How to help someone in an unhealthy relationship

Dept. of Health and Human serivces


It can be hard to know what to do when someone you care about is in a controlling or violent relationship. These tips can help.

Watch for signs of abuse.

Relationship violence can take many forms. Make a list of anything you notice that doesn’t seem right. For example, watch for signs of:


Controlling behavior, like keeping your loved one away from friends and family

Physical abuse, like bruises or cuts

Emotional abuse, like put-downs or name-calling

Threatening behavior or stalking

Find out about local resources.

Before you talk with your friend or family member, call 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) to get the addresses and phone numbers of some local resources in your community, like domestic violence agencies and shelters. This way, you’ll be able to share the information if the person is ready for it.


You can offer to:

Help your friend or family member call local resources for help

Visit an agency or shelter together

Talk to the police together

Go to the doctor together

Set up a time to talk.

Make sure you can have your conversation in a safe, private place.

Keep in mind that your loved one’s partner may have access to her cell phone or computer, so be careful about sharing information over text or email.


Be specific about why you are worried.

Does your friend or loved one:

Spend less time with friends or do fewer things he used to enjoy?

Make excuses for her partner’s behavior?

Have unexplained cuts or bruises?


Does your friend or loved one’s partner:

Yell at or make fun of him?

Try to control her by making all of the decisions?

Check up on him when he’s at work or school?

Force her to do sexual things she doesn’t want to do?

Threaten to hurt herself if he ever breaks up with her?

Try to help your loved one understand that being treated this way isn’t healthy and that it isn’t your loved one’s fault or responsibility. The more specific you can be about why you are worried, the better.


Plan for safety.

People whose partners are controlling or violent may be in danger when they leave the relationship.

If your friend or loved one is ready to leave an abusive partner, help him make a plan for getting out of the relationship as safely as possible. A domestic violence counselor can help with making a safety plan.

If someone is in immediate danger, don’t wait – call 911.


Be patient.

Do your best to share your concerns with your friend or loved one – but understand that she will decide what’s right for her, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.

It can take time for someone to be ready to talk. Let her know that you are available to talk again whenever she is ready.


Get help for yourself.

Watching someone you care about stay in an unhealthy relationship is hard. You can get support, too. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233).