How to talk to someone about their relationships

Instead of saying this, say that

When we tell our friends that their relationship is “perfect,” or that they are “so cute together,” they are more likely to ignore negative things that happen and blow them off as not a big deal. They also will be less likely to share details of their relationship with you that aren’t perfect because they don’t want to let you down, burden you, or feel like they need to live up to your expectations. So…

Instead of Saying This Say That
“They’re SO great! You guys are perfect together.” “You seem really happy! How are you feeling about them?”
“Why do you keep ditching us for them?” “It seems like you’re spending a lot of time with them. How’s everything going?”
“OMG you guys are finally together. We’ve all been waiting for this!” “We thought you liked them for a while. How do you feel now that it’s official?”
“Ew, why would you date them?” “What is it about them that you like?”

There is already incredible pressure to be in a seemingly perfect relationship, and social media only accentuates this pressure. Remember as a friend that even if you are seeing the happiest posts on social media, that is not the only representation of your friend’s relationship. So as a friend, continue to ask genuine questions about how the relationship is going and do not assume that because it looks great on social media that everything is perfect. So…

Instead of Saying This Say That
“When's the Wedding?” “You seem so happy! Catch up soon?”
“#relationshipgoals/Couple of the Year/Favs” “So cute!”

“Jealous - ur so lucky/I want your life/Where do I get one?”

“Always wanted to visit there - can’t wait to hear about it!”

“Hi Mom & Dad” “Love this/Love you both!”

Though it may be true, it’s important not to label your friend’s partner as abusive, as that will likely cause your friend to shut down. To help them open up to you, talk about the specific behaviors you’ve seen and ask your friend how those behaviors make them feel. By focusing on unhealthy behaviors rather than the people exhibiting those behaviors, the conversation will feel less judgmental and more about the genuine care you have for your friend. If your friend is the person you care about, your conversation should focus on that friend, not their abusive partner. So…

Instead of Saying This Say That

“We never see you anymore, you’re always with them. Are we even friends?”

“I’ve noticed they always show up unexpectedly. How do you feel about that?”

“Where have you been? Hanging out with ___ again?”

“I’ve missed you at practice. Is there a reason you haven’t been here?”

“Why are you still with them? They treat you like crap.”

“I’m your friend first and here if you need to talk.”

“Stop answering that. Just tell them you’re busy.”

“I’ve noticed you’re always on your phone. Is there anything going on that you want to talk about?”

“I’m done. You’re not dragging me through this anymore.”

“You seem really stressed out lately. What’s been going on?”

“Why do you always listen to everything they say? I don’t get it.”

“They seem to get mad when you hang out with us/__. What’s your gut reaction to that?”

If you know that your friend is in an unhealthy relationship but they don’t see it, it’s okay to be angry at the situation, but getting angry at them won’t solve that problem. Your friend will never leave a relationship because you tell them to; they will leave a relationship when they make the decision for themselves and feel ready. In order to help your friend be honest with themselves, be patient yet persistent and offer gentle, steadfast support – be an example of healthy behaviors! So…

Instead of Saying This Say That

“I was only trying to help you - sorry I won’t make an effort anymore.”

“Just checking in - I’m here if you ever want to talk about it.”

“This is the last time I’m trying. I’m sick of putting up with them.”

“There’s no time limit on when you can come to me to talk.”

“Fine. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you about them.”

“Let’s go to lunch this week. I promise I won’t pester you about your relationship during it.”

“You guys got in a fight again!?”

“I’ve noticed you’re always on your phone. Is there anything going on that you want to talk about?”

“I’m done. You’re not dragging me through this anymore.”

“Do you want to talk about what happened last night?”

“I know you like them, but they’re such a jerk. How do you not see that?”

“I’m sorry if I came across as intrusive. I was worried for your safety and wanted to check in.”

If you see your friend exhibiting unhealthy behaviors, you can help them recognize that their behavior is not okay without saying that they’re a bad or abusive person. Starting with gentle questions to learn more about your friend’s relationship is key. Someone exhibiting these behaviors is unlikely to respond well to being told that they are an abuser, but genuinely showing that you care about them might get them to accept help faster. If you can get your friend to admit that they are “stressed,” due to the relationship or to anything else, offer to go with them to a counselor and help normalize mental health treatment. So…

Say That
Instead of Saying This
Ignore it.

“You seem really angry/stressed. Anything you want to talk about?”

Take a video/Snapchat it/egg them on

“You and ___ seem to be fighting a lot lately. How are you feeling about them?”


“How do you think they felt when you said that?”

“You’ve got them whipped!”

“Why do you feel like you need to know where they are all the time?/Do they always know where you are too?”

If you find that these conversations are not going in the direction you hoped, here are additional action items to consider --

  • Talk to another friend about what you’ve seen and ask if they’ve noticed anything
  • Talk to a trusted adult - parent, coach, counselor, teacher
  • Connect with local or national resources like LoveIsRespect or The Domestic Violence Hotline

Tips for parents

Experts Say:

  • Talk about healthy friendships and point out behaviors you see.
  • Use teachable moments in the media or your community.
  • Model healthy behaviors!

Talk about what healthy looks like.

  • Weave healthy relationships into other topics, like alcohol or social media.
  • Talk about consent before they start having sex

Survivors Say:

  • Teach how to communicate about your boundaries.
  • This can happen to anybody, including our friends and in our community – so talk about it!
  • Don’t emphasize that being in a relationship is a social achievement.
  • Emphasize that emotional abuse is abuse, too.
  • Father figures and male role models play an important role in these conversations – don’t leave them out!        

 Conversation Starters:

  • Have you ever had a friend who gets jealous if you hang out with another friend? 
  • Has a friend ever bothered you on social media, like sending you lots of Instagram messages when you didn’t want them to?
  • How would you tell a friend if they were making you uncomfortable?
  • Have you ever been jealous of your friend if they beat you in a race or on a test? How did you respond?

Conversation Starters:

  • I’m happy when you’re happy so you know where to find me if that changes.
  • It was so nice when [partner] did [behavior] the other day – are they always like that? How did it make you feel?
  • From the outside, it seems like you and [partner] are really happy together. But how are you really feeling about it on the inside?

Experts Say:

  • Believe them and know that they may not tell you everything right away
  • Label the abusive behaviors instead of the person.
  • Encourage them to talk to a professional – you are a step along the way, not their entire support system!
  • Understand the dangers of a breakup – Safety Plan

Survivors Say:

  • Pay attention to the early clues that something isn’t right (constant communication, anxiousness around their phone, etc.)
  • Checking in goes a long way, even if they don’t respond positively right away.

Conversation Starters:

  • You don’t seem like yourself these days. Is something going on?
  • I’ve noticed you keep looking at your phone. Is everything alright?
  • What I’m seeing makes me worried. I’m here if you want to talk about it.
  • I like your partner because you do – if anything ever changes, I’m on your side. 

Source: OneLove

Additional resources: 

Confidential resource, on-campus

RMC/ JSU Student Health Center​

1701 Pelham Road South, Jacksonville, Alabama​


  • Pregnancy testing​
  • STI screening​
  • Referrals to other resources 

JSU Student Counseling Services​

On-call counselor 24/7, contact UPD to access​
147 Trustee Circle​

Giselle Sharp is the victim and survivor counselor working especially with students who have experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.

Confidential resource, off-campus

2ndChance, Inc. 

  • 24-hour crisis hotline for domestic and sexual violence survivors​
  • Emergency shelter​
  • Forensic exam support and advocacy in local Emergency Department​
  • Court and legal advocacy​
  • Support groups and holistic wellness activities for survivors and their support systems​
  • Counseling services​
  • Assistance with pets​
  • And more!​​

Crisis Line: 256.236.7233​
Administration Office: 256.236.7381​​

  • Rape Response Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Facility​
  • Specially trained to handle sexual assault cases​
  • Offers exams 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.​
  • Free of charge​

Birmingham, Alabama​

Private resource, on-campus 

Title IX Office​

Oversees the university’s centralized review, investigation, and resolution of reports of sexual misconduct, sex-based discrimination, or sex-based harassment (including incidents of sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, and domestic violence).​

Coordinates supportive measures

Jasmin Nunez
700 Pelham Road North​
Angle Hall, Suite 301-A​
Jacksonville, Alabama 36265​

University Police Department (UPD)​

Salls Hall 700 Pelham Road North​
Jacksonville, Alabama 36265​

​Call UPD if you need to access a counselor after-hours, UPD will connect you ​