How to Help a Fellow Teen in an Unhealthy Relationship

Teenage dating can be like a roller-coast ride - up one minute and down the next. Without a lot of experience, many teens don't know what's healthy and what's not in a relationship. If you're worried about a friend who is in a relationship that doesn't seem quite right, it can be hard to sit on the sidelines and watch. But there are ways you can make a positive difference for someone who is in trouble. The following tips can help.

How to know when a friend is in trouble

The following warning signs can help you tell if a friend's relationship might be headed in the wrong direction:

  • Your friend's boyfriend or girlfriend is overly jealous or possessive.
  • You notice unexplained bruises or other marks on your friend.
  • The boyfriend or girlfriend emails or texts your friend constantly to check in.
  • Your friend is frequently worried about whether their boyfriend or girlfriend will approve of what they do or what they wear.
  • Your friend seems depressed or withdrawn.
  • Your friend stops spending time with other friends and family members.
  • The boyfriend or girlfriend uses social media sites to threaten or insult your friend.
  • Your friend begins to dress differently.
  • Your friend often makes excuses for the boyfriend or girlfriend's behavior.

Your friend may not even realize they're in a relationship that is headed in the wrong direction. It may be hard to tell, especially if the relationship is loving one minute and abusive the next. Teens - and adults - sometimes believe that the hurtful behavior they are experiencing is just a normal part of the relationship.

What you can do to help

Don't be afraid to reach out to a friend who you think may be in trouble. Even if your friend is not suffering from physical violence, emotional abuse can cause lasting scars. And many times, that pattern of hurtful behaviors leads to physical violence. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Let your friend know that no one deserves to be mistreated. Insults, threats and other forms of abuse are not OK. The abuser may have told your friend that they caused the abuse or somehow deserve it.
  • Urge your friend to get help from a trusted adult - a parent, a teacher or a friend. You can also refer them to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, where they can talk with someone who can help. Be a good listener. Sometimes your friend just needs a shoulder to cry on. Try to be supportive as your friend works through the emotions and decides what to do. It may be hard for your friend to talk about the relationship, so try not to judge.
  • If your friend is in danger, help make a safety plan. This includes making sure your friend has a safe way home from a party or other event where the abuser might be. You can also help your friend come up with a code word that will let friends or family know help is needed without alerting the abuser.
  • Don't try to force your friend to end the relationship. This may backfire and push them away. Only your friend can make the decision to terminate the relationship..
  • Don't confront the abuser or post insulting remarks online. This may worsen the situation for your friend.
  • If your friend decides to end the relationship, be supportive. But also remember that breaking up can be difficult. Many couples break up and get back together several times before calling it quits for good.
  • Let your friend know that it may be safer to break up by text or phone. It may sound harsh, but your friend's safety should come first. If your friend wants to end the relationship in person, you can suggest doing it in a public place.
  • Remember that your friend may feel sad and lonely once the relationship is over. Even though the boyfriend or girlfriend was abusive, you friend will also have fond memories and still probably had strong feelings for him or her.

Even though it may be hard to talk to someone about their relationship, know that your help is key to getting your friend through this difficult time. In the end, your friend will appreciate your support.


Find programs and services at your local installation.

View a directory of installations

Service members, family members, surviving family members, service providers and leaders rely on Military OneSource for policy, procedures, timely articles, cutting-edge social media tools and support. All in one place, empowering our military community.