Don’t lose a friend to a toxic relationship


Learn how to spot it

Learn how to support

Learn how to help a friend


Not all abuse is physical. Non-physical forms of abuse can be just as dangerous.

If you know someone in a relationship, and you think that relationship could be toxic, it may be abuse. Even if no physical violence is involved – because abuse isn’t all about violence.  


Young women aged 16-18 are at more risk of domestic abuse than any other group.

You might think that domestic abuse isn’t very common, but 1 in 3 women, 1 in 6 men and many LGBT people experience it in their lifetimeDomestic abuse doesn’t only happen in adult relationships. It’s very common in younger people’s relationships too. 

It can be hard for someone to tell their friends that they’re being abused for lots of reasons. They might be ashamed. They might be under pressure to keep it a secret. Some might not realise that what they’re experiencing is abuse. Instead, they might believe that they’re in a passionate, whirlwind relationship.

But, there are signs that friends can spot, that could indicate if a relationship is toxic or abusive.  

Warning signs


At its root, domestic abuse is when a person acts in ways they hope will give them control over the person they’re abusing. This could look like: 

  • Influencing what they wear – they might demand they wear certain clothes or encourage them not to wear things they usually would. You might notice your friend changing their style, or even changing an outfit moments before going out.  
  • Keeping tabs – This could be checking their location using apps like Snapchat, or asking other people when and where they saw them and what they were doing.  

Top tip – People change in relationships but if they’re making changes they’re not happy with then it might be abuse


Manipulation is a very common tactic that abusive people use to gain control. There are lots of ways people can be manipulated. These are some common forms of manipulation: 

  • Emotional blackmail – claiming to be upset or in need of emotional support so your friend will cancel or change their plans to be with them.  
  • Back-handed complements – remarking on features your friend doesn’t like about themselves to demonstrate love. For example – ‘Not everyone would like it, but I love your crazy hair’  
  • Gaslighting – This is a form of lying where a person says something that is untrue in order to deny something that is true.  For example ‘I didn’t take that money, you spent it, don’t you remember?’  

Fact – Domestic abuse is a pattern of behaviour designed to control someone


It is very common for people being abused to become isolated from their friends and family. This is done deliberately so that they become easier to control when they’re cut off from support. You might notice:  

  • Your friend is absent – they might not come out as much or be as present in group chats or online games.  
  • You never see them alone – When you do see your friend, their partner might always be with them. Or they might be constantly checking up on them on the phone.  

Top tip – There is a difference between checking in to show someone you care, and checking in to keep tabs


Jealousy is a natural emotion but when it’s intense, irrational, or your friend changes their behaviour as a result or their partner’s jealousy, then it could be a sign of abuse. This might look like: 

  • They stop seeing certain people – If your friend stops socialising with certain people because of their partner’s irrational jealousy, then it could be abuse.  
  • They stop doing certain activities – abusive partners can become jealous of hobbies or pass times that don’t involve them.  

Fact – Threats to share nudes are abusive and illegal


Have you noticed your friend behaving out of character – dressing, acting, or speaking differently? Do you think they feel pressured by their partner to look or behave a certain way?


While your friend might not look scared day to day, there could be other signs that they’re fearful of their partner and how they might react. This could look like:  

  • Anxiety and stress – if your friend has become more anxious and stressed since starting this relationship, that is not a good sign.  
  • Walking on eggshells – they might walk on egg-shells, being careful of what they say or do in case it gets back to their partner.  


Domestic abuse is about power and control. Not violence.

Worried about your own relationship?

How you can help

Good friends are there for us because we’re there for them too. But when a friend is being abused, it can be hard to know what to do. 

So, you think your friend is in an abusive relationship? Now what? It can be tempting to try to tell your friend what do to, especially to end the relationship. Or to confront the person abusing them, but often that’s not the best way to go.

How you can help is broken down into two parts, things you can do, and things you can say.  


Things you can do

Fact – the end of an abusive relationship is often the most dangerous time. This is because abuse escalates when the person using abusive behaviour feels a loss of control. Make sure your friend is supported during this time. Encourage them to avoid spending time alone, especially in private, with the person hurting them. If they insist on spending time alone with them, to get closure, it’s a good idea for this to be in public, and to let a trusted adult know where they will be and that someone is close by in case they need help or support.  

Keep in touch

Check in regularly to see how they are and to give them an opportunity to open up. If you can, identify times to meet, text or call when they’re likely to be alone.  

Many people experiencing abuse can become isolated. No matter how many times your attempts at reaching out feel dismissed, it is important you keep reaching out so your friend knows they can rely on you when they’re ready.  


Keep them upbeat

Domestic abuse can take a huge toll on a person’s mental and physical health. While it might not seem like helping, making plans with your friend to do something fun that takes their mind off the abuse, and gives them opportunity to be away from the person hurting them, really helps. It reminds them they still have a life and support network outside their relationship which can motivate them to take action to end the abuse. It never hurts to cheer someone up. It’s best to avoid activities that include alcohol.  


Stick around. Be patient

It might take time for your friend to consider ending the relationship. It can be frustrating to watch someone you care about experience abuse from someone. You might find they lie to you to hide what is going on, or feel they could do more to stand up for themselves. Try not to judge. Abuse is never the fault of the person being abused. You might feel they could be doing more to help themselves. It’s important to remember they’re being controlled and it’s not their fault. The worse thing you can do is give up on them. Be patient, and keep letting them know you’re there.  


Remain positive

It can be easy to give up hope and to feel negatively impacted by what’s going on. This is normal and it is not selfish. If you feel your friend’s relationship is negatively impacting you then you should seek help for yourself. You could speak to a trusted adult, friend or helpline.  


Focus on your friend, not the person hurting them

It can be tempting to challenge the person hurting your friend. This is never a good idea. As a result, they might become more abusive and controlling towards your friend. Or towards you. As hard as it is, try to be civil with this person. However, you should be aware that they may also try to control how you see their relationship and get you on their side.  


Let your friend know where to get help

Help is available in Nottinghamshire for young people experiencing abuse. Juno Women’s Aid support young people under the age of 16 and women aged 16+ based in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.  

Equation supports young men aged 16+ in Nottingham, and 18+ in Nottinghamshire.  

Nottinghamshire Women’s Aid support young men aged 16-18 living in Nottinghamshire.  

Help is also available from ChildLine.  


What to say, and what not to say

Don’t tell your friend what to do: 

It is important to realise that your friend is being controlled and that telling them what to do might not be helpful. It might seem obvious to you that they should end the relationship, or tell an adult. They might feel they can’t do what you suggest for risk of the abuse escalating. It’s important to help your friend feel in control again. So, it’s better to ask what they need from you. If they aren’t sure, let them know they can ask for your support at anytime.  


Label the behaviour: 

Often, it is not helpful to show dislike for the person hurting your friend, or to become enemies with them. This will only isolate your friend further. Instead, you can identify the abusive behaviour they’re using. Saying ‘I don’t like it when they control you’ is different to ‘I don’t like them.’ This also helps to ensure your friend doesn’t feel torn between their friends, and their partner, but also will help them to see that how they’re being treated is not ok.  


It’s not your fault.  

Abuse is never the fault of the person being abused. Ever. Nothing they have done excuses abusive behaviour. It’s important your friend knows that they do not deserve to be treated this way and that it’s not ok.  

Thank them for trusting you:  

When someone is experiencing abuse it can be really hard for them to reach out or trust someone with information about what’s going on. Thank them for trusting you. Show that you believe them.

Do you need help?

Local domestic abuse services are ready to support you and your friend. Calling a helpline is not the same as reporting to the police, and support is provided confidentially.

Contact Us

0115 962 3237

Equation, Castle Cavendish Works, Dorking Road, Nottingham. NG7 5PN

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