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How to help a friend in a toxic relationship

Jul. 19, 2018
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There are two main roles of a friend: A) being a professional listener and B) being a professional truther. Essentially, friendships call for saving the “I told you so’s” and being real when you need to be. 

These traits manifest themselves in all aspects of friendship but are put to a serious test the moment one or the other is caught in a toxic relationship. And while many relationships are flawed, distinctly precise actions transform a partnership from “troubled” to “toxic.”

For some reason, the people we love the most somehow end up with the most awful, obnoxious, undeserving douches. If you have a friend who is in what seems to be an unhealthy relationship, chances are you’re now caught in a constant battle of telling yourself to “mind your business” and screaming “sister, you need to leave him.” It’s tough. Don’t worry, though—perhaps you have a couple options before trashing said douche’s car. 

Before we get into it, ask yourself: Why do I want them to break up? Am I doing this because I want more Saturday hangouts with my bestie? Is this because I always feel like a third wheel? Does this have anything to do with her man’s cringeworthy and untimely puns or love for non-alternative music? If you answered yes to any of those questions, exit this article, reevaluate your thoughts on the relationship, call your Congress members and urge them to support SB 3036, and come back to this article when you’ve centered your intentions on looking out for your friend’s emotional health and stability. 

*Disclaimer, the tips below are not applicable to extremely serious cases such as physical abuse or misconduct. 

  1. Cast Aside All Judgment

Unless you yourself have been in a toxic relationship, don’t judge what you probably cannot understand. In fact, even if you have had a similar experience, your emotional responses and relationships differ from the next. The first step to building a bridge of understanding with said friend is making them feel comfortable enough to have a dialogue with you. Shielding your judgment will ultimately make you more approachable, i.e. the other party is more likely to take your words with value. As stated earlier, have a clear vision of what your motives are and what you hope to achieve. 

2. Begin Examining Your Encounters With the Couple 

How has said friend’s emotional stability been fluctuating since their relationship began? Can you pick up on emotional highs and lows that may be triggered by the relationship? Here is a list of toxic relationship cues that may aid in recognizing how dire the situation is. Knowing what you should be looking out for makes your argument a lot more reliable and relevant. Basically, keep receipts.

3. Start Calling Out the Little Things

Make it subtle, but when you see something off, say something. For example, let’s say you  catch Michael scolding Andrea for hanging out with her friends instead of him. Don’t necessarily shout “Shut up Michael, she can do whatever she wants!” As you walk away with Andrea, dropping a simple “Honestly, sis, you can spend as much time with whoever you want. He doesn’t control you!” would suffice. Catching things early may help your friend reach conclusions regarding the relationship on her own. 

4. Take a Deep Breath, Confront, and Be Honest

By the time you’ve gone through the first three steps, you’ll have eased yourself into the situation enough to understand what needs to be done. If your friend hasn’t taken action and the situation hasn't improved, you need to step forward; it’s time for you to confront your friend. Go somewhere private, sit down, and speak deductively—begin with general statements and concerns, and slowly bring up specific examples. (Remember those receipts? Pull those out right about now.) Be brutally honest yet constructively critical. Remember, your candor is a testament to your care for the companionship. Expect severe denial and opposition, and do not take it personally. Toxic relationships often leave one or both sides of the party in places of irrationality and edginess, so refer to step number one. Maintain a consistent firmness and calmness.

Depending on how toxic the relationship is, you may find your friend looking back even after a breakup. It would not be unusual if Andrea were to hate Michael’s guts for a solid three days and then grab coffee with him on the fourth. It is important to recognize that toxic relationships frequently result in fluctuating emotional highs and lows, hence the constant state of indecisiveness. As a third wheel, it can get confusing. Your role, however, is to remind said friend of why they wanted to break up in the first place. Break everything down, and run through the timeline forwards and backwards. 

5. Recognize That the Decision is Ultimately Theirs

Your job is to deliver a message of sympathy and safekeeping. That’s all. Understand that it is not your place to force a breakup between two individuals. Depending on the situation, the toxic relationship may cause your friend to distance themself from you. If you too choose to distance yourself, make this space be that of retreat and not malice. Let your friend know that whether or not you agree with their decisions, you’re prepared to lend them your shoulder. 

Should the relationship become abusive, utilize The Hotline to ensure the security of your loved one.