How to actually help your friend in a toxic relationship

By Priya Alika

It’s painfully, achingly familiar to all of us: watching your friend date a toxic person. You know, that guy who tells her not to wear crop tops out. Who initiates a screaming match if she so much as says ‘Hey’ to another guy. The one who calls demanding to know where she is at odd hours, or polices her movements. The creep who you’re tired of hearing about, because you love her and he treats her like hot flaming garbage. 

There are no two ways about it: this guy is Bad News and your friend is in a toxic relationship. So what do you do, short of banning him from your apartment? Proceed with care. Remember, the goal here is to help your friend get to a place where she can leave, not to alienate her or make things more difficult for her. 

Don’t tell her ‘Just dump him.’ 

Does she NEED to dump him? Yeah. Of course. She needed to dump him YESTERDAY. But it’s never easy to cut the cord, and it’s probably not going to happen overnight. Keep in mind that toxic people and abusers make it very hard for their victim to leave the relationship. 

Is it frustrating to watch her stay with a person who hurts her? Of course it is. Is it frustrating to have your advice fall on deaf ears? Naturally. But shaming her for staying won’t accomplish anything. All it’ll do is make her less likely to trust you or to open up. (And he’ll win, because he’s probably trying to isolate her from all her disapproving friends.) 

Do give her your honest opinion on her boyfriend. Tell her that you think he’s making her unhappy. Point out when he’s being unfair or manipulative. Don’t let him gaslight her. But don’t simply repeat ‘Dump him’ as if it’s a cure-all mantra. 

Remind her of her worth 

Here’s what happens when you date someone who’s toxic: they break down your self-worth. Your friend’s self-esteem is sure to have taken a major hit, unfortunately. This makes her much less likely to leave – because she thinks that she doesn’t deserve better. 

Don’t let her get too down on herself. Tell her how incredible she is, and how much she deserves to be happy. Tell her until she starts to believe it again. Tell her that she will find an easier, more loving relationship in time. Once she internalizes that, she’ll look at her own relationship with fresh eyes (and be more prepared to leave it). 

Help her form new habits (that don’t include him)  

What does self-care look like? Sometimes, self-care looks a lot like 1AM weepy sessions on your friend’s couches with a bottle of Shiraz. But sometimes, self-care looks like signing up for a spin class at your local gym. It means starting a new feel-good show, or going out of your way to meet new people and do things you wouldn’t normally do. 

One of the hardest things about a breakup – and why people are reluctant to leave their partners – is the emptiness afterward. You can help your friend prepare for that time by introducing her to new people, or new hobbies that you can do together. Having things to look forward to helps more than almost anything else.

Be the kind of friend you would like to have in a hard place. Check in on her as much as you can. Send her funny memes when she’s down. She’ll need your love and support to get through this trying time. Good luck to you both, sis.


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