How (Not) to Treat Your Friend in a Toxic Relationship | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 01, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:52 PM, April 01, 2021

How (Not) to Treat Your Friend in a Toxic Relationship

It might be infuriating that the wonderful person you know and love and call your friend is stuck in a relationship that is clearly bad for them. Situations like these are delicate; it's not easy to deal with them without causing more harm than good. Here's a tentative guide on things to avoid when your friend is in a toxic relationship.


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At this point it's likely you are frustrated because why doesn't your friend just understand the obvious – that they deserve better? If you think tough love will work here, I'll save you the time and tell you that it won't. Saying "I'm disappointed in you" or "I can't believe you're being so dumb" will only shame your friend and make them feel worse about their situation. Oftentimes, toxic relationships involve layers upon layers of manipulation, which makes the obvious much harder to grasp. Or worse – they are aware of their own situation, but are willfully in denial because it's much easier than accepting that someone they love and trust is treating them so poorly.


The opposite of shaming is downplaying the severity of the situation your friend is in. But they're equally bad. When you excuse or flat out dismiss someone's trauma, you're only going to lead them on further. Most importantly, playing devil's advocate isn't the best response to someone telling you they might be in an abusive situation.


It is likely that your friend already knows what they have to do, but they are feeling trapped. So perhaps they just want someone to vent to. Giving unsolicited advice like "Maybe you should try positive thinking" will only make them feel more misunderstood and isolated in this case.


I'd like to first mention that it is completely okay for you to remove yourself from a draining situation. If you feel this is too much for you, by all means, prioritise your own mental health. With that being said, if threatening your friend with ending the friendship and making them choose between you or their partner is your plan: then it's time to hit the brakes. You're only putting your friend in another incredibly difficult situation.

What do you do instead? Read on to know what you can do that will actually help.

Remind them they're loved. Remind them that they're an individual who is appreciated and valued outside of their relationship. Being in a toxic relationship is extremely suffocating, so a reminder of these seemingly basic things will help to ground them.

Show compassion, and listen. If someone is in a toxic relationship, they perhaps don't feel like their feelings are being properly acknowledged. It would be helpful to listen actively without judgement, but with compassion. Make them feel heard, validate their feelings, and help them identify their issues. They need to know that at least they have a good friendship to fall back on, and that they're not completely alone. Let your friendship be an example that healthy love exists and that they already have it in their life.

It is understandably very hard to see a loved one going through a difficult time. Sometimes what truly helps is letting them make their own mistakes and figure out life in their own terms knowing you're going to be there for them when they need you.

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