One of my best friends is polyamorous. She has one partner who is super sweet and nice to her all the time and another who is over-controlling and possessive. He doesn’t treat her right, and it makes me feel really sad because I care about her. Whenever she brings the meanie partner up in conversation, I try to advise her not to date him. She still keeps holding onto him, even though her other partner is so great! I don’t know what to do! I don’t think you should spend time with anyone, even at the level of acquaintance, who isn’t nice to you. I am so confused about my role as a friend in this situation. Help!
I believe you have landed in one of the most difficult challenges of friendship. Truly loving another person can be so painful when we see and feel their suffering but can’t seem to change it, especially when they have shitty romantic partners. We see our friends for the incredible, strong, odds-defying superbabes they are. We know they only deserve the best! But sometimes even superbabes forget self-preservation and fall for jerks. Sometimes jerks are just nice people dating the wrong person, but at the end of the day, there’s no excuse for putting a partner down and making them feel bad.
So what do you do? This is a tough one, and every relationship is different. Nonetheless, here are Jessandra’s Top Five Suggestions for Helping a Friend In a Bad Relationship (and feel free to substitute your pronouns, reader).
5. Avoid black and white thinking. Instead of expecting you should always tell your friend the hard truth (that this partner sucks) or should always hold back, treat each mention of the partner as a unique experience. Sometimes your friend might want to tell you a funny, exciting story that happens to involve the partner. The best way to support her in that moment might be laughing and enjoying the story with her. A week later she might tell you a story which mentions the partner hurting her feelings, where she’s looking for a referee to tell her whether that behavior was acceptable or not. That might be a time to be more critical of the partner.
4. Critique behaviors rather than character. If you normally complain to your friend about her partner being a crappy person, that has the potential to push her away from you. She’s with this partner for a reason and looks for the good in him, even when he acts badly. It’s usually more helpful to pick apart specific things he says or does to hurt her. When I was in an unhealthy relationship, I had to keep convincing myself it was okay by building up this weird fictionalized narrative in my mind about what was going on. If a friend called my partner a sociopath or challenged his character as a whole, I had to choose between believing my friend and believing my narrative. Obviously, it was easier to continue believing my narrative. But when people talked about abusive behaviors in a way that didn’t make me defensive—especially if they were talking about someone else’s relationship or their own—I could quietly store that information away and piece it together later.
3. Allow your friend to make their own decisions. Easier said than done. It’s very difficult and counterintuitive to watch a friend suffer without stepping in, but sometimes this is a crucial form of support. If you take it upon yourself to change your friend’s life, it will not be sustainable and you will eventually become exhausted, especially because trying to control someone’s decisions is not effective. Maybe your friend is still in this relationship because she is trying to figure something out. It could also be that her meanie partner is nicer than he seems. Or maybe you’re right, and this is just a bad situation. Either way, show her you respect her ability to think for herself and decide her own fate (although there’s definitely a point where more direct action becomes necessary).
2. Be available. Even if you don’t spend a lot of time with this friend, let her know you’re there to provide support if she needs it. You might feel awkward telling her outright that you’re there if she needs anything, but sometimes friends aren’t sure how willing you’d be to provide the support they’re looking for. Especially if you’ve criticized her partner, it can be helpful to tell her where you stand: next to her. Support takes many forms, including but not limited to: listening without judgement; providing compassionate feedback or an opinion without expecting a specific outcome; lending transportation; helping with intimidating emails; helping with basic needs such as food or cleaning; going somewhere fun together; acquiring really cute puppies so you can pet them together; getting drunk and updating her online profile for her; and so on. Support should always be based on what the friend needs rather than what we want to provide.
1. Build her up, Superbabe! I’m pretty sure this is the #1 best thing you can do for your friend. Remind her of why you respect her and how powerful she is. Remind her she deserves the best. Remind her of how much she’s helped you, how beautiful she is inside and out. Inspire her to go out into the world and do what she does best. I think most destructive relationships are related to feelings of insecurity. Even though you know your friend is a superstar, she may have forgotten, which is maybe why she fell into this little black hole. All of us make better decisions and have a more positive impact on the world when we’re aware of our true value and amazingness. That includes you, Karen! Good job looking out for your friend. I hope you look out for yourself just as kindly.
Believe in yourself!
DO YOU NEED ADVICE?
Jessandra would love to answer your questions about life, relationships, personal problems, or pretty much whatever! She may not be a professional, but at least she’ll tell you the truth. Send your requests for advice to [email protected] with the subject line “Jessandra” and hopefully she’ll get back to you soon!
Note: Advice and opinions are that of the writer and not necessarily the views of the editorial team.