rather than calling their partner names – that might cause our friend to shut down.

 

Instead of saying this:

“Why are you still with them?? They’re abusive and treat you like trash.”

Say that:

“You seem really stressed out lately. I’m your friend first and here if you need to talk.”

 

Instead of saying this:

“We never see you anymore, you’re always with them. Are we even friends?”

Say that:

“I’ve noticed they always show up unexpectedly. How do you feel about that?”

 

Instead of saying this:

“Why do you always do everything they say? I don’t get it.”

Say that:

“They seem to get mad when you don’t do what they want you to. What’s your gut reaction to that?”

 

And if they get defensive or upset…

 

Instead of saying this:

“I was only trying to help you – sorry I won’t make an effort anymore.”

Say that:

“There’s no time limit on when you can come to me to talk.”

***

It can be challenging, but we have to try our best not to judge or pressure our friend if they find it challenging to leave their relationship. People stay in unhealthy relationships for lots of reasons, including safety, finances, logistics, and love.  While we may not understand or agree, the goal is to let our friend know we care and are available when they need to talk.

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