Talking with a Friend about Unhealthy Relationships

Continuing our series about how to support a friend, we thought it might be helpful to briefly cover some tips about how to start a conversation with your friend about relationships they may be in. As a friend, you likely care a lot about how your friends are being treated by others. If you are concerned about a friend’s treatment in a dating or other type of relationship, it can be hard to know how to approach that topic with them. And it is a challenging thing to bring up, because it’s a nuanced issue. Please keep in mind that your personal relationship with your friend as well as your friend’s individual boundaries may change the way you speak to them about this.

Below are some general questions you can ask your friend if you’re talking about relationships or if you notice something that concerns you. This can also help you gauge whether it may be an appropriate time for you to talk with them further:

  • How have things been with you two lately?
  • What do you wish things between you two were like?
  • What do you want out of a partner?
  • How do you feel when that happens?
  • What is an argument between you two usually like?
  • What do you do to try to work things out?
  • What are you thinking doing?
  • What is keeping you in the relationship?
  • How can I help?

Below are some reminders and tips about how to respond when your friend discloses something unhealthy happening in their relationship, or if they’re thinking of leaving:

  • Remind your friend that they deserve to feel safe and happy. They have a lot of great and interesting things about them, and while their relationships are important, they have other relationships and support as well – family, friends, peers, teammates, group members, etc.
  • Ask your friend about their self-care: What do they do to feel better? Who do they feel comfortable talking to? Is there anything specific you can do to support them?
  • Focus on behaviors, not people: This means saying something like, “Your partner sounds bad” or “They aren’t good enough for you” isn’t helpful. Those statements will likely make your friend defensive, and may make them feel reluctant to tell you more. You can say, “That doesn’t sound healthy” or ask questions like, “When that happened, how did you feel?”
  • Making your friend feel judged won’t be helpful! Sometimes people think their friends just need a “wake up call,” and while that may work for a small number of people, it is much more likely that your friend will hesitate to talk to you about this again if you say something that makes them feel judged. In order to make your friend feel safe and comfortable talking to you, make sure you use phrases that make them feel supported, understood, and empowered.

Some examples of supportive things to say:

  • “Thank you for telling me”
  • “That sounds hard”
  • “How did that make you feel?”
  • “I think you’re awesome, and you deserve to be treated well”
  • “What do you want to do?”


Remember that simply listening to your friend is very supportive, and even if you feel like you can’t do anything else for them, believing them and showing that you care is very impactful. Your friend may start talking to you about these things long before they take any sort of action, so being empathetic and patient will be part of the process as well.

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Or call our 24-hour help line: 612-825-0000.