Debby Ryan Tells MTV News About The Abusive Relationship That Inspired Her To Help Others

"If I say, ‘Love shouldn’t hurt,’ and you think about someone distinctly, maybe re-examine that relationship," Ryan said.

It can be scary to talk about abusive relationships, which is why it was so powerful when Debby Ryan recently revealed to the public that she herself had been in one. Now she’s speaking up and helping others, and she’s also bringing attention to a type of abusive relationship we tend not to think about: the relationship between friends.

“It was a working relationship as well as a good friendship with a person I had known for several years,” Ryan explained to MTV News. “The nature of this relationship to me was at no point romantic or sexual.”

Signs Of An Unhealthy Friendship

Ryan has chosen not to supply the name of the individual, but she spoke to MTV News about his actions and personality. “He had insecurity, a need for control -- a manipulation. He tried to get involved in every aspect of my public life, my personal life, my friendship, my family, my work life. Ultimately I realized there was something wrong in this situation. As our relationship continued he would cry, threaten to commit suicide, and it started to become physical – he would grab me, pulling me back into rooms if I tried to leave.”

Logan Cole Photography


Many of the things she described are well-known signs that a relationship is not working. “He would invite himself over all the time, would call and text me twenty, thirty, or forty times while I was gone for just an hour or two. It was very unhealthy, and it started to break me down. I initially pushed away people who saw how he was treating me, including my parents. It is very strange as I look back on it... I think about the things that happened and notice so much more. My mom, who is my best friend, was completely cut out.”

Oftentimes when people think of an abusive relationship, they think of a significant other, like a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, doing the harm. But as Ryan is describing, it can also come from people who are friends or work acquaintances. Asked about how we make sure that abusive relationships among friends are also understood and taken seriously, Ryan responded, “That’s a great question.”

Healthy Friendships Require Respect

Debby went on to really nail the fact that relationships, no matter what their form, should all supply you with the same good things: “First of all, every single person deserves a happy, loving, comforting friendship and relationship. Life is hard and love is hard and sharing your heart is hard. It’s not something you stumble into. If you start to dread hanging out with someone, that’s a sign this might not be a happy or healthy relationship. If I say, ‘Love shouldn’t hurt,’ and you think about someone distinctly, maybe re-examine that relationship.”

Logan Cole Photography


Moving On, Sharing Her Story, And Helping Others

Just last month Ryan teamed up with the Love Is Respect/Mary Kay partnership to speak out against abuse. And she knows that Love Is Respect can help you too. “What’s really cool about Love Is Respect and Mary Kay is that they have this amazing, anonymous text line. You can just text ‘LOVEIS’ to 22522. It’s anonymous, totally safe. They’ll have information and more resources and can get you to the right people. They can get you out of the situation.”

Along with fighting for this cause, Ryan is writing and recording her next album, The Never Ending, which she anticipates being out by the end of the year. This summer she’ll be traveling to sing both old and new songs and hopes audience members understand the added depth to her lyrics. “I think people will understand the songs a little bit better now that I have revealed a bit more about my past, over the last few years.”

Debby Ryan at the Macy's Thankgiving Parade/Getty

87th Annual Macy'

But Ryan isn’t just singing about the issues: she wants you to know that if you’re in an abusive relationship, she is there for you.

“Fight for yourself,” she said. “Even if you feel you’re not worth fighting for, there are people at Love Is Respect who are there 24/7, ready to fight for you. For two years I didn’t talk about a situation that hurt me, very deeply to my core. I decided to tell the world about the relationship that I went through, a situation that made me at times feelweak. But you have so many people fighting for you, (including me) and the people at Love Is Respect and Mary Kay, who just want you to be happy and healthy. If you don’t think you’re worth fighting for, know that we’re across the world fighting for you.”

For more information on healthy relationships, visit

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