my friend is in an abusive relationship - Ask Bish

My Friend is in an Abusive Relationship

My advice to someone who is worried that her friend is in an abusive relationship and needs support.

Hiya so my friend recently has been opening up to me about her ex boyfriend, and I’m concerned about their relationship, he seems very controlling and manipulative still to this day. She’s 15 and he is 16 and he took her virginity last week after offering her a drug. They were both on it but that was her first time ever using drugs and he has done it so many times before. He is now using threatening behaviour and telling her he is going to “expose her” and she doesn’t feel comfortable with everyone knowing about her private information. I don’t think she understands the severity of it and how he is bullying her in plain sight. What can I do, is this classed as anything more serious than bullying?


This seems like it is bullying, abusive, manipulative, controlling, and just awful behaviour on his part. So I have the same concerns as you about your friend. I guess the question is what you can do to support her?
Here’s me reading this out if you can’t be arsed to read.

Understanding what is happening

You say that he is her ex, yet they had sex last week. Something doesn’t feel right about that. As you say, he took her virginity after they broke up (if I’ve got that right). Often first time sex is a big deal for people, and if they didn’t have sex when they were in a relationship then maybe that was because she wasn’t wanting to. What has changed since they broke up? Did he manipulate her into sex?

Read more about how virginity means different things to different people

Also check out how to make first time sex better

Do you think that the sex they had was consensual? It can be a lot harder to consent if someone is under the influence of drugs, particularly if they are out of it (or incapacitated), and particularly if it was someone’s first time taking that drug (because they might not know what their own limits of ‘enough drugs now’ are).

Here’s more about consent and the law

Are they on the same page about the relationship ending? It sounds like maybe she wanted to end it but that he wasn’t having it: is that true? If he’s manipulating her into having drugs, and having sex, it sounds like he’s also manipulating her into being in a relationship. Sometimes people don’t accept that someone has broken up with them. Maybe this is what is happening with him?

How to break up with someone

Often men behave in this way during a break up with women because they don’t have anyone else that they can be intimate or emotional with. If he was writing to me asking for advice in this situation I’d be caring, understanding, and also I’d be challenging him to be a better man. However he isn’t, so fuck him.

If he is threatening to expose their sex life to people then that is classic slut shaming. Because men get status for having sex and women get stigma (ie get called names) then men can use the fact that women have had sex with them in order to control them and shame them. This can also be true about the taking drugs thing because there is a different set of rules for what is expected of ‘nice girls’ and what is expected of ‘naughty boys’. So he is using this to his advantage.

Here’s more about slut shaming

What you can do

I’m not sure if there’s anything you can do without her consent that is going to help her. For example, if you were to go to the Police (about him giving her drugs or having sex with her under 16) without her agreeing to it then she may get angry and not cooperate, and not give a statement or make a complaint. Same goes for if this is happening within a school or college situation and you wanted to report it to someone.

So I think the thing to try to do is to be an excellent friend to her and keep the conversation open about this. Make it clear that you have her back, that you have concerns about her relationship, and that you are willing to try to give her the support that she needs.

How to support someone

Sometimes with friends, if we just tell them what to do and nag them to get out of a relationship then they don’t really listen and might just want to shut the conversation down. In these cases it’s often a good idea to just listen, give them space to say what they want to say, and offer gentle advice. Get really good at doing a listening face.

the listening lean

Ask her if you can get someone else close to you involved in this to help out. In these situations it’s great if someone feels like they have a team of 2 or 3 or 4 people on their side. Coaches in her corner telling her that she is great and that she can get out of this relationship, or be in a better one. If she just wants to keep this issue between you two then you need to be careful about not offering too much, because you might end up running out of your energy, time and resources to help her. It can also affect your relationship with her.

Get some support for you too

It can be really really difficult to do this for someone else. By being worried about her and offering her support, you are using up a lot of your energy, time and resources. So make sure that you have someone that can support you. Ideally she would give you permission to talk to someone that you can trust, but if not you could talk to someone who can give confidential advice, or someone that you trust that doesn’t know this person (so that you would be able to keep it anonymous). It could be a teacher, counsellor, youth support worker, or local young people’s service.

Find your local young people’s services

You could also just talk about relationships in general. For example talking about your relationships (romantic, friendship, family etc) and talking about what you would find acceptable and unacceptable in a relationship. What makes for a healthy relationship. How to make relationships more healthy. You could even talk about fictional relationships and what you both think about them. Sometimes talking about relationships other than the one that you have concerns about can help them to open up about their own relationship and realise what is actually going on.

Show her she has resources too

When people are in abusive situations like this is can make them feel less confident about asserting themselves and can make it harder for them to do the right thing for them. The difficult thing for you her is that you want to keep her safe and help her see what’s going on, whilst also being kind, consensual and listening to what she wants and needs. So it’s a gentle balance of you being there and offering support, whilst also sometimes being able to say ‘look, this is clearly a sign of someone who is being abusive.’ You could even ask her to give someone else advice if they were in a situation similar to her.

There is also a tendency, when we talk about the problem a lot, to make things worse. If we keep talking about the problem, rather than what resources she may already have, then it might be easier for you and more effective for her too. Here’s a resource about how this kind of approach can make us feel a bit better.

I’ve got a few links at BISH that might be helpful for you to read (and maybe for her too).

Signs of an Abusive Relationship

The Relationships Graph might help her to work out how her relationship is going

Gaslighting in Relationships

Brief Guide to Relationships I mean, it’s not that brief now but still useful I hope!

Big Ups an activity for her to think about (and for you to big yourself up too)

Being Friends Board Game just something you both might like to play, I think it might be fun!

Hope this was helpful!


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© Justin Hancock, 2024 Find out more about me and BISH here.

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I’ve been a sex and relationships educator since 1999 (with a background in youth and community work). In that time I’ve taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. I’ve worked with many charities, local governments, schools and youth organisations facilitating training and workshops. My two books, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and If You Want To) and Can We Talk About Consent? are widely available around the world. I’ve been on the telly and the radio and have written articles for newspapers and magazines. I’m also a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Read more about me and BISH here. Find out about my other work here Justin Hancock

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