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How to support a friend

It can be hard to know how to support a friend when they’re going through something really difficult.

We have developed a five-step process to help guide you through it, called ‘START’. While START's focus is pressure around marriage and relationships, you can also use these steps to support someone through other problems they might be facing.

While we use the word ‘friend’ throughout this section, this advice can apply to supporting anyone that you care about.

Our Speak Now Youth Ambassadors have created a video to show what supporting a friend can look like, which you can watch here:



‘S’: Seeing the signs

When someone is going through something difficult, you may notice changes in them.

Specific warning signs

There can be specific signs that someone is facing significant pressure to marry. These include:

  • If they have siblings or family members who have been forced to marry

  • If they have an upcoming family trip that seems to be making them feel afraid, anxious, or distressed

  • If they haven’t returned from an overseas trip by when they had expected to

  • If there is a sudden announcement of their engagement

  • If they reveal they’re going to be married, and they don’t seem happy about it

  • If they express that they don’t believe they have the final choice over who they marry.

General warning signs

There can be other general signs that someone is struggling with pressures to marry. But it’s important to know that these changes could also be the result of many different things: problems at home, at work, in class, online, with mental health, or more.

Your friend or loved one might be:

  • Suddenly missing a lot of work or classes

  • Not doing as well at work or their studies as they usually would

  • Posting or talking less on social media, or posting melancholy content (or showing other changes in their online presence)

  • Not socialising or hanging out with their friends

  • Becoming more quiet, distant, anxious, stressed or depressed

  • Feeling hopeless or helpless about their future

  • Acting out of character for them, taking risks or behaving in ways that might be harmful

‘T’: Talking about it

If you suspect that your friend might be facing pressure to marry, let them know that you are there if they want to talk. Take care in finding the right time and place for this, where your friend has some privacy to express themselves. Remember that it’s important to listen without judgement, even if you don’t understand.

If you’re thinking about doing this through texting, consider whether their phone might be monitored: you could ask them if they feel more comfortable having private conversations through messaging, over the phone, or in person.

  1. Start by telling them about any changes that you might have noticed. This can include if you’ve noticed something from the ‘specific warning signs’ list above.

  2. Then ask an open question, focused on how they are going.

These two steps communicate why you are concerned, show that you are thinking of them, and remove the pressure to share difficult feelings.

For example:

  • I’ve noticed that you’re not really engaging with our group anymore, or coming out to things. Is everything okay with you?

  • Ever since you mentioned you’re going overseas this summer, you haven’t seemed like yourself. Is something worrying you?

  • I’ve noticed that you don’t seem very happy about your engagement. How are you feeling about it?

To make your friend feel more safe to talk, you can also:

  • Tell them that you care about them.

  • Reassure them that you will keep their confidence, and stick to it.

  • Let them know that if they want to talk to you about something at any time, they can reach out.

The way your friend answers your questions might indicate what is really worrying them – and it might have nothing to do with pressures around marriage.

However, they may also disclose that they’re being pressured to marry someone, or that they feel worried they will be made to in future. Again, it’s important to listen without judgement, even if you don’t understand. They might come from a different cultural background to yours, or have a different relationship with their family and community.

Laying the ground for future conversations

Your friend may not be ready to talk about what’s bothering them. You can let them know that you’ll listen to them when they’re ready, and create space for them to talk. Tell them that even if you might not completely understand what they’re going through from their perspective, you care about them and want to support them.

‘A’: Acknowledging it’s hard

Whether your friend is struggling with pressures to marry, or something else entirely – thank your friend for telling you about their situation. Acknowledge how hard it must be, validate their experience and let them know you believe them.

You can say things like:

  • What is happening right now is not your fault.

  • This situation must be difficult to manage.

  • I know you must be feeling overwhelmed.

  • What you're feeling makes sense given what you are going through.

  • It takes a lot of courage to talk about this.

Remember to listen carefully, and to listen without giving advice – unless your friend asks for it.

How does it feel for someone facing forced marriage?

It’s common for people who are facing forced marriage to feel very alone. They may feel that nobody is listening to them, supporting them, or is ‘on their side’. They might feel afraid of what the future holds, and feel deeply unhappy. This is why it can be so valuable to have someone there for them to confide in.

‘R’: Reaching out for help

Seeking professional support

We encourage you to make sure your friend knows that there is support available for people feeling pressure to marry, or who are in an unwanted marriage. This includes free and confidential legal advice, accommodation, healthcare, counselling, visa/migration assistance and financial assistance.

If your friend is scared to reach out, you can offer to assist them in a way that you are both comfortable with. For example, you could sit with them while they contact a support service, help them to write an email, or go with them to see someone they want to seek support from. If you contact services on your friend’s behalf, make sure you have their consent before sharing any of their personal information.

My Blue Sky

We encourage your friend to seek professional advice, so they can learn about their options. You can let your friend know that they can contact My Blue Sky for free and confidential advice, and that they don’t even have to give their real name if that makes them feel more comfortable. Through exploring this website, you can find a range of online resources for anyone experiencing pressure to marry. You can also download a free 2-page flyer with all the key information here.

To make contact with My Blue Sky, you don’t have to be sure that a forced marriage is happening – it’s okay to be uncertain when you reach out. We have a team of specialists who can assess whether forced marriage is happening, and provide your friend with guidance.

What if my friend doesn’t want help?

Do not push your friend to do anything they don’t want to. If they don’t want to get help, you cannot and should not force them. The best thing you can do is tell them about their options, and let them know you are ready to support them if they change their mind.

To learn more about who we are and what we do, you can take a look at this video from our legal team:

‘T’: Taking care of yourselves

Your friend may be feeling a lot of different emotions and pressures from many people around them. It is normal to feel scared or confused about what to do. Access our mental health and wellbeing tips here.

You don’t need to have all the answers. Just let your friend know that you are there to support them, and they don’t have to go through this alone.

Pressures around marriage can be very hard to handle on your own, and can sometimes present a risk to your safety. Before you do anything, make sure your actions will not put yourself or your friend in danger.

Notes on safety:

  • It’s important to protect your friend’s privacy, and not to get their family or community involved, as it may not be safe.

  • Don’t try to intervene with family on their behalf: this could put you or your friend at risk and even accelerate the marriage plans.

  • Look after your own mental health and wellbeing.

  • If there is an emergency or someone is hurt or in danger, call Triple Zero (000) immediately.

Overseas travel

If your friend believes that they are going to be travelling overseas very soon, it’s important that they try to get help while they are still in Australia. It becomes more difficult to help someone return to Australia, and prevent a marriage, once they have already been taken overseas. Your friend can reach out to My Blue Sky anonymously if it makes them feel safer.

There are many ways to speak to us at My Blue Sky, and you can explore some of these below.

Use the website chatbox:

If you look in the bottom right-hand corner of this page, you will see our chatbox. This links directly to our legal team, so that you can talk to a specialist in real time.

The chatbox operates Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm Sydney time (click here to calculate your time difference). If you message the chatbox outside of operating hours, you have the option to leave your email address so that our team can reply to you at a later time.

Secure Message Room:

Our Secure Message Room allows you to make direct contact with our team and guarantees complete confidentiality. If you make contact, any email notifications that you receive will come from the discreet email address noreply@mbsfuture.org.au (please do not email this address as it is not monitored).

Click here to go to the Message Room.


You can call +61 2 9514 8115 (9am-5pm Sydney time, Monday to Friday).

In an emergency, including when someone is at immediate risk of harm, call Triple Zero (000).

Australian Federal Police:

Not connected to My Blue Sky, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) assists people impacted by forced marriage, including by helping them to avoid travel. They can also help people access a range of supports. For when there is no immediate danger, you can reach the AFP on 131 444.

Click here to learn more about how the AFP and other organisations can help you. You can also talk to us to learn more.

What if I have doubts?

It can feel scary to support someone going through an experience like this. You might feel like you can’t make much difference to their situation, but you can – by being there to listen, and by showing that you care. You can also contact us for advice.

Explore our Toolkit, and find out how you can make a difference.

Section Two: The facts and the myths

Section Three: Engaging with your community

Section Four: Responding to prejudice and racism

Examples of awareness-raising

Human Rights Calendar