Being a good friend is tough at the best of times, right? But trying to be there can be extra hard sometimes, especially if it feels like they’re being distant recently. Maybe they’re seeing someone new and something’s just different about them. Maybe they’ve started to change how they dress. Maybe they’re not around as much – and maybe when you do see them, they’re quieter and more distracted.
If you’re concerned that your friend could be spending time with someone who doesn’t treat them well, then here are some suggestions to help them. Remember, you’re not on your own – if you feel overwhelmed, worried or like your friend may be in danger, you can speak to Women’s Aid.
I get it: sometimes you just want to march up to your friend and be like “WHAT IS GOING ON? WHY ARE YOU BEING LIKE THIS?!” But that kind of approach can come across as harsh or disapproving, rather than honest or caring.
Abusers often isolate their boyfriend or girlfriend from loved ones. My own abuser used to tell me that my friends hated me, and that my mum was controlling. Every time anyone raised concerns about the relationship with me, we’d end up arguing – then, when I told my boyfriend about it, he’d say, “I told you so!” and I’d think, “Yeah, you were right.” By the time we broke up, I had almost no one.
When I brought up concerns about my relationship with some friends they raised their eyebrows, but never said, “Wow, that’s awful!”
When I broke up with my boyfriend, they told me, “We’re so glad you’re not with him – we always hated him but didn’t know what to say.” I was shocked. Confiding in them about my abuse was my way of asking, “Is this okay?”
It wasn’t their fault, and they were just trying to be polite. But if your friend confides in you or you see some unacceptable behaviour from their abuser, say, “This is not okay. What can I do to help?”
My friends asked me to meet up with them in Pizza Hut – with me alone on one side of the table, as if I was interviewing for a job – and said, “What is going on with you? We want our old friend back.” They kept using the word ‘we’ and it made me feel like they’d been talking behind my back and judging me. To be grilled in front of all of them felt horrible.
I left as quickly as I could and ran straight to my boyfriend’s house, saying, “You were right about them! They’re so mean!” My friends had meant well. But their approach actually pushed me closer to my boyfriend. Giving your friend a chance to tell you their side of things can help a lot. Remember, they’re most likely dealing with someone who’s quite controlling and demanding, so they’re probably feeling really stressed and tense.
Top tips to have those difficult conversations:
Believe them: Remember, it’s not up to you to decide whether your friend is telling you the truth. You just need to listen and believe what they’re saying. Talking about abuse can be very difficult.
Be supportive: You might say, “I’m glad you told me about this. Thanks for trusting me.”
Don’t judge or criticise. Saying things like, “How can you put up with this?” won’t help your friend. Just thank them for trusting you enough to talk to them. Also, don’t criticise the abuser – remember, it’s more than likely going to be someone they care about and love.
Be honest: Don’t be afraid to tell your friend that you’re worried about them, that you think they may need help and that maybe they should tell someone else about what’s going on.
“It’s not your fault”: Tell your friend that they’re not to blame and they’re not responsible for what’s happening.
Express your concern: It’s up to your friend to decide whether to tell another adult or not. But it’s OK for YOU to tell someone if you’re really worried that your friend might get hurt. But be honest about this – tell them who you’re going to talk to so they don’t feel you’re sneaking around behind their back.
Thank your friend for trusting you and let them know how strong they are – talking about violence and abuse takes a lot of strength and courage.
One of the saddest moments for me was when my friend sent me an email telling me how hurt she was that I hadn’t showed up to her 18th birthday party. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth – I was choosing the scenario that would land me in the least amount of ‘trouble’ with my abuser. Please don’t take things personally – I know it’s hard not to, but your friend is in a very stressful and potentially scary situation right now.