- “My friend’s toxic relationship is affecting me!”
- “My friend is in a toxic relationship but won’t leave?”
- “What to do when your friend keeps going back to a toxic relationship?”
- “What advice would you give a friend who is in an unhealthy relationship?”
A toxic relationship starts with one partner taking control and the other feeling caged in.
Then it turns abusive, manipulative, violent. Leaving the victim lonely, jittery, terrified, and depressed.
How do you help that friend in a toxic relationship before it destroys their sanity and normalcy?
It is a precarious position to be in. You don’t want things between you two to get worse. And you don’t want your friend’s toxic relationship to continue.
They say every relationship comes with an expiry date. Actually, every relationship comes with a finite period of normalcy and decency; beyond that, habits take over the burdens of love and respect.
How To Help A Friend In A Toxic Relationship
• First rule: It’s not always wise to insist on helping someone who doesn’t want your help. Get inputs from a few common friends and your friend’s family.
• Second rule: Don’t hijack the conversation when your friend comes to talk to you. It’s about them, not you; so let them speak.
Here are a few things you may do to help a friend in a toxic relationship:
1. Listen Without Prejudice.
“Don’t judge them. You have not walked in their shoes, so do not judge them.”
Any relationship can turn toxic, and it often happens unexpectedly.
Listen to them carefully without making assumptions, passing judgments, or laying blames.
Allow them to speak freely without interrupting, and refrain from assuming things about your friend or the toxic person they are involved with.
When you start to assume things during a conversation, you roll the dice of your judgment.
- Don’t make them suffer more by labeling them stupid for making that decision.
- Don’t tell your friend that you knew it or had guessed it a long time ago, as it is highly disrespectful.
If they see or decide you are judging them, they will start closing their hearts to you.
Moreover, they may start regretting if you were not the right person to have come to for sharing a vital part of their life experience.
So, just let them talk without feeling they are being judged.
- Do not be dramatic with your reactions, please.
- Do not go “gray rock strategy” with them.
What is the “gray rock strategy?”
The gray rock strategy is a way to deal with narcissists. It involves ignoring their advances and not giving them any attention.
The gray rock strategy is often used by people who are not interested in the narcissist but are afraid of being hurt or rejected if they don’t respond to the advances.
2. Treat Them With Empathy.
“Put on their shoes and walk in them. Feel where it hurts, and how much.”
When the friend confides in you about their toxic relationship, they want to share with you their painful experience.
Be the person they expect you to be.
Use empathy. Empathy is feeling “with” others.
Your empathy can help them heal by letting them know that they can trust you and confide in you, and that you care about them.
Empathy is one of the most effective tools we have for building strong relationships. It enables us to know and share the emotions of others, letting us bond deeper with them.
If you don’t already, learn the art of active listening (AL). Use it to listen to their account of events, remaining non-interruptive and patient, letting them talk and emote freely.
Your best help to them will come from empathizing with them, and never letting them feel unheard or irrelevant.
For all you know, all they want from you at this moment is a patient ear, not a solution.
3. Don’t Offer Unsolicited Advice.
“The biggest problem with unsolicited advice is that it’s usually bad advice.”
Unsolicited advice becomes a burden to the other person.
- First, they may be uncertain or reluctant about whether they should follow it.
- Second, they might worry that they might offend you if they don’t follow it.
- Third, there is a chance that you would want them to follow it.
Save them the dilemma and keep your unasked-for advice to yourself. Unless they are seeking solutions from you, do not suggest any.
You can validate their emotions by assuring them, like, “I can see why you feel that way,” or “It makes sense that you feel that way.”
You could ask them, “How are you coping with it? Do you think someone could help you handle it better?”
Your unsolicited advice can also make them feel more guilty about themselves, even when they are not at fault.
“Most people don’t need advice, they need someone to listen.” – Roy T. Bennett
For friends in toxic relationships, don’t offer advice if it wasn’t asked for.
Just let them know that you are there for them.
4. Don’t Get Dragged Into Their Fight.
“Help them fight. Don’t fight for them if they’re sitting on the sidelines.”
It can be difficult to stop yourself from not feeling vicious toward the person who is torturing your friend.
No matter how great friends you are, remember that you are only listening to their version of the events. The other person involved with them may not actually be as your friend is making it out to be.
Support them, but don’t be overzealous to fight it out for them.
Listen to them, and support them morally and emotionally, but do not take sides.
Do not rationalize their point of view or offer manipulative solutions, even indirectly (like “I know a guy who did this in such a situation.”)
“They need you by their side. They’re not here to see your show of chivalry.”
Do not encourage their destructive plans for their partner. In fact, dissuade them from acting out their potentially harmful plans.
5. Don’t Try to Save Them.
“You are not their savior. They may not need your saving.”
You don’t need to hijack them from their situation and bring them to your house. And then, you don’t need to offer them your bed and take yourself to the couch.
Don’t get up from the conversation to mount your horse and fight their battle.
They are perfectly capable of deciding the right course of action without your intervention.
Be supportive, but never offer to help them by promising to go outside your capabilities.
Pray for them, but don’t be their Jesus.
Feel okay telling them to stop if they are repeatedly dumping their trauma on you, and traumatizing you.
6. Don’t Jump To Help.
“Stay ready to help, but don’t go overboard.”
You could be one of those people who are high on empathy (“empath”), and feel you must do something to help your friend. Resist acting on that thought.
You may not be the best one to help them. Their best help would most likely come from a mental health expert. You may encourage your friend to get professional help.
If they require the services of a professional, they will seek it out or ask you for a recommendation.
It is not up to you to tell your friend to end their relationship. Never forget that they do not want you to decide for them if they should leave the toxic person. That choice will always be theirs.
“Don’t be overenthusiastic to help; it can be counterproductive.”
Just because someone came to you to talk about their personal crisis doesn’t mean you have to help them proactively. For the most part, you don’t have to do anything.
They’ll probably get over it on their own and be their sweet selves again without your intervention.
This point applies to you, especially if you’re an empath.
7. Assure Them of Confidentiality.
“The strength of a secret lies in the degree of trust that it is kept with.”
Don’t break their trust. Keep confidential things confidential.
They trusted you with sensitive information, and it is unsaid that you must keep them private.
Do not be a gossip. Make it a point to maintain absolute secrecy about what your friend told you.
Do not mention their case even as a story with anonymous characters (like, “Someone I know went through this, but I can’t name them. So, what happened was…”).
People can track down links to your “anonymous someone” and identify that friend.
Please remember to tell them that you are going to keep every bit of information they shared privately. And do that.
“Loose lips sink ships.” – Old Adage
Your friendship is a sacred vessel. And your silent pledge of nondisclosure gives them the peace that you will keep it sacred.
8. Respect Their Boundaries.
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” – Brené Brown
Boundaries in relationships keep them healthy.
If your friend wishes to discuss the matter, listen without prejudice. But if they do not wish to talk to you about it, accept their wishes, and stop your probing questions.
Respect your friend’s boundaries. Don’t try to talk them out of the relationship; it’s not your area to exercise control.
Boundaries in relationships are a part of self-care. They are healthy, normal, and necessary.
So, for your own mental health, maintain your own boundaries.
Let them know that you truly care about them and want the best for them, but you cannot cross your boundaries, and they should not expect you to do so.
9. Treat Them As Adults.
They are not kids who need to be taught how to handle every difficult thing that happens in their life.
Don’t tell them if you think they should get out of the relationship, even if they ask your “honestly brutal” opinion.
First, this could make things worse. The horror of horrors, your friend’s partner might come after you to unleash their monstrosity!
Second, they may work out their conflicts and cut you out of their friendship. Worse, since “you tried to split them apart,” you are now their common enemy.
Third, they might have already decided to leave that person, but are dithering to act, probably because they haven’t worked out the aftermath of the breakup. They might be thinking:
- How can I possibly be safe after that?
- How can I avoid becoming a target again?
And, since you’re not a cop or a mafia boss, you can’t secure their safety if their partner is an antisocial personality or malignant narcissist.
So, when they say they expect your honest and direct opinion if they should leave them, tell them you cannot make or validate that decision for them.
10. Don’t Force Your Ideas On Them.
Don’t get pushy in persuading them to act. Don’t give them that “It’s now or never.”
It can be quite heartbreaking to see our loved ones in distress. We may be overly worried about how to help a friend in a toxic relationship.
Pushing them, however, can actually worsen their position. It may force them to make unwise and unsafe decisions.
Regard their fragile emotional state, and avoid pressuring them to act fast. Whether it’s to cut the ties, go to the authorities, or seek counsel, let them take their time.
Remember, their unhappiness is uniquely theirs; nothing else compares.
You should let them handle it in their own way and at their own pace. Forcing them in any way will not only harm not only you or them but also cost you your friendship.
Simply be there for them.
How do you tell someone they are in an unhealthy relationship?
Telling someone they are in an unhealthy relationship can be difficult, Here are some helpful tips:
1. Be supportive and non-judgmental.
2. Use “I” statements to express your concerns.
3. Point out the specific behaviors that worry you.
4. Listen to their response and respect their decision.
5. Offer resources, such as counseling or support groups, and encourage them to seek help if needed.
What to do when a loved one is in a toxic relationship?
If your loved one is in a toxic relationship, approach them with sensitivity and care. Here are some steps you could take:
1. Express concern and support: Let your loved one know that you are there to support them and that you are concerned about their well-being. Express your concerns with empathy, and assure them you are there to listen.
2. Avoid blame and judgment: Do not blame or judge them for being in a toxic relationship. Instead, focus on the dynamics of the relationship that are causing them harm.
3. Provide resources and options: Offer them a list of helpful resources, like support groups, counseling services, or legal services. They may be in a confused state, so, suggest some options for prioritizing their safety.
4. Encourage self-care: Encourage your loved one to take care of themselves physically, emotionally, and mentally. Offer to take them to self-care services.
5. Set boundaries: If the toxic relationship is having a negative impact on you, tell them. Set boundaries to protect yourself. This can include limiting contact with the toxic partner or taking a step back from the situation.
How to help someone in a toxic relationship? Don’t pester them to share it with you.
When you learn about a friend who is caught in a toxic relationship, don’t urge them to talk about it. Leave them be until they approach you.
Make yourself available when they request your time to discuss “something very important.”
You may encourage them to seek professional help. If your friend is unwilling to get treatment, be kind and loving until they are ready, even if they are not.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, mindfulness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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