Your friend has been dating her boyfriend for almost a year, but the sight of him makes you cringe. Your formerly bubbly, charismatic friend has become tense, anxious and uptight and she's trying to please the ever-changing needs of a controlling, manipulative man. Although you would love to help pack her bags and tell him "sayonara," rattling off his worst qualities is likely to land you in hot water with your friend, and might push her closer to the guy you hate. If you want to show your friend that her boyfriend is a manipulator, keep a watchful eye on her situation and patiently wait for an opportunity to voice your opinion.
A woman who is being manipulated by her guy doesn't need someone else telling her what to do. Don't be forceful with your opinions -- or worse -- pressure or control her into leaving the relationship, says psychologist Joseph M. Carver, in the article, "Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser." Instead, keep in contact with her via regular phone calls and visits. Let her boyfriend know that you are a continued supportive presence in her life, and let her know that you are there for her if she needs you. If she does hint at trouble in the relationship, put the focus on how she is feeling, rather than attacking her boyfriend.
If you have solid evidence of manipulative actions on the part of her boyfriend, decide whether to share that information with her. For example, if he has been seeing other women behind her back, think about what you believe she would want you to do with that information, says Mark D. White, chair of the philosophy department at the College of Staten Island, in the "Psychology Today" article, "Should You Tell Your Friend That His or Her Partner Is Cheating?" Although you might cause her pain by sharing the truth, have respect for what she would want. If the evidence that you have to share will be particularly hurtful or painful to hear, give her time to process what you have to say.
Though her boyfriend's behavior might be obviously manipulative to you, your friend may have trouble seeing the situation objectively. Much like a victim in a hostage situation, a woman who is at the mercy of a manipulative man may defend her partner while refusing help from outsiders, Carver says. Like the hostage suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, your friend may feel threatened, isolated and unable to escape -- and so, she will resort to whatever means necessary to survive. In a relationship, this often means focusing on the good things that her boyfriend does -- even if they are few and far between. She might also be the victim of gaslighting -- a process whereby the manipulator invalidates the victim's feelings to the point that she feels she is the one with the problem, according to psychoanalyst Robin Stern in the "Psychology Today" article, "Are You Being Gaslighted?" If your friend has been with her boyfriend for a long time, expect some resistance to your offers of help.
There is only so much you can do. If you believe your friend may be in danger, you aren't overstepping your bounds to call the police. If her boyfriend has uttered threats, let her know that making threats is illegal and that you have no choice but to call, says Miriam Ehrensaft, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, as cited in Liz Welch's "Glamour" article, "The Exact Words That Could Help a Friend in an Abusive Relationship." If your friend tells you that she wants to leave but doesn't know how, call an advocacy group such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline that can offer assistance. Other options for outside assistance might include mental health professionals or attorneys, depending on her situation, says Carver. Your goal is to be supportive, nonjudgmental and willing to provide help in whatever way possible.
Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.