5 Ways To Help Someone Who's In A Bad Relationship
Even the brightest and nicest people can be involved in a relationship that sucks them dry. The wounds may not be visible, but you know that whatever is going on isn't healthy.
A "bad" relationship is different from an abusive relationship (if there are signs of physical or emotional abuse, that's a different situation and requires a specific action plan), but the unhealthy dynamics in a more gray but still less-than-ideal relationship can still be seriously detrimental to a person's well-being. That's why they're sometimes called toxic relationships.
Signs your friend is in an unhealthy relationship:
- The person has changed into the worst possible version of themselves. They've lost their spark.
- They have disconnected from the very people and things that used to make them happy.
- They have emotionally shifted to being a lot angrier, more irritable, moody, and unpleasant than you've ever seen.
- They are ridden with anxiety, depression, or withdrawal.
Reasons why this might be happening:
- The S.O. is not always the villain. It may just not be a good fit.
- The S.O. may be struggling with deeper issues like alcoholism or addiction and is incapable of being an equal partner.
- The S.O. may actually to blame, and may be a leach or a serial opportunist with the worse of intentions.
- The S.O. may have had a difficult childhood and not know how to treat someone they love.
- Your friend may be the one with deeper attachment issues leading to tension and dysfunction in the relationship.
Regardless of the cause, your main concern is that someone you love is not being respected or appreciated.
How to help your friend.
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It's painful to see anyone you care for in a relationship that seems to have a negative effect on them. You want to say something, anything. Unfortunately, the person you care about may not be ready to hear what you have to say, and it's hard to know if you'll regret saying something, or if you'll regret saying nothing.
Relationships are a complex interplay of deeper dynamics too extensive to discuss, but let's touch on some basic points that can help you navigate this delicate situation without alienating your loved one when they need you most.
1. Avoid harsh judgments.
Understand and acknowledge that we all are imperfect human beings. We make mistakes, even in our judgments of people. Emotions, interpretations, and the experience of "love" are not logical. The person you care about may be "erring" in judgment in your opinion, but you've been there too, perhaps in a similar way or many other ways. So relax a little, and step back with your harsh judgments.
2. Recognize their right to make their own mistakes.
We want to protect the people we care about. But we have to let others learn, grow, and make mistakes on their own. As difficult as it may be to watch, it's their lesson to learn. They may “see the light" or they may not. It's their life and journey, not yours. Accept their path. If you love and care about someone, respect their choices, even if you don't agree with them.
3. Communicate your concerns gently.
Voice your concerns in a reasonable way. Be wary of making this person feel attacked. Have an honest conversation about your concerns, opinions, and observations. Resist the temptation to exaggerate or impose your feelings on their relationship. It should be a logical conversation based on facts.
One conversation is more than enough. A million repetitive statements will do nothing other than belittle and alienate the person you care about.
It's important to avoid attacking their significant other. Doing this will risk putting your loved one on the defensive and potentially push him or her deeper into that relationship.
4. Don't distance yourself.
This may be subtle at first and a natural tendency, but don’t change the nature of your relationship just because you dislike their partner. You might not like them, but you have to accept and tolerate that person.
If you really care about someone, then your personal relationship with that person should be prioritized above your dislike of their partner or their relationship. After all, their relationship could end tomorrow. You were there before, and you'll be there long after. You could be their lifeline back to sanity, so don't cut the rope.
5. Listen and be there.
When they do get hurt or heartbroken or taken advantage of, refrain from saying "I told you so" or "See what I mean?" It's time to listen, not judge. As angry as you may feel in that moment, be the calm confidante that your loved one needs.
If you see unhealthy patterns continuing from relationship to relationship, it's OK to point that out gently and make further suggestions like therapy, to encourage them to get to the root of the problem. But it's about timing and delivery.
Most importantly, make sure the person in question knows that your love is unconditional, and you will love them despite the mistakes they make. That is what real love is all about, and that is beautiful. Hold onto it and don’t let it go.