My best friend’s relationship with her boyfriend had always been inspiring. They were adorable together, and seeing how they maintained their love for one another despite adversity seemed to prove love’s durability. I grew to be pretty close with him as well, and to enjoy his company as we’d double date. Our boyfriends even came to be good friends.
Then things began to change, about a year later. I watched him slip from being a caring boyfriend who could never get enough of her to one who barely texted her, ignored her occasional calls, and pushed her physical boundaries whenever they hung out together. Eventually, I realized their relationship was spiraling, and if it kept deteriorating at the same rate, could even turn abusive.
After another tearful conversation where she showed me their texts and his apathy after another date she had painstakingly planned, I realized I was watching their relationship go from healthy to toxic. I loved both of them, but watching them slowly poison the other was one of the most painful things I had ever witnessed. I’d encouraged them to get together in the first place, and now her unhappiness made my heart hurt. I wanted to do something, but I wasn’t sure what. These four things helped me move from being a friend on the sidelines to one who was there for her through the difficult decisions.
The last thing my friend wanted was more advice and opinions. She was getting advice from everyone from her parents to her coworkers, and she was tired of everyone taking on the role of relationship therapist. She needed someone to be there who would listen to her talk about her pain and confusion and process it with her, instead of telling her to just dump him. Listening to her talk about her relationship over a cup of coffee and making sure she was able to express her thoughts without being bombarded with suggestions did more than any amount of advice.
2. Ask questions.
Even though I didn’t know what to say, I knew being silent wouldn’t help the situation. But I didn’t want to be that friend who lectures people on their relationship, so instead I tried a different tactic: asking questions. My friend started to see how detrimental the relationship was when she could no longer answer my question, “What do you see in him?” with confidence. She could tell me what she saw in him before, but those were things that had disappeared as the relationship had progressed. He used to be like this; he used to do that. When I asked, “Used to? When was the last time he texted you first?”, she really began to reconsider their relationship and see just how much he had changed for the worse. She realized what she was holding onto was mainly nostalgia, and not the relationship itself.
3. Advise with care.
As a type-A personality, when she told me about the situation the first thing I wanted to do was jump in and fix it. Thankfully, I had enough self-awareness to restrain myself and think before I spoke. This wasn’t my relationship, and it wasn’t my business, unless she asked. When she did ask, I was able to give her my advice from what I’d seen in their relationship, but carefully: the last thing I wanted to do was make her feel judged or alienated. Too many people were already telling her that she wasn’t being smart by staying with him, and she didn’t need to hear that yet again. What she did need was someone who would give her a few suggestions on her next course of action, and think through the situation with her.
4. If necessary, intervene.
Thankfully, my friend saw the path her relationship was headed down, and turned away before it got too dangerous. Others, however, might not, and there are times when intervention is necessary. If a toxic relationship is becoming emotionally or physically abusive, don’t be passive. Do your best to open their eyes to the situation: sit down and talk with them firmly but kindly; point out the warning signs you see. Help them get the help they need.
The best advice of all, however, is to show them that you care about them in whatever way means the most to them. That can manifest itself in many different ways: some friends cherish alone time, some need to be distracted from their situation with others, or with Netflix and ice cream. Going out of your way to show them you care about them and you’re here for them is the most important thing you can do for a friend in a toxic relationship.