We’ve all had a friend at some point who was dating someone new who we disliked from the beginning, and it turned out that the person was absolutely toxic. This is an unfortunate realization, and one that our friends don’t usually come to until it’s too late. We can see past the rose-colored glasses and look right through the new person, but often, they’ve charmed our friend to the point where they’re blind to any faults or wrongdoing.
When a relationship becomes toxic, more than just the two people in that relationship are affected. A toxic relationship can negatively impact family, friends, and children. Children are often the victims of toxic relationships, and mental conditions like anxiety and depression can develop when children are exposed to such an environment for extended periods of time.
The bottom line? Toxic relationships benefit no one, but how do you help a friend that’s in one? This guide will help you identify toxicity and help your friend.
First and foremost, be there for your friend. That doesn’t always mean giving advice, either. Sometimes, all they need is an ear to truly listen to what they’re saying. There’s a good chance that their toxic relationship has little to no healthy communication, so just listening serves a twofold purpose: it gives them somewhere to vent that’s healthy and supportive, and helps remind them that healthy communication is possible.
When they call you in the middle of the night or need you to pick them up so they can get away, answer the phone or make the drive if you can. Being there for someone doesn’t mean you have to always put your needs secondary, though. Don’t martyr yourself on the altar of someone else’s relationship, but be supportive in whatever way you can.
The relationship will likely continue despite any advice you may give. We tend to make excuses for people we love, and those who are being abused will often defend the abuser. It’s all part of the abuse cycle, and there’s no amount of words that can be said to undo it. However, you can still tell your friend that seeing them in pain really makes you sad and that what they’re going through isn’t healthy.
They’ll have to come to the decision on their own to leave or address the toxicity.
One of the worst things you can do is to downplay or make excuses for your friend’s partner’s toxic behavior. Don’t say things like, “Oh, I’m sure he didn’t mean it”, or “She’s probably just venting, I’m sure she wasn’t trying to call you names”.
Toxicity is toxicity. There’s no way around it. Name-calling, guilt-tripping, lying, gaslighting, physical and verbal abuse—these are all incredibly toxic behaviors that there’s simply no excuse for. The more you downplay it, the more your friend will think it’s somehow normal or ok.
This is where things get tough, because your friend will almost always defend their partner. It’s natural for us to defend the people we love, but don’t get frustrated. Be kind, gentle, and understanding. All you can do is tell the truth, be supportive, and hope that eventually, they see they’re in a toxic relationship and that they need to get out.
There are tons of resources for relationships available online and offline. A marriage counselor, personal counselor, or even online counseling might be able to help. If the partner refuses to go to couples therapy, encourage your friend to seek personal therapy. Often, those who have been abused in the past will find themselves in abusive relationships, and until that trauma is addressed, the cycle will continue.
This is where things get tricky, because someone who’s abusive won’t like their partner standing up for themselves, and it could result in backlash. If you’ve seen toxic relationship signs, don’t be afraid to point them out and encourage your friend to stand up for themselves. This may or may not show the toxic person that your friend isn’t going to put up with anymore toxic behavior, but what it will most certainly do is help boost your friend’s confidence levels.
Whether it’s mental abuse or physical abuse, it’s crucial that you look for signs of both. Either or both can exist in a toxic relationship, and most of the time, toxicity will mean some form of mental or verbal abuse. If you notice changes in your friend’s behavior, withdrawal from friends and family, and sudden changes in diet, there could very well be abuse going on. If there is, you can report it or at least encourage your friend to leave the relationship for their own safety.
Toxic relationships affect everyone around the two parties involved. Family, friends, co-workers—no one is spared the anguish that a toxic relationship creates. If your friend is in a toxic relationship, you might be their greatest support pillar. Be there for them. Remember that being there doesn’t always mean giving advice. Sometimes, you just need to listen.