“Thank God you’re not with him anymore.” My friend rolled her eyes. “I don’t know how you dated him.”
Whoa. What? My friend’s distaste for my now ex-boyfriend was news to me. How my family and friends feel about the person I’m dating is almost as important as how I feel about him. So if my ex had been so unpopular with my inner circle, why hadn’t someone said something before?
Whether or not to clue a friend or family member into the fact that her significant other is lazy, noncommittal, mean, a couple sandwiches short of a picnic, or dealing something shady out of his basement can be a delicate situation, but it doesn’t have to end your relationship.What’s your problem?
Is the offensive partner just mildly annoying or borderline abusive? If there are signs of physical or emotional abuse, don’t just give your friend disapproval. “Give her a way out,” advises Connecticut-based clinical psychologist Dr. Elaine Ducharme. Encourage her to seek professional help and ask for copies of car and house keys and important documents in case of emergency. However, if the guy’s greatest transgression is an irritating laugh and a fondness for synthetic fabrics, you should probably grin and bear it.
Mind your own beeswax.
Before you start offering unsolicited opinions, ask yourself these questions: Is it your business? How close are you to this person? Does she confide in you about the relationship? How much time do you have to spend with her significant other? Of course, there’s always the Golden Litmus Test — if the situation were reversed, would you want her to say something to you?
Make it about her, not him.
If you decide to bring the situation up with your friend, let her know that what you ultimately want is her happiness. Remember this person plays an important role in her life. If you start laundry listing his faults, your friend may take it as an attack on her. (Read: “What kind of an idiot dates this loser?”)
Instead, says Dr. Ducharme, focus on how he makes her feel. Frame your misgivings as questions: Have you ever noticed that Jack can be kind of cold? Have you thought what it would be like to be married to someone who doesn’t laugh as much as you do? Or focus on your feelings: It makes me angry when Clay’s rude to you. I worry that Todd isn’t trustworthy. Your friend is more likely to consider what you’ve said if you’ve posed it as food for thought rather than a smackdown.
Tell your friend, not everyone else.
If your friend hears you’ve been bad-mouthing her partner to other people, she might feel embarrassed or mistrust your intentions. When Laura Chalmers found out her friend didn’t like her boyfriend through someone else, she felt hit with a double whammy. “He met him for an hour and labeled him as ‘the banker he never wanted me to end up with,’” says Chalmers, but what hurt more was that he had gone to other people with his doubts instead of her. Chalmers and her friend patched things up, but she doesn’t anticipate cozy dinner parties with him and her now-husband anytime soon.
There’s no good time.
The longer you wait to air your grievances, the harder it may be for your friend to walk. (Definitely don’t wait for “speak now or forever hold your peace.”) But venting your feelings early may backfire as well. Caroline George watched silently as her best friend dated the wrong guy for four years. “He was such a [jerk] to me that I thought it would be obvious,” says George. Her friend finally broke up with him and moved on, but when George’s sister started dating a guy she had doubts about, George decided to speak up. That guy later became her brother-in-law, and George’s sister still won’t let her forget it.
Be prepared for some shut-out.
Expect that your friend may take a step back while she processes. Leslie Wilson was fooled into thinking her friend’s fourth breakup with a guy was the last one. When her friend asked for an honest opinion of her newly ex-boyfriend, Wilson let fly what she’d been holding back for years. A few months later, her friend got back together with her boyfriend, but Wilson didn’t hear about it for weeks. They never talked about that conversation again.
You’ve said your piece — now forever hold your peace.
Don’t harp on the issue. Hopefully your friend heard you. Now it’s her prerogative to act on the information. She might decide to stay with him. “People stay in relationships for a lot of reasons,” says Dr. Ducharme. You never know what goes on behind closed doors. “They may be meeting a particular need for that person.”
When it was clear Wilson’s friend was going to marry the on-again boyfriend, she made a decision. “I guess I’m just gonna have to make it work if I want her in my life,” she said. She feels like her friend’s fiancé has stepped up his efforts with both her and her friend. She’ll be a bridesmaid in their wedding this year.
“If you’re really a friend,” says Dr. Ducharme, “You realize that relationships are complex.” At the end of the day, if your friend’s happy, you should by happy. At the very least, you can look on the bright side — you’re not the one going home with the guy.