What should you do if your friend is in a bad or toxic relationship? Should you do anything? In this episode, we examine how to determine if a friend's relationship is toxic or abusive, and how to navigate a conversation with someone you're worried about.
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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory podcast. We're talking about what to do if your friend or partner is in a bad relationship, but not with you, with someone else. We're going to talk about the warning signs that your friend's relationship may be toxic, what you should say to them, and whether or not you should do anything to bail them out of it.
Emily: That's an interesting thing to say, bail them out. What does that mean exactly, Dedeker?
Dedeker: To bail-
Emily: Get them out of there.
Dedeker: -means to grab a bucket and scoop up some water that's in your sinking ship, and throw it over the side.
Dedeker: You're bailing out water.
Emily: You learn something new from Dedeker every day.
Dedeker: Trying to save your own ass, basically. A bailout, bailing someone out is rescuing someone, helping someone.
Emily: Sure, yes. I just wondered what that looked like in your mind.
Jase: Also, a bail is a fastening that secures a crampon to the sole of a boot.
Emily: Or a bale of hay, but different--
Jase: It's spelled differently.
Emily: Yes, I know.
Dedeker: It's spelled differently.
Dedeker: Anyway, I wanted to cover this topic actually inspired by a listener who wrote in who was in this particular situation of it seemed like their friend was in a real stinker of a relationship, and was wondering what our advice might be. I realized we don't necessarily have an episode devoted to especially this, but I feel like this is an experience that a lot of people have experience.
Now, just to keep it clear, for the rest of this episode, we're going to use the example specifically of a friend or a close friend who's in some kind of bad relationship. Much of this also can apply if you are witnessing your partner. If you're non-monogamous, and you're witnessing your partner going through the same thing. Bear that in mind. We will speak a little bit more specifically about special considerations for people in non-monogamous relationships a little bit later on.
Emily: In the bonus episode.
Jase: Yes, in the Patreon bonus episode.
Emily: Yes, all right, there are specific warning signs to look out for within your friend's relationship. If you happen to see something is happening here, I keep getting signals from my friend that they may be experiencing something that's toxic or just not good for them in their relationship.
Jase: How do I tell if I just don't like this person? Or if there's really warning signs here?
Emily: Yes, or if there's actually something going on here. For example, you are walking on eggshells around your friend's partner, or you see your friend walking on eggshells around their partner. What does that look like? Things like having to avoid certain topics or actions in order to avoid upsetting them, or feeling compelled to run damage control or rush to placate feelings before blow-ups happen. If you get in a situation, or you see your friend, rather, getting in a situation where they can anticipate that this specific topic that's being discussed or something happened that might cause a flare-up of anger, for example. Then they rush to really quickly placate that situation before something more devastating
Jase: I'm trying to think of a good metaphor for it, but it's this sense of there's this very volatile thing that they need to-- Like, if someone bumps the table this bomb could fall off of it that's going to explode, so they constantly have to be like, "Oh, no, we have-- Oh, gosh." They're always anxious about if anyone bumps the table, if they bumped the table, and making sure that it's okay.
Dedeker: I feel like this is one that's fairly easy to see in a friend's behavior, but also, if you're finding that you're acting this way too around your friend's partner, that's an even bigger red flag. If it's now everyone's responsibility, no matter who's around this person to make sure that the bomb doesn't get set off, then there's something to look at there.
Jase: Then similar to these is having dread or hesitation to interact with their partner, whether it's yourself or that you notice your friend feeling this way about their partner, or just that you notice the partner's fragile mood, or that their mood can change very quickly, specifically to anger or aggression is the biggest warning signs, I guess.
Emily: It's interesting to think about what-- Because presumably-- I don't know. Presumably, perhaps something got the two of them together to get to this point, or maybe they didn't start out in their relationship just automatically being volatile.
Jase: Of course not.
Emily: If there was-- Yes, if there was a triggering moment or something that the partner is holding on to and can't seem to get over that's causing this contempt within them.
Jase: I even feel like it doesn't have to be a specific trigger, but it does definitely happen over time because if you think about it, if someone was like this to you right away, I don't think most people would stay in that relationship.
Emily: That's true.
Jase: Once you're in it for a while-
Emily: It's like, "Well, I know who they really are."
Jase: Or just like, "I'm committed now, or now I live with them, or now I don't want to be a quitter." We talked about on this show this idea that a successful good person is able to maintain a long relationship, so it's like, "If I break up, I'm a failure, somehow." We have that emotional attachment to it.
Dedeker: Another warning sign to look out for is your friend reporting that their partner's often mad at them, or your friend constantly taking the blame for making their partner upset all the time. If even your friend isn't able to recognize that some responsibility for this is falling on their partner, if they are constantly blaming themselves for this, that could be a sign. Also, if your friend is turning to you for a reality check occasionally, asking you things like, "Hey, I noticed this and this happened. Am I crazy? Is this normal? Did I overreact?" That could be a sign that they're experiencing some gaslighting in their relationship. If their reactions to things that their partner is doing is being downplayed or denied or their experience is being denied, that can be a sign as well. If they're constantly turning to you to try to get a reality check or a second opinion on the situation.
Jase: That's a really interesting one.
Emily: I think that that happens a lot for sure.
Jase: With taking the blame all the time it's interesting because it made me think, "What if you notice that you have a friend who seems to never take any blame and always blame their partner when they're telling you about stuff going on? I have some friends where I've seen this, where they'll be telling me stuff and putting all the blame on their partner, and I'm even hearing it going, "It feels like you might have also been involved in this." It's almost warning sign that maybe this could be the other way around. That maybe this is a toxic relationship, where your friend might even be the one who's-- Not to say that they're a bad person, or that they're trying to hurt or control this other person, but just that they've fallen into some toxic habits, that again, isn't really good for either of them necessarily.
Emily: Absolutely. This next one reminds me of the show Big Little Lies because Alexander Skarsgård's character always used to do this whenever he would have an abusive moment with Nicole Kidman, is that afterwards, he would buy her a frickin diamond necklace or something or do something super extravagant. Your friend's partner gives extravagant gifts, vacations, or is on extremely good behavior following a period of strife. This is interesting. This could be the honeymoon phase in a bigger ongoing cycle of abuse. What do you mean by that, Dedeker?
Dedeker: The cycle of abuse is a concept that was introduced in the year--
Sorry, I couldn't google it fast enough. The cycle of abuse is a concept that's been around for a while. It's this idea that it starts out with, there's the trigger to the abuse, the abusive incident happens, there's a honeymoon phase afterwards when the abuser feels guilty or promises to change, or the two people come together, and they're like, "Okay, we're going to work on this. We're going to fix this. It's going to be better this time." Then things feel really, really good and then tension start to build again and then eventually there's another trigger, the abuse happens again, and then we're back to the honeymoon phase. Then it's all this continuing cycle where the abuse never actually stops. Sometimes when you say abuse, people think it's the most extreme really intense violent physical abuse. It doesn't have to be that. It could be emotional abuse or it could be coercion or could be something like that. Basically, this idea of being that people get caught in the cycle of abuse, usually, because of that honeymoon phase, because there's always this promise that it's going to change, it's going to get better or it's getting better or it really reaffirms, "This person really does love and care for me because they're being nice to me during this phase." But then it always ends up falling apart. The cyclical nature of it is what people can get caught in.
Jase: Yes, that's right. Exactly. 1979 is when it was created.
Dedeker: Thank you. That was the year that I thought.
Jase: I knew that's what you were saying.
Emily: She knew it.
Emily: She knew it off the top of her head. She just didn't want to-- You know.
Jase: She wanted me to have a chance to look something up.
Dedeker: I wanted to give you something for this episode.
Jase: Okay, I appreciate that. All right, next warning sign is if your friend sometimes vanishes. Unless your friend is David Copperfield, of course.
Jase: What this really means is they ghost on you. They become unresponsive to messages or totally unwilling or they say they're unable to meet up in person. Similar to the cycle of abuse that Erica was talking about that it'll happen and then they'll be back and then it'll happen again, they'll disappear and then they'll be back.
Dedeker: Just to clarify, this is something that you must notice as a more extreme version of- I think we've all had the experience of essentially a friend vanishing once they get into a new relationship because they're so caught up in NRE and so in love with their partner, whatever. You have to use some discernment to see is that? Is it that they're just really caught up in this new relationship or is it that maybe they're being isolated or feeling like they're constantly having to take care of their partner or take care of their partner's need or do damage control so they're not really able to have a social life outside of their partner.
Jase: Another one is hearing self-deprecating comments from your friend on a regular basis, or them repeating belittling comments that their partner made to them.
Emily: That's interesting.
Jase: This one, it makes me ask the question of how do you tell the difference between just having a self-deprecating friend and this warning sign? Maybe it's just this in combination with other things. I don't know, makes me wonder.
Dedeker: I feel it's in combination with other things. Yes, of course, you can have a self-deprecating friend. What I was envisioning is times when I've had friends in bad relationships where they literally repeat to me about, "Well, he said this to me or she said this to me." Sometimes that can be in combination with, "Hey, my partner said this to me. Do you think that's true? Or do you think that there's merit to that?" Or, "My partner said this to me. I guess that's something I need to think about."
Jase: Yes, absolutely. Now that you say that, sorry to interrupt, it reminds me of a situation I've seen where they'll say something like, "Well, I'm this kind of person." You'll be like, "What?" They're like, "Well, my partner said that to me the other day." Like that. Sorry, go on. I was just like, "Oh my gosh, yes."
Dedeker: You got it. Yes, it's that situation exactly. Another warning sign is your friend constantly making excuses for their partner. It could be things like, "She's not always like this or she's just having a rough time right now adjusting to her new schedule or they were just drunk." Any number of excuses. I think, usually the pattern that I see is that your friend expresses, "Hey, this is something that's going on in my relationship."
If you respond with either some criticism of that or some analysis of that or like, "Hey, that doesn't seem like that's right. That doesn't seem like that something that you should put up with," and then their response, usually, is making excuses for the partner of, "No, no, it was just this or it was just that or it was just whatever." Again, this can also be another indicator of the cycle of abuse where it could be like, "No, no, no, it's fine. Last week, we had a talk and we all worked it out. It feels really good. We're going to go to counseling now," or whatever.
Jase: I feel like I see that one maybe even more often than these.
Emily: Specifically going to counseling and then doing that cycle or--?
Jase: No. They talk about something that happened and you might be like, "That seems serious or that doesn't seem healthy," or something and the response is like, "But we worked it out and it's okay."
Dedeker: I've been that person during the past.
Dedeker: Of having to walk back the seriousness of it.
Jase: Downplaying the seriousness and then emphasizing that, "But it's resolved and it's better."
Dedeker: It's getting better, or whatever.
Emily: Well, I think if you're the person who's in the middle of this, also, it's difficult to justify to yourself, "Why am I staying in this if I'm not justifying it also to my friends and saying, well, this incident happened or these multiple incidents are happening, but we're working on it. It's getting better," et cetera, et cetera.
Jase: That's a good point.
Emily: Again, as we're talking about these things like cycles of abuse and stuff, it is easy to jump to that extreme example or say it's a physical abuse or it's a mental abuse but what are we thinking if a friend is actually in a relationship that one would label, maybe, as toxic or even incompatible but not necessarily abusive. Is there a difference there? There's definitely a lot of overlap between toxic behaviors and abusive behaviors. Also, just the behaviors that might present if two people are really just incompatible but there are subtle differences so let's talk about some of those.
Jase: For example, just a bad relationship or a toxic relationship might be one where one or both partners are often reactive and angry with each other or they may neglect each other or ignore each other's needs or where there's a strong me versus you dynamic, right?
Jase: Maybe I'm generalizing too much but I feel like we can all relate to having a relationship like this. I know I have if I think back to relationships from my past especially when I was younger where you just--
Emily: You're at each other.
Jase: Yes, you don't really know any better necessarily or you just happen to end up with someone you're very attracted to but have this incompatibility or just don't work well as a team.
Dedeker: That leads to the next one which is clarifying an incompatible relationship which that could be one where both partners, maybe they have just wildly different expectations for what the relationship is going to be. Maybe they have extreme disagreements about whether or not they're going to live together. Whether or not we're going to have kids, whether or not we're going to be monogamous, things like that. Again, it could be you're incompatible in your communication styles which could then lead to more of those bad/toxic relationship behaviors that Jase was just describing.
Emily: Yes, but those are all different from an abusive relationship which is one where one partner seeks to control the other using things like isolation, shame, physical aggression, threats, emotional blackmail, stuff like that. That could tend to the more very abusive tendencies that some people seem to have within their relationships. Again, your friend, their relationship may exhibit all three of these dynamics or just one or two of them. If the relationship doesn't necessarily show signs of being abusive, that doesn't really mean that it's a healthy relationship.
It doesn't mean that it shouldn't be cause for concern. There are various tiers, I guess, of where this goes. I've definitely been incompatible with people like some people want kids and I don't or whatever and things like that. Just, obviously, long term that's probably not going to work out if we're not moving in the same direction, I guess.
Jase: I've definitely found, in the past, talking with friends about a relationship that seems unhealthy or something like that, that people can often jump to this like, "Well, but, it's not abusive because of X, Y, Z." Or making this distinction as if the only good enough reason to end a relationship would be if it was abusive.
Emily: I've heard you use that before, yes.
Jase: Right, it's that thing of it still doesn't mean that it's a good relationship. It's an important distinction to make because I think it can change how you support them as a friend and maybe the level of outside help, you might even need to recruit or get for them in that situation or how much danger there could be in the situation. It can change how you deal with it. That isn't to say that any of these are good and should be allowed to continue and it's like, "Then it's fine."
Emily: Yes, right.
Jase: If it's not this specifically, then it's fine. It's not like that.
Dedeker: Definitely. These all connect to each other in Venn diagram, S ways but, yes, your friend could be in a bad relationship that's bad because it's incompatible. Maybe they're not very toxic with each other, maybe there's no abuse going on but they just are totally mismatched as far as-
Jase: They might be better off as friends.
Dedeker: -what they actually want. That doesn't mean that it's like, okay, great, whatever, they'll figure it out. You can still be concerned in that situation.
Jase: It's like that thing of some people feel like they have to convince themselves that their partner is a bad person in order to break up with them. It's like, "But no, he's a good guy," or, "But she's a good person." That's fine. It doesn't matter. It doesn't mean that the relationship is good. You could both be good people. I could love you both and see that. I love both of you. I think you're both awesome. I'm not so convinced that your relationship with each other is healthy. I haven't said that to them specifically, we'll get to this later, but saying something like that will just often make people more defensive.
Emily: It's challenging. Yes, for sure.
Jase: But I think we've witnessed that from the outside and it's sometimes hard to see for ourselves.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely. In these situations where you've observed, it seems like my friend's in a bad relationship that's maybe toxic or abusive or incompatible or whatever, I've seen some of these warning signs, should I speak up about what's going on? Should I confront my friend about this?
Emily: I don’t know. Should you?
Dedeker: Well, okay, there's a wide variety of schools of thought on this. I've thought a lot about this over the years and especially now that I am often working with clients whose relationships run the whole gamut from very high functioning, healthy to toxic and abusive. I feel like I've had to learn to navigate, when is the situation to call out which behaviors or whatever. My personal opinion is I think it's better to say something rather than nothing. I think if you see that your friend’s in a bad relationship, chances are most of the people in your friend's life are going to take the route of just butting out of it and not saying anything.
Not because those people are bad people or unsupportive, but because that's just easier, right? It's easier to just be like, "Whatever, none of my business. Let them figure it out. I don't want to get involved in the drama," which is a totally understandable stance to take. But because of that, you may be the only person in your friend's life who is actually willing to have this conversation with them or open up this conversation with them at all.
That being said, I do think that it is very important to approach that conversation in a mindful and a very skillful way. Because I hold the opinion that I think you should say something doesn't mean that I think you should just go out and just confront your friend, and really let them have it and just word vomit all over them about all the crappy things you don't like about their relationship. What do the two of you think? What's your opinion on whether or not you should speak up about what's going on?
Emily: Yes, I like that approach. It's challenging because I think so often that we as humans have to decide for ourselves before we actually make a concrete solid change. Change is not just going to come because somebody tells you that you should do it. Or even to be like, "Hey, I don't think that your relationship looks very healthy from where I'm sitting." You have to understand that if you say that definitely probably most likely your friend is not going to do anything about it until they themselves realize that is the case.
Jase: I think it's particularly challenging if they are in a relationship where they're being told a lot of what they should and shouldn't do by their partner. That it's like, "Well, am I going to just be another person in their life telling them the same thing, just saying a different side of it?" The situation you don't want to get caught into is the one where it becomes like you versus their partner fighting over the friend. Fighting over the person in the middle. You don't want to end up where it's like, no, I'm just another side doing the same thing.
Emily: I don't even know if I should talk about this, but I'm just interested in the people that I know in my life and I know that I've also been this way that any female identified people will sometimes make the decision to placate to their partner's needs more quickly, I guess. At least those are the types of relationships that I've seen, rather and stick with and then stay in it rather than it being like standing up for themselves and saying, no, this isn't okay. I don't know. I've definitely been in those scenarios for sure. I think, again, just because we have been told you need to just deal with it and pick your mountains to die on and stuff like that.
Dedeker: Yes, I can totally see that. I think that once I started working with clients, I started seeing this dynamic happen more regardless of people's gender. I've definitely seen a lot of men in heterosexual relationships where they do feel like I need to just let my partner do whatever she wants to do. I just need to nod and say, yes, because that's the only way I'll have any peace and-
Emily: Yes, that’s an interesting point too.
Dedeker: -that's the only way I'll be able to get any of maybe what I want in the relationship. I think that I have witnessed more of that going in all directions. However, I don't think that you're wrong. I think that you're right, that women and those of us socialized to be women, have been told from very early on that it's easier to not rock the boat, and your self-esteem is wrapped up in like how good of a partner you are to a man. That's the most important thing to be pursuing at all times. But I don't think it's just isolated to women experiencing that.
Emily: Of course, I was thinking about it in my head of, "Who do I know in my life besides myself, who's been in situations like this?" Let's think about that. Mostly what I come up with are my friends who are socialized to be women or identify as women.
Dedeker: To be fair though, I do wonder if that's the byproduct of women being more comfortable confiding about their relationships to other women.
Emily: That’s an interesting.
Dedeker: My perception is that men do that less often. But maybe, Jase, you could say that that's BS. Maybe that is BS. I don't know.
Jase: I could only speak from my individual experience. I know that for me, something that I found in my life is that my male friends do tend to share with me more emotionally than maybe they do with other men. Or at least, than I would expect them to. Just, I guess maybe because they know that I'm a safe person or I'm not going to shame them for it or something. I don't know. But I noticed this early on in my life. I don’t know if I'm a representative sample or maybe that's more normal than I think it is. I'm not sure. To go back to your question about speaking up though, do you feel like it's your place to do that? I find that for me, gender does come into it.
That if the friend I'm talking to is a man, I feel like I will be more likely to question things. Even almost, especially if I start to get the impression that they might be the one on the little more toxic side, of pointing out to them. It's like, "Hey, you're doing these things because maybe you're not compatible with this person or maybe this isn't a good relationship for you to be in."
Rather than try to control this person maybe this isn't the relationship for you. I find I'm more likely to do that with my male friends. I think for me, because I'm very aware that when I'm talking to any of my non-male friends, it's like I don't want to-- Especially if they're dating a man, I don't want to be another man coming along and telling them what to do. That dynamic is something worth thinking about.
Emily: It's not to say that women cannot be abusive because they absofuckinglutely can.
Jase: For sure.
Emily: That is probably talked about way less than it is on the flip side of men being abused by their women partners. I think that's something to think about but I understand where you're coming from.
Dedeker: That is interesting to highlight that dynamic, though, that I think this is a situation where it can be easy for people to perceive that maybe you have an agenda.
Jase: Yes, that’s too.
Emily: At least go there, yes.
Emily: This is why this person is talking like this.
Dedeker: Yes. That your agenda is not I want to help my friend. Maybe people could probably perceive that your agenda is, well, I want to date my friend, so I need to get them away from this partner first. I guess that is another consideration of that if you think about may change the way that you approach the situation or whether or not you choose to approach it at all, I suppose.
Jase: Yes. We'll get to this in a little bit here, but whether it might be worth recruiting other friends to help with this, because like you said earlier, Dedeker, you might be the only friend who says anything to them. Maybe you're not the right person to do that but if you're friends with their other friends maybe there is someone else. You could be like, "Hey, maybe you're the person to do this." Just a thought. Shall we go on to what to actually do if you are going to say something?
Emily: If you want to say something. Yes.
Jase: We're going to start with before you say anything. This is like preparing. Preparing either way. This one I love. Dedeker wrote this down as check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Emily: It's good. Good advice.
Jase: Which is great. Basically, this is check your assumptions. There's no way for you to actually know everything that's going on in your friend's head, in your friend's heart, in their relationships. You don't have perfect information and you can't. Just check if you might be projecting some assumptions on to what's going on or are you maybe forcing your values on to someone else.
The example of this would be a monogamous person has a friend who comes out as like, "We've just opened up our relationship," and they're putting their monogamous values on them and going, "This is abuse," or, "you're being taken advantage of," or something. Check, maybe there's some of that going on. Are you feeling insecure about your friendship with this person? Is there maybe some jealousy of your friendship being infringed upon by this relationship? Anything like that. Is there something that might be skewing your perception of the situation?
Emily: The next one is going to be to even go and ask mutual friends if they've observed similar things, if they have similar concerns. Also, just be mindful that this is really for the purpose of surveying and getting more takes on the situation rather than to gossip because I know some might have the tendency to be like, "Oh, my god, do you know what Jenny said about Becky?" or something, I don't know.
Things like that. Then as I said before, really let go of your own expectations because, again, nothing may change even if you say something. Your friend may actually react really negatively. They may do something like react positively but not really take any action. Be like, "Yes, I understand what you're saying. I get it." Something should be changing here and then nothing does.
Jase: I think that's the one I find in my life happens most often is that last one there.
Emily: Yes, it's understandable. It's difficult to make a big change especially if you are living with someone or feel like you can't get out of a situation that you're in, that is understandable. That maybe nothing is actually going to change at that point.
Jase: Yes, it all seems so easy from the outside. It's just like, "Well, come on."
Emily: Well, just do it. Come on. Yes.
Dedeker: I think the thing to be mindful there is just that if you go to your friend and say something and your friend doesn't do anything if you know that that's going to cause you a lot of frustration and suffering-- I've gone through it where I tried to confront a friend on something like this and they don't do anything then I start to feel resentful toward my friend.
Like, "Well, why aren't they listening to me?" or, "Why can't they take my advice?," or, "Why can't they just do something?" See if you can recognize what your expectations are going into it and see if you can let go of those and just focus on being with your friend in the moment and helping your friend in the moment and not being too attached to necessarily when or what action they may take.
Then the last thing is acknowledge that your friend has a right to make their own mistakes. This is related to letting go of expectations but it's also let go of being attached to the specific outcome of the conversation and know that there really is only so much that you can do in the situation. Your friend, like Emily said earlier, may have to make their own mistakes before they're able to actually change anything.
Some people need to hit rock bottom before they're able to turn it around and be like, "That was a painful lesson. I'm not going to do that again," and then things are better. Again, as Emily said, that's not knowledge or wisdom that you can force onto your friend. You can try to highlight what's going on but you can't make them recognize that their relationship is bad until they recognize it for themselves.
Jase: I think the irony of this too is that if you do go down this route of really insisting and then eventually they do hit rock bottom and do it in their own time, if you all this time had been saying, "You need to do this. You need to do this," and getting mad at them for not, I think that can actually compound their suffering and they're feeling of guilt afterward. That feeling they stayed in it longer than they should have which I think people are very prone to in any bad relationship but especially abusive ones.
Emily: I think as we've seen in certain instances having friends or other partners who give you the experience that you feel you deserve, that you really do deserve and it's a positive one and if they're just building you up and giving you kindness and love instead of being told, "Well, you're wrong to stay in this relationship," if you show them how right your relationship with them is, if it's a good one then that can also have the effect of teaching a person, "Hey, maybe this is what I really deserve. Not this other shit that I'm in."
Jase: Yes, that's a great example.
Dedeker: Sometimes just being the relationship that you wish that your friend had, not to a super intense degree. It's not like if you're not in a romantic relationship with your friend, you don't need to suddenly generate one to try to provide that Demonstrating and providing the qualities like compassion or good communication and or acceptance or love or kindness or listening, all those things. You can provide an opportunity to provide those things that you think that your friend maybe isn't getting in their relationship.
Jase: All right, we're going to move on to the section on what to do now that you've prepared, you've thought about these things. Now, you're actually going to talk to your friend. How do you do this in a way that's effective? The first thing we have here is it's best to do this one on one. This I feel like should go without saying but it's very important and that's to not do this in a place where they feel like you're embarrassing them in front of someone.
Emily: Ganging up on them with a bunch of other people.
Jase: Right, something like that or speak to them, if possible, one on one in an environment where you both feel relatively comfortable and safe. That's one. Then second is it's helpful to put the ball in your friend's court. To ask them how they're feeling about their relationship or ask them if they have concerns about it. Basically, come at it from a place of, hopefully, in getting to talk about it, they'll understand it themselves and they'll be able to see it more clearly rather than you telling them what it is.
Maybe they're going to be resistant to that or they're going to feel like, "Well, what do you know? Maybe you get one tiny detail wrong that's not how they feel about it. Then they're like, "Oh, no," and it invalidates everything you've said. You could even start with, "I'm a little concerned. How are you doing? How is this feeling for you?"
Emily: I like that. Also if you have past experience of being in a toxic or incompatible or abusive relationship, it really can help to share with your friend about how it affected you. Also do whatever it takes as we said before to be really gentle, really kind and calm and understanding. It's definitely easy in these instances to prompt a defensive response, of course, because your friend especially if they're choosing to stay in the relationship and they are defensive about it, you might get more of the same in terms of that.
Also, a critique of a person's actions of their relationship might also feel like abuse to them rather than help. This is interesting because in an episode that is coming up, we'll be talking about criticism and maybe how to critique someone in a better way. Yes, definitely that is something. There is a fine line between healthy constructive criticism and destructive criticism. For more on that visit next week's episode. In this way that's something to think about here for sure.
Dedeker: It's something that I've definitely observed and also lived through personally. If you're in a bad relationship where you're already getting a bunch of shit from your partner and then someone well meaning steps up to be like, "Hey, I don't think you should be allowing that," or, "Hey, I don't think that you should still be with this person." Instead of it feeling like help, it can just feel like, "You're giving me shit too for my choices and my actions." It doesn't feel like a good safe sustaining conversation. It just feels like, "Okay, well, now I'm dealing with shit from my best friend as well as my partner." It can be very easy for people to feel just caught in the middle in these situations. If it becomes clear that your friend is in an abusive relationship, and just to put it out there, that could be physical abuse, it could be emotional abuse, it could be financial abuse, it could be verbal abuse, there's a lot of different kinds of abuse, but if it seems clear that your friend definitely is in an abusive situation, for sure, make your concern clear but also make yourself a safe and a confidential person that they can come to.
Again, like we were just saying, if it's clear that your partner or that your friend is being abused, immediately putting all this pressure of like, "Okay, well, we got to get you out of here and you got to leave him right away. You're going to pack up a bag tonight." Even though, technically, that's probably good advice in a situation maybe. Actually that depends on the situation. But even though that seems like it's good advice, it's more likely to have a negative effect. It's more likely to not be responded to very well. The best thing that you can do is to make sure that your friend knows that you are safe and you are going to keep confidentiality and they can come to you to talk about it whenever.
Jase: Can we elaborate just a little bit on what being safe here means? What it brings to mind for me, and I'm curious what you think, it brings to mind for me the idea that being a safe person to talk about an abusive situation means that you as that safe person might hear something very upsetting that is happening to your partner, but that you're not going to be reactive to that.
Emily: Yes. It's more a without judgment.
Jase: And that you're not going to go rush and do something without their permission. I think that at least is my impression of why people don't share, because it's like, "Well, if I do, in their mind it might be like this person's going overreact, and try to take action themselves rather than listening to me who knows the situation more intimately." I don't know. Do you have any other thoughts about what it means to be a safe person in this situation?
Dedeker: Yes, I would definitely say so. When I think about my own experience of being in an abusive relationship, and I was really hesitant to tell people about it because I was afraid of that. I was afraid of people, I know you say overreacting, but probably reacting appropriately really.
Jase: To the perception of the person in the situation overreacting.
Dedeker: Yes. I was afraid of people having a big reaction, wanting to take matters into their own hands. I was afraid of people blaming me, essentially. I was afraid of receiving criticism of like, "Why would you let this happen?" Or, "How could you stay in this relationship so long? Or, "Why didn't you tell me sooner?" Those were all those assumptions that I held of how people were going to react, was all stuff that held me back from talking about it. So I think part of safe is being that, is like not being reactive and not dropping everything to try to bail your friend out of this abusive situation.
Jase: Unless they want you to do that. Unless that's what they're asking for.
Dedeker: Unless that's what they specifically want. Just something to bear in mind is that in a lot of abusive situations, just dropping everything to bail someone out puts them in more danger than they are when they are in the relationship or living with the person or whatever. Because sometimes you don't know how their abuser is going to react or what's necessarily going to happen. As much as I think all of us would love to be the hero who comes in and rescues our friend from an abusive situation, that can actually compromise them more.
Sometimes the wiser decision is to let your friend stay in the relationship, but make sure that you were there and you are their lifeline, hopefully one of many lifelines that is able to step up when it is time to take action and when it is safe for them to take action. You can also forward specific abuse resources, if your friend is receptive to that kind of thing, because, again, if your friend doesn't really think it's abuse and you're just like, "Here, check out this domestic violence website," they're probably going to feel weird about that or defensive about that. Again, if your friend is receptive to getting resources on abuse, then send them.
My favorite is called loveisrespect.org and it's really not super heavy handed and it's not about any particular type of abuse, but it focuses more on what positive, healthy relationships look like. That's one of my favorite resources to send to people. Is loveisrespect.org. Related to that, avoid the drama triangle. We talked about this in episode 187, the Karpman drama triangle. It can be very tempting to fall into this "rescuer" role where you see your friend as the victim, their partner is the persecutor, and you're the one who's going to come in and save the day.
This dynamic can often keep people trapped in these roles and so as tempting as it is to be the one who's going to rescue your friend, try to avoid that dynamic. For more info on that, again, go check out episode 187. We dive into those specific roles a little bit more specific, a little bit more clearly, and also talk about ways to shift that dynamic so that it's not quite so entrapping. Is that a word?
Jase: Entrapping. Sure.
Emily: Entrapment. It's not a movie.
Dedeker: Will you allow it?
Jase: Yes, I'll allow entrapping as an adjective.
Emily: Overall with all of these, just try to stick to very specific observed facts rather than generalizations when you're talking to your friend about their partner, rather than value judgments or conclusions. Don't make value judgments on their specific behavior that like, "Well, you're maybe being lazy or something if you're choosing not to do this, if you're choosing not to get out of this relationship or you don't want to have change in your life or something." Just try to stick to the facts and your specifics when you're speaking to your friend about these situations.
Jase: It reminds me of that thing of like, you're telling your friend about something that you're seeing in their relationship and you'll make a generalization of, "Well, your partner is always saying these things to you."
Emily: Yes. Always and never statements are not good.
Jase: Well, and here it's not just because always and never statements are inaccurate, but also because if you say something like that, like, "Your partner is always doing this," they'll go, "I can think of a specific example where they didn't do that." So now your whole argument's been invalidated. The whole point you were trying to make, they're like, they don't understand. They don't get it.
They're making assumptions and it makes them more defensive too because you're telling them the conclusion rather than just pointing out, "Hey, you told me that your partner responded this way to you. I'm just a little concerned because that doesn't seem like a very healthy way for them to have acted in that situation." Or something like that where you're talking about being as specific as you can rather than making these generalizations.
Dedeker: It reminds me of the observation stage of NVC of nonviolent communication, where you just limit it to what are things you've observed, whether that's something specific, I notice calling to mind the list of warning signs that we talked about earlier that it could be something like, "I noticed that you've told me three times now about an instance where your partner said this about you, said this particular mean thing about you," or, "I've noticed that a couple of times now, that you've had to bail on me last minute on plans because your partner's been upset."Or stuff like that. Trying to stick as much as possible to what you've observed as objectively as you can.
Jase: Yes, real specifics. I think actually that's a good example. Especially in a situation where maybe they aren't telling you what's going on in their relationships, so you can't say this specific thing.
Emily: Or they seem like red flags.
Jase: You could point out, "Hey, I've noticed that you've become completely unresponsive for periods of time when you're with this person or right after I know that you've had a fight with them." Something like that.
Emily: Yes. What's going on there?
Jase: Even just, "This is what I've noticed about you. I don't know exactly what happened in your relationship." But that could allow them to see it, for one, and then also hopefully allow them to then share with you about it and be that safe person for them to explore that with and hopefully come to that realization themselves.
Emily: Absolutely. We've alluded to it a bit in this episode, but if you're in a non-monogamous relationship and your partner is in a bad or abusive relationship or you suspect that they are, we have some special considerations about that in our bonus episodes. Am I risking making waves at home if I tell them what I think? Things like that. We're going to discuss all of that in the bonus episode. Be sure to check that out if you are a patron of ours, or become a patron to check it out more.