Olivia: You do feel helpless. There's only so much you can do when your friend or someone you love is in a toxic relationship. And it's hard to like advise them, because sometimes they don't want to hear it, and it can be very emotional.
Sam: My best friend. Yeah. She was just always crying because of him, then didn't want to leave him because she didn't know what would happen. The fact is he tried stopping her seeing me, and it got to the point where I needed to stick up for her and say, "You've got to stop acting like this."
Olivia: My name is Olivia, and this is the Friends Can Tell podcast. National research has shown that young people experience the highest rates of relationship abuse of any age group. When we experience toxic behaviour in a relationship, a close friend is the person that young people are most likely to go to for help. 90% of young people have tried to support a friend in this situation, but 83% said that self doubt about how to help gets in the way. In this podcast, you're going to hear a conversation between myself and Sam, where we share our personal stories of supporting a friend experiencing toxic and controlling behavior in a relationship, and how our friend supported us when we faced the same behavior. This is the first time we'd spoken. Just a warning that this conversation contains descriptions of relationship abuse and violence.
The conversation begins [01:42]
Olivia: So I'm Olivia. I'm 21, and I've helped support my friend through a toxic relationship.
Sam: My name's Sam. I am 18 years old. I helped my best friend through a toxic relationship.
Alcohol, gifts, and put-downs: manipulation by older boyfriends [01:58]
Sam: Do you want to explain your story and how you've helped your friend?
Olivia: So I met my friend when I was 15 and she was 14. We met through a big group of friends, and we actually didn't know each other until we both got into these relationships that ended up being quite toxic. And I think supporting each other through these relationships sort of made us become quite close, and we're still friends to this day. So we used to meet up with this group of friends. All of us girls, we were quite young, and all the boys we used to hang out with were all adults who were quite old. We both got into relationships with these older boys. And at the time, it was so exciting. We were quite shocked that these boys were interested in us because they were older. So the relationship started out really well. Her boyfriend was really nice to her and did everything for her.
Olivia: And then it got to a point where he started buying her alcohol and then encouraging her to drink loads, like really strong alcohol. She was 14, and then couldn't handle alcohol, like an adult. So she'd get really drunk, and then he'd try and embarrass her in front of everyone, and it ended up getting quite bad. It started off just as like name calling and putting her down. When I first met her, she was so confident and she was outspoken, but as the months went by, she lacked a lot of self-esteem because he broke her down so much. And it's hard to explain, actually, because about, I'd say 40% of the time, he was so nice to her. And I think this is why she felt, at times, that he did love her.
Olivia: And then the 60% of the time, when he was horrible to her, she was made to feel as though she'd done something wrong.
Sam: Yeah. It shouldn't be like that.
Olivia: What was it like when you were supporting your friend?
Sam: My best friend, she met this boy on a dating app. She was 17 at the time. He was 26, but every time he wanted to see her, she needed to go, no matter where she was, who she was with, she needed to leave to go see him. Because every time he was texting her, he accuses her of cheating, even if she's with me. He was like, "Don't bother with her. She's a bad influence." Yet, I weren't the bad influence at the time. It's the fact that he tried stopping her seeing me, calling her everything under the sun you could think of, and he kept on about doing stuff with her. So when she didn't want, he was always kicking off, "You're boring. Come on, do it. Do it." Because he bought her stuff, basically buying her. Like expensive gifts, not five pound stuff. It was Moschino perfume, new shoes, and giving her money all the time. But yet he was just too toxic.
Sam: Then me and her mother sat her down, told her that, "You need to leave him." And she was like, "No, he's lovely. I got to be there." She wouldn't take notice. And I didn't see her for about a month at the time, because he wouldn't let her see me. She was always out in the car with him.
Sam: She needs her Snap location on 24/7. And then another point, we got into the car. He started screaming at her saying, "Why are you lying about where you're going? Why are you doing this to me? I do everything for you." And it got to the point where I needed to stick up for her and say, "You've got to stop acting like this." Yeah. She was just always crying because of him, but then didn't want to leave him because she didn't know what would happen.
Olivia: I imagine that was hard for you as well, to see someone that you loved in a relationship and being controlled and manipulated.
Sam: Yeah. That's the same with you and your friend. You started to see what he was like to her, but the fact that he was buying her alcohol at a young age, it was a bit... That should have been a red flag, there and then.
Sam: But he made her feel special at the start.
The shocking behaviours that push someone to defend a friend [06:41]
Olivia: When you are being abused by your partner, the relationship might end, but the abuse doesn't stop. My friend, after she'd left him the first time, he'd constantly ring her and he'd call her. And the one time he was really drunk, and she'd been staying with me. And he rang her up and he was demanding that she come to see him, and she didn't want to go but then he threatened her, made her come and see him. And I was saying to her, "I don't think you should go. I don't think it's going to end well." And she was like, "I can't, I have to go because I don't know what he's going to do if I don't turn up." So I said, "Okay, are you okay with me coming just to make sure everything's okay?" So we left, and we went to go and see her ex-boyfriend. And before we even got to him, we could hear him.
Olivia: He was screaming in the street, calling her names and stuff. And we got up to him, and he was just basically accusing her of seeing other boys, sleeping with other boys. And she'd never slept with anyone else. And he was just adamant she did, saying he was going to hit her. And I got involved then. And I said, "Why are you so angry? She hasn't done anything. She's been with me." He was just going mad. And I calmed him down a little bit, but it was like, he came out with the intention of doing something. So no matter how much I tried to calm him down, he still wanted to do something, and he definitely wanted to be violent towards her. So I ended up getting him away and I got him to go home. So it's quite concerning, especially looking back in hindsight and you see it from a different perspective.
Sam: Yeah, exactly - really bad to witness.
Being called ‘frigid’ and dealing with sexual pressure [08:32]
Olivia: Yeah. One thing you said earlier about your best friend's relationship where he used to call her boring, I've seen a lot about people saying, "Oh, if you're frigid, you're boring." Or, "If you don't want to do this sexually, then you're boring." But I think that in itself is wrong, because we should all be able to respect each other. And if someone doesn't want to have sex or if they don't want to do anything sexual, that shouldn't be seen as boring. That should be seen as the other person's preference. If they don't want to do something, then they don't have to, and they shouldn't be pressured.
Sam: Exactly. It's like another thing he was trying to say to her, is like, "You won't," as in trying to persuade her into doing it, because if someone tells me, oh, that, I won't do it, I'll end up wanting to do it. And that's what he was doing all the time. So she wanted to prove to him that she would do it, so she's not a wuss or thinking that she is frigid, but then that's what made her feel more down on herself. It was heartbreaking to watch, really. It's just upsetting to see someone you love go through the worst time of their life.
Olivia: I agree with what you've said. You do feel helpless. There's only so much you can do when your friend or someone you love is in a toxic relationship. And it's hard to like advise them, because sometimes they don't want to hear it. And I also think it can be very emotional. It can be hard for the person that's going through it, but then you don't want to sort of make it about you, but you've also got to understand that it's going to be hard for you. Yeah.
Scared to leave: Olivia talks about how a friend helped her to cope [10:30]
Sam: I was going to be in a toxic relationship if I didn't see it and stop it, because my best friend helped me. Because whenever I was out, he was texting me. He's thinking every time I go out, he thinks I'm off to sleep with other people. It was like, I don't want other people if I'm talking to you. I'm not going to go around sleeping with other people. If I wanted to, I would. I'm just not like that. And like, he always texted me, "Where are you? Who are you with?" Texted my best friend, "Oh, does she like me?" And then my best friend said, "Yeah, she likes you, but you've got to wise up and start taking responsibility." And then he was like, "I just don't like her going out all the time." It's like, well, I'm going to sit in the house bored.
Olivia: Yeah. It's crazy how common it is. A few of the things you've said, I can relate to myself.
Sam: What was your experience with a toxic relationship, if you don't mind me asking?
Olivia: That's fine. I went through quite a lot with this boy, because he was a lot older. The first time I met him was like red flag, straight away. He made me stay over, and I ended up lying to my mum and telling her I'm going over to a friend's house, just so that there wasn't any issues between me and her. I didn't want her to find out I was with this boy. And it gradually got worse. But one day, I was getting dressed in the bedroom and he came in and started taking pictures of me. So I tried to grab his phone, and he wouldn't have it. He locked it. I didn't know his passcode or anything. So there was no way for me to delete these pictures. And he ended up posting them on his Snapchat story, and said, basically I had to do what he said. Otherwise, he's not going to delete these pictures.
Sam: You were too scared to leave him.
Olivia: Yeah, he'd go to the pub all day, and I had to stay home and clean his flat and cook for him, ready for when he got home. And then I tried to leave, which didn't go well. He basically ran outside saying, "Get back here," blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So I ended up going back. But the day after, I got my mum to pick me up and left for good, but it didn't stop. I got texted constantly. I had to change my phone number, I think three times. I was just so scared. And I remember sitting in McDonald's with my friend and just crying to her. And she calmed me down and she spoke about my options with me. And I think if I didn't have my friend supporting me at the time, I would've gone down a very different path. I had her to confide in and just sort of vent to, and she understood. She got it, because she was going through the same thing as me.
Getting happy again: life after a toxic relationship [13:28]
Sam: Are you and her okay after that situation? Because that sounds really hard to go through, and your best friend's situation. So it must have been traumatizing for you both. That's really good that you had each other to help you through each other's relationships, because you could have had a different friend and she could have been, "Yeah, don't worry. Stay with him. He's not all bad." But luckily, you had someone who cared, and then you cared about them.
Olivia: Yeah. I think we definitely were meant to meet because, not we've saved each other, but we've given each other the ability to save ourselves. But we're still really close now, so it's worked out well. Lives are going good.
Sam: I hope your friend's okay now.
Sam: I hope she's in a better place than she was a few years ago.
Olivia: Yeah. She's in a really healthy relationship now. She's expecting a child. She's living in her own home with her partner and she's really happy. I think that was one of the things, she wasn't happy when she was with her ex, but now she's genuinely so happy, which is, as a friend, so good to see.
Sam: That's good to hear, though. I'm happy it worked out for the best.
Olivia: Thank you. I'm happy as well. I think it's made me a stronger person and it's given me a lot of insights, and I do see a lot of like younger people going through situations similar to mine, and it gives me a bit of knowledge to sort of just advise them, let them know some of these things are red flags. It's not normal. And just give them a bit of information where to go to, or if they feel like it's getting bad, speak to your family, or there's organisations out there that will help you.
Olivia: This podcast was brought to you by the Friends Can Tell campaign, which raises awareness of how young women and non-binary young people can support friends who experience toxic behavior or abuse in their relationships. The experiences Sam and I shared were our personal stories and opinions. If you would like advice on the safest ways you can help your friends and support the campaign, you'll find these in our show notes, available on your podcast platform or at yourbestfriend.org.uk/podcast. All of the conversations in the Friends Can Tell series are available now for you to listen. This podcast was made with me, Olivia, and Sam. It was created by On Our Radar and produced by Chris Walter, Chloe Cheeseman and Sarah Cuddon.