“How can you tell if someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship? How do you help if they are too shy to talk about it?

Many of us, at some point, will be worried about a friend’s romantic relationship. We may notice a friend not hanging out with close friends, or maybe they stop doing the things they love to do. We may hear controlling words come from a dating partner’s mouth. Or we may just get the feeling that things just aren’t right. As a caring person we want our friends to be happy and safe, but it can be difficult to know what to do or say to help.

I find that our healthy relationship statements are a helpful way to both think about relationships and provide guidance for talking about them with friends. In a healthy relationship I get to be myself; I treat others well; I can say no; I have fun. If we are worried about our friend, we can ask them “are you having fun in the relationship?” We can affirm that they deserve to get to be themselves in a relationship–that is, to be able to do what they love to do, dress how they want to dress, hang out with who they want to hang out with, and decide their own personal boundaries. Any of the healthy relationship statements can become questions–they provide a way for our friends to think about their relationships on their own terms.

It is important to ask questions that are open and not judgmental. If someone is reluctant to talk, give them space–just let them know that you are there for them if they ever want to talk. Sometimes if we are pushy or label our friend’s relationship as “unhealthy” right away, they may avoid talking with us and they could be even more isolated in their relationship. As caring friends we can provide empathy, we can be someone who doesn’t judge, we can offer a resource, and we can encourage conversation.

Thank you for being a caring friend!

Here are some resources for learning more about unhealthy relationships and getting help:

Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (Carbon and Stillwater Counties): www.dsvsmontana.org. 24 hour Helpline: 406-425-2222

Love is Respect: www.loveisrespect.org (a great online resource with a text-based Helpline)

Written by Travis Burdick