Hey Bestie: My best friend is in a relationship with a controlling man, and I’m worried about her. At first, he seemed great but eventually he started to change her – making her dress differently, giving her fitness targets, putting her down in public and stopping her from seeing family and friends. I tried to tell her that he was too controlling and to get out of the relationship, but she yelled at me. What can I do?
Thank you for reaching out and asking this question. In the world of relationships, we call this a manipulative or controlling relationship and unfortunately, they are more common than most people would like to admit.
First and foremost, congratulations on trying to approach your friend.
Typically, when people are in manipulative relationships, it is not as clear to them and they might simply think that the relationship is ‘normal’.
As an outsider, you are better able to spot all the red flags.
"They might be afraid of reaching out, afraid of their partner’s reaction, they might be afraid to leave"
Recognising that they are in a toxic relationship is challenging as partners often make excuses for their or their partner’s behaviour and might even distance themselves from friends who are bringing this to their attention.
Signs that the relationship is harmful, can include:
Your friend has lost their confidence
Your friend can’t really recount what has happened
You feel awkward around your friend or their partner
Your friend avoids social outings
Your friend makes excuses for their partner
Although it sounds like you have already approached your friend, the next step, if you are still concerned, is to take a different approach.
Something along the lines of “As a friend, if I were in a similar situation, I would hope that you would step in and help me out … that’s what I am trying to do for you”.
Ask your friend if they personally have any concerns about the relationship. Make sure that they understand that you are there to listen and help if you can and that if they aren’t prepared to talk now, that you are available to talk when they are ready.
It’s important to be aware that it can take a long time for individuals to come to terms with abuse, to believe that they are in an abusive relationship and even to start to talk about their situation with others.
They might be afraid of reaching out, afraid of their partner’s reaction, they might be afraid to leave, they might feel guilt or shame – which also limits them from speaking out.
Keep being a friend, keep the lines of communication open.
Remember that your friend might not be ready to hear what you have to say at that point, so if you are concerned, keep attempting. After all, everyone should feel safe to be themselves and personally safe within their relationships.