How To Help Your Friend Leave A Coercive Relationship

Do you think your friend is in a toxic relationship? Here's how to help.
Two women are sitting and talking.
Fiordaliso via Getty Images
Two women are sitting and talking.

Can we be honest for a second? Have you ever disliked one of your friend’s partners? I know I have. Maybe you don’t think they’re good enough for your friend or perhaps they speak to them in a patronising manner.

Or, maybe they’re abusive.

Have you noticed a change in your friend since they got into a relationship? Or has your friend shared parts of the relationship that highlight major red flags? They could be in a toxic relationship. Of course you want to help your friend leave this person, but it’s tricky.

What should you do if you suspect that your friend is in an abusive relationship?

Cathy Press, a psychotherapist, and author of When Love Bites: suggests finding the time to spend with them alone to sound them out a bit. Avoid using words like domestic violence or abuse, as some people in this situation don’t identify as being victims of abusive partners.

“They identify with feeling unhappy, sad, confused, unsure of themselves, lacking confidence and self-esteem, but will have a list of reasons as to why – ‘It’s my fault.’ or ‘I made my partner,’ jealous or angry,’” Press says.

Instead, let your friend know what’s happening to them isn’t their fault and that their partner’s behaviour is not acceptable. “Remind them that we can only ever be responsible for our own behaviour.”

Should we tell our friends to leave their partner?

Your friend might be blind to the abuse but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t intervene. Press says we should never tell our friends to leave their partners as they may have a deep sense of loyalty to them.

“Or they may be experiencing some form of ‘trauma bonding’ and this may push them back into their partner’s arms,” Press explains.

It takes on average between 5-7 times for a person to leave a bad relationship. “Make yourself available to your friend when the moment is right for them. It takes a while for some people to see the reality of the situation they are in,” Press adds.

What should we say to our friend?

It’s not easy to find the right words in this situation but if your friend alludes to being unhappy, scared, or isolated and thinks something isn’t right in their relationship you should validate their feelings.

“Tell them it’s quite normal to feel the way they do when their partner is
controlling or coercive,” Press adds. “Talk about how you might feel if you were in a similar situation. You might have been and this will help your friend feel less alone.”

What are some practical ways that you can support a friend?

You should start by researching domestic abuse websites with your friend and find the national helplines or local services providing support.

“What are the barriers to your friend leaving their relationship? It may be a lack of confidence, finances, children, fear, etc. What do they need support with?” Press explains

Then you should talk through the options available with your friend.
“If your friend decides they want to leave their relationship it is important to consider their safety,” Press adds.

She continues: “There are safety plans available online and it is essential you talk this through with them.”

“There are many things to consider. However, if your friend is scared or frightened it is vital to make contact with the police on 101 or in an emergency 999.”

If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

  • Refuge- Domestic violence help for women and children - 0808 2000 247
  • Visit Women’s Aid- support for abused women and children – or call the National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Women’s Aid and Refuge, on 0808 2000 247
  • Broken Rainbow- The LGBT domestic violence charity - 0845 2 60 55 60
  • Men’s Advice Line for advice and support for men experiencing domestic violence and abuse - 0808 801 0327