It’s really hard to watch your friend get hurt by their partner time and time again and not step in and offer some advice. Some friends may be open to and welcome your input. Test the waters, but if your friend seems upset by what you are saying or is shutting down, back off! The most impactful thing you can do is help your friend SELF-discover (with your wise approach) that this is not a healthy relationship.
There are lots of reasons why your friend is dating a jerk to begin with. Maybe he is afraid if he leaves, he will never find someone else. Maybe her self esteem is really low and she feels like this is the best she deserves. Maybe your friend is willing to put up with the bad things in the relationship, hoping the other person will change. Maybe they feel tied to that person because they are having sex.
So, what if they don’t want your advice? Be an active listener. If you become the friend who listens, they will talk and open up to you, rather than closing off and tuning you out. A good listener listens first, then asks questions…things like “Why do you want to stay?” “What would the next year look like if you stayed in the relationship?” “What would it be like if you got married to him?” “How do you think you should be treated in this relationship?” “What happens when you try to bring up your concerns with your partner?” “Do you feel stuck in this relationship, even though you think about getting out?” “Why?”
Offer encouraging support. Phrases like “That must be so hard for you!” or “I don’t know how you’re able to make good grades and deal with all this” really show that you empathize with them and will encourage them to continue conversation, rather than shut them down.
If they are able to recognize their relationship’s negative qualities themselves and say it out loud, it is much more impactful than you telling them what’s wrong with their partner, or their relationship. So when you’ve built that trust, asked those questions, a follow-up comment based on what THEY said could go a long way: “You told me you’re afraid if you talk about that issue, she’ll blow up and threaten to leave you, and you also said you want to be heard and understood. That doesn’t sound like that can happen right now.” If you determine your friend is finally more open, you could even offer to go through the “checklist” below to help them have those “aha” moments when they recognize some of the things that make this relationship unhealthy.
If they do end up breaking up, you can help them go through the grieving process by continuing to offer a listening ear, but also by spending time with your friend so the “empty” place is filled by activities and friends and they aren’t tempted to get sucked back into the relationship.
Checklist: Is my relationship unhealthy?
- Seem to always put the other first by neglecting own needs and opinions
- Feel pressure to change who you are for the other person
- Feel worried when you disagree with the other person
- Feel pressure to quit activities you usually/used to enjoy
- Pressure the other person into agreeing with you or changing to suit you better
- Notice one of you has to justify your actions (e.g., where you go, who you see)
- Don’t respect sexual boundaries
- Lack privacy, and may be forced to share everything with the other person (like your time or social media login)
- Arguments are not settled fairly; one person seems to “get their way”
- Experience things like yelling, physical violence, and name-calling during an argument
- Attempt to control or manipulate each other
- Notice your partner attempts to control how you dress and criticizes your behaviors
- Do not make time to spend with one another
- Treat you differently in front of their friends
- Have no common friends, or have a lack of respect for each others’ friends and family
- Experience a lack of fairness and equality