We cannot go anywhere without someone asking us, “how can I tell my friend-daughter-sister-niece-cousin she is dating the wrong guy?” However, when it comes to the college crowd, they usually say I would never say anything to a friend. Or “I’ve done that once and been burned. I am keeping my mouth shut.” Here is an example of the stories we hear–we received this email from a woman who was panicked about her older sister’s upcoming wedding:
“My sister Kaitlin has lost her mind! She’s engaged to a total loser and is about to make the biggest mistake of her life. She is a brilliant researcher, a talented musician, and a wonderful friend. Her fiancé is out of work and has no ambition. Kaitlin does everything for him. She cooks, she cleans, and she pays his bills while he sits around playing video games all day. I have shared my concerns, but she says she loves him and that I simply just do not understand what a great guy he is.”
Kaitlin’s response is typical. Women put their blinders on when it comes to men and shut out their friends’ comments and concerns. Unfortunately, most women feel that they shouldn’t speak up. We disagree. You must say something. You owe it to your friend or loved one.
We are a community of women, and we need to be real and honest with one another. If you are a mother concerned about your daughter, the same is true for you. If you saw your daughter trapped in a speeding car headed for a cliff, would you stand by and watch, hoping and praying things would work out for her?
Of course not! Think of her relationship as that speeding car. You must do everything within your power to stop her from crashing. Whether you are a friend or a relative, here are your options:
Option 1: Don’t say anything.
Result: You now have a not-so-real friendship because you have to pretend to be supportive of her choice in a boyfriend. You make excuses for not wanting to spend time with them because he makes your skin crawl. You get sick of her complaining about how crappy he treats her–yet she stays. It’s annoying. You slowly drift apart, and the very thing you were trying to avoid (losing her as a friend) happens anyway.
Option 2: Tell her your concerns in a caring and compassionate way. (Details on how to do this follow.) What do you have to lose? Your friendship has already been impacted; just look at Option 1. Give her a little bit of credit, too. Don’t just assume she is going to drop you if you share how you really feel. What if it actually has the opposite effect? What if she were desperately waiting for someone to give her permission to break up?…
Here’s how to have that difficult conversation. By approaching the conversation in this way, you might have a better chance of actually being heard:
Five Things You Can Do to Help Her See the Light
1. Speak up.
What do you have to lose? There is a good chance your friend will ignore you (or, even worse, end your friendship), but you owe it to her to say something. Yes, she might get defensive, or it may damage your friendship. But think about it this way – if she does end up spending 4 years dating a sketchy guy, your friendship will most likely be impacted anyway. Who wants to hang out with an unemployed video game addict?
2. Validate, then activate.
It is easier to see the truth from a position of strength rather than weakness. Start off by pointing out some of her best qualities. For example, “I have always admired your compassion for others; you deserve to be treated the same way.” Start with a compliment, and she may be more receptive to what you are telling her.
3. Be nonjudgmental.
You understand your friend’s strengths and weaknesses. Avoid pushing her buttons. Try to sit down with her and share your concerns in a way that does not come across as judgmental. Don’t say, “we can’t believe you wasting your time with this player” Instead, you can say, “it is difficult for me to be honest with you because I am afraid it might damage our friendship.” This may give her permission to be honest with herself and open the door for further communication.
4. Shift the focus to you by using “I” statements.
We use this approach a lot in therapy, and it is a wonderful tool for defusing difficult conversations. Frame your concerns by starting with “I.” For example: “I feel so uncomfortable when he puts you down and calls you names.” Or say, “I really worry about how isolated you have become since you started dating him.” She is much less likely to become defensive with this approach than if you tell her, “You are dating a drunken asshole!”
5. Offer concrete help.
Help your friend by eliminating any excuses she has for not ending the relationship. For example, if she is living with her boyfriend, invite her to stay with you for a few days. Tell her you will help her find a new place, and call in the troops to help her pack and move. If wedding plans are under way, tell her that you will cancel the party – and she can cancel the relationship. Say, “I will call all the vendors and try to get your deposits back, plus, I will work with your family to take care of the rest of the wedding details.” Lifting these practical burdens may be all she needs to send her boyfriend packing.