This theme illustrates the complexities of getting out of a toxic relationship and shows young people recognising the importance of supporting a friend and being empathetic to why a person may stay in a relationship. Some young people highlighted that an insensitive response to a friend may isolate them at a time when they might be emotionally low. Some also talked about the frustration of friends not listening, thereby potentially leaving their friend even more isolated as they give up trying to help.
Theme 8 - Easier said than done
Survey of 641 young people aged 13-24 across England and Wales - August 2021
71%
Of young people have seen, or have had a friend to talk to them about behaviours that worry them in friends’ relationships
The power an abuser has...
Several young people highlighted the influence an abuser has over their partner and the complications involved with the emotions and feelings you have developed for a person.

“That’s easy to say when you’re not in the relationship…but I think without being in it and without experiencing all those things, knowing all those things, and feeling all those things that that person makes you feel, it’s a lot more complicated than that, and there’s a lot more things involved.”​ - Young person, 20-24

“It's not that easy. I don't think people get the power that an abuser has over the victim…it doesn't really understand that there's a whole, he's done so much work to manipulate her, he's done so much work to wear her down, to isolate her, she can't just leave like it's not that easy." - Young person, 20-24
Every person is different
There was a worry that giving the advice in the wrong way or at the wrong time could cause the friend to withdraw from opening up or make matters even worse. Essentially, every young person is an individual and the right advice may differ for each person.

It’s not as simple as just saying, ah just dump them. It’s really hard… the advice that you can give because you don’t know who it’ll affect that person because if you go too hard in it might just push them away especially when they’re feeling, like, really down or emotional at this time.” ​- Young person, 20-24

Survey of 641 young people aged 13-24 across England and Wales - August 2021
38%
Said fear would 'definitely' stop them talking to a friend
How would you help a friend
going through this?
These are all real stories as told to us by young people
- - Trigger warning - please be aware these stories are hard to read. - -
"He still had her under 'his control"
I had a friend who'd broken up with their boyfriend of 4 years when I met her. Despite leaving because it was a toxic, controlling relationship, he still had her under 'his control'. She was stuck, her mental health wasn't great, and she couldn't move on from him because of his manipulation. Countless friends had tried to tell her he wasn't treating her right, but she just didn't want to listen.

Thankfully, she did listen to me, and slowly he started to lose that control; she's finally moved on. But, I worry about her. She doesn't trust anyone. She doesn't think it's 'bad enough' to seek counselling, and tbh if she did, where would she go for it anyway?
"He'd make out that it was my fault and if I wasn't okay with it then I'd lose him"
He would make promises that he just wanted me and wouldn't date anyone else, I'd find out he'd been seeing another girl the whole time. When I'd bring the other girls up with him he'd make out that it was my fault and if I wasn't okay with it then I'd lose him. He'd been there for me through care and suicide attempts. I was worried about how I would cope on my own. If I tried to end things he would say that he'd changed and how much he needed me. But he never changed his behaviour to be faithful.
"I was scared to leave because I didn't have the confidence to say no"
I went out with a boy who would tell me that nobody else would love me. He'd message other boys from my Facebook and Instagram to tell them to back off because I had a boyfriend. He would constantly check my messages and message me to ask where I was. My friends would tell me that it was okay for him to check my messages, it meant he really cared about me. Now I'm slightly older I now see that it wasn't a healthy relationship. I was scared to leave because I didn't have the confidence to say no.
"I was scared but didn't want to show it"
At the start everything was amazing getting to know each other, we got our own flat thinking we've found the one. One day everything changed and I was beaten up on a daily basis. I got back with him after splitting up and things didn't change; I got made to do things I didn't want to do. I was only allowed one meal a day which put me to 6 1/2 stone at 18. I lost family and friends for staying. I was scared but didn't want to show it. I've been out this relationship a month. The police are now dealing with the case.
"I left him and he would always try to guilt trip me..."
I had a long distance relationship. I was 15 he was 17. It was fine until he started trying to convince me to send pictures of myself, telling me he'd keep asking until I did and saying that if he were with me in real life I wouldn't be able to stop him from getting what he wanted. I left him and he would always try to guilt trip me, manipulate my friends into hating me and trying to get into my accounts. Thankfully I've been rid of him for 2 years now with no more random appearances.
"I ended up calling the police..."
I ended up calling the police after I broke up with him as he kept threatening me and my friends. The police turned up to his house and told him to leave me alone, a couple days later he was round the corner of my guy friend's house waiting for him and me, yelling at me from across the street.
"He got his friends to message me after I blocked his number"
I started dating this guy and he insisted on paying for everything. He would buy me things and take me on expensive dates. He started to belittle me, make me feel bad about my body and compare me to other women as a 'joke'. We would argue and he would apologise but continue doing it. He told me what to wear when we were going out. When I tried to leave he said I should feel bad about all the money he had spent on me. He got his friends to message me after I blocked his number.
"I dated him for nearly 2 years out of fear"
I'm a girl who is 16. I realised I didn't like boys while dating one - when I tried to break the news to him, he told me I was wrong, that maybe I liked girls, but I HAD to like boys because we had done "stuff". I was scared and he was a year and a half older than me, taller than me, and I honestly thought he would hurt me if I tried to leave, given the ways he had acted before (grabbing my wrists, pulling me about, he hit me a few times). It took me a really long time to get away from him, I dated him for nearly 2 years out of fear.
"He...told me off for running away from him"
I had a boyfriend who would accidentally hit me and spend all his time with other girls and say they were just friends. He always wanted me to spend time with him and not my friends. Whenever he was stressed or annoyed he took it out on me but whenever we were with friends he would be nice and caring. He's yelled at me before so I got scared and ran off and he then grabbed my waist and refused to let me go and got in my face and told me off for running away from him. He always pressured me into doing things that I didn't want to do.
"I broke up with him that evening and he would cry to me begging for me back"
Me and my boyfriend had a loving relationship until he wanted to have sex but I wasn't ready. I told him I was because I thought he'd leave me if I didn't. When we were about to I stopped it and said I felt uncomfortable. He kept trying until i pushed him off. He said he didn't love me anymore and he never wanted to come over again. I broke up with him that evening and he would cry to me begging for me back but then said only if we had sex. I declined. Previously he'd been angry that I hadn't sent nudes.
"I ended the relationship but we were both at the same school"
I was dating this person and we started facetiming and once I fell asleep and I woke up and he was watching me and taking photos. I felt so uncomfortable and I ended the relationship but we were both at the same school. He started chasing me trying to kiss me when I said no.
"Even after I broke up with him he threatened me and blackmailed me"
He always wanted to do things and wanted sex and nudes and I'd always say no and he'd beg and beg until I said yes. Even after I broke up with him he threatened me and blackmailed me and made me so insecure and uncomfortable around people. He lied to me so many times about everything and would straight up flirt with other girls right in front of me. I find it hard to trust people because of him.
"I find it hard to be happy near her and am scared to break up"
My girlfriend calls me fat and says i need to go on a diet. I find it hard to be happy near her and am scared to break up. She sometimes treats me like an object and tells me what to wear and do.
"I really love him but I felt trapped"
He loved me a lot but I realized 'bumps' in our relationship were serious. He would look through my phone. He told me to not talk to other boys. He bought me expensive stuff. I felt like I 'owed' him something. Breaking up felt like such a big adjustment I couldn't cope. We took a five-day break. I missed him and we got back together. He was 'uncomfortable' with me meeting up with a friend. Sometimes I noticed he manipulated me, not really obviously. I felt I didn't have a choice or know what to do. I really love him but I felt trapped.
"He told me that he was my only chance to not be alone"
I've had anxiety, depression and suicidal intentions. At the beginning, he was kind. I told him I was suicidal; he'd tell me I was being too self-centred. I tried to overdose whilst together. I met someone else. I broke up with him over text because it didn't feel safe to see him. He told me that he was my only chance to not be alone, and if I killed myself, it would save him a lot of tears. I'm struggling. I'm back in counselling and got people who support me. Being suicidal doesn't just go away, but I'm trying my hardest, I'll be okay.
"My friend had to phone him and say it was over because I was too afraid"
I had a boyfriend who was in my sports club. He wanted to do sexual things all the time. I had panic attacks. I was a year younger. He would say things to me like 'I can't wait until you're sixteen so we can have some fun'. He would touch me inappropriately in public such as grabbing my bum in front of other club members. I tried to move away, he pulled me back. He didn't like it when I asked him to slow down. It got so bad that my friend had to phone him and say it was over because I was too afraid.
"When I told his family he tried to turn it on me"
He was my first, he constantly pursued me, telling me he loved me and he couldn’t handle my rejection so I gave in and dated him, I fell for him straight away. He had another gf the whole time, broke up w me for her after a few months using me for my body. When I found out he begged for me back, telling me he’s gonna kill himself. He went thru my phone and called/texted me nonstop till I answered or he’d turn up to my house. When I told his family he tried to turn it on me, telling them I was the one cheating on him.
"I've also had a guy I did tell I wanted to end things continue to harass me"
But I've also had a guy I did tell I wanted to end things continue to harass me on several social media platforms, so I had to ghost and eventually block!
Survey of 641 young people aged 13-24 across England and Wales - August 2021
25%
Only a quarter of young people would definitely seek professional support if they saw a friend experiencing controlling behaviours.
Things to think about
These are just some of the many questions that might prompt answers:

  • How might we break the cycle of self-doubt?
  • How might we help young people navigate different ways to help their friend?
  • How might we inspire friends to seek outside help rather than giving up if their friend doesn't listen?
  • How might we help friends have a plan of action to help their friend out of a situation?



How might we...?
Survey of 641 young people aged 13-24 across England and Wales - August 2021
68%
Of young people said that frustration would 'definitely' or 'maybe' stop them talking to their friend about toxic or unhealthy relationships
What are we doing about this?
We're currently working with young people in England and Wales to explore these insights so that we can co-produce resources to tackle the problem. We'll then need your help to get them out into places where young people spend time, both offline and online.

As we learn and create, we'll keep updating this page so please do come back to see more.

If you want to get in touch to help with this theme please contact yourbestfriend@safelives.org.uk

#WhatWillWork #YourBestFriend