Bad relationships are situations that many of us will find ourselves in at one point or another, and while we may have the best of intentions to help, it’s not always help that is sought. There are three options for a friend once they have decided their relationship is in trouble. They can leave, they can stick it out, or they can try to improve the situation through self help, therapy, or counseling. In order to help a friend who is trying to make these decisions, there are three bits of advice to consider.
Lend an Ear, Not a Hand
I mention “bad relationship” in the title, but it’s very important to discern that this is often the language of the outsider. While the friend in trouble may recognize that there is bad in the relationship, rest assured that there is still some good, or they wouldn’t be in this situation.
In order to put yourself two steps ahead of anyone else who has tried to help, don’t use “you” statements, such as “You are in trouble” or “Can’t you see what’s going on?” Resist telling them what they should do, like seeking counseling or leaving their partner, as this will only be perceived as criticism or judgment – which is something they are most likely getting plenty of right now.
Instead, use “I” phrases, such as “I noticed you’ve been down, is there something you need to talk about?” Give them time to come to you. They may not take you up on your offer right away, but by consistently offering an invitation, you’re letting them know that you’ll be there when they need you. The most powerful method of getting a friend to understand the unhealthiness of a relationship is to get them to admit to it themselves.
Separate From Your Emotions and the Situation
Separating from your emotions while a loved one endures a bad relationship is a difficult thing to do, but essential once they do finally come to you for help. Listen to their story, and especially listen to what they want (not what you think they need). Help them decide what they should do by outlining the situation so that they can see it in front of them, such as with a pro/con list. Try to get them to step outside and see the situation from a different perspective.
If they want to take action, the next step is to develop a plan. The plan should include everything your friend wants, including what they’re going to do, when, how, where, and who’s going to help. There need to be guidelines set, and in very serious situations, there may also need to be police involvement. Being a witness, and being as detailed as possible, will make it more likely that they will follow through once a plan is set.
If your friend has become dependent on the relationship, either emotionally or financially, these feelings may transfer over to you if the relationship ends in a breakup. Now is the time to decide how much support you can offer without damage to your own romantic relationship and/or friendship. Are you willing to let them stay with you? Are you willing to offer money, knowing that you may never get it back? Don’t damage your friendship by offering more than you can give.
Good Cop/Better Cop
The best way to stay on the influential end of a bad relationship is to stay positive and neutral. Often we think that by helping a friend to see the bad in their partner, that we’re ultimately helping them to get help or get out – but we can sometimes drive them deeper into their partner’s clutches. Negative talk often promotes defensive thinking, which may lead them to believe that the relationship isn’t as bad as they thought.
Your friend needs to be reminded that they are smart, strong, and that they have a support system beyond their current relationship. By focusing on the good in their life, rather than the bad of their relationship or partner, you are ensuring that you will be their go-to person in times of both anger and confused love. They may also need plenty of hugs, considering that they might not be receiving the affection of human touch that they need anywhere else.
A good way to temporarily soothe the bad tensions caused by a troubled relationship is to offer good tension in the form of a hobby. It may be beneficial to take your friend’s mind off the situation by keeping them busy with something that would normally frighten them, such as a public speaking class, rock climbing, or bungee jumping.
If you really want to take action and help a friend, sometimes the best thing to do is just to sit, listen, and support them in whatever direction they decide to go (for better or worse). We learn best by our mistakes – and unfortunately, bad relationships are no different.