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Ask Team Practical: My Friend is Marrying a Jerk


by Liz Moorhead, Ask Team Practical

 

Ask Team Practical: My Friend is Marrying a Jerk | A Practical WeddingA good friend of mine recently got engaged and I’m pretty sure it’s a huge mistake. Her fiancé is an abrasive jerk, and his personality has ended up isolating her from most of her friends. Meanwhile, she’s a shell of her former self. No goals or ambitions anymore, just him and their life together. That said, she seems excited about the engagement and the pending nuptials. So my question is: how do I be a good friend right now? I really feel down in my heart that we are going to see her divorced within a few years, but I don’t think she needs that kind of energy going into wedding planning. I’m just not sure how to act. Too much enthusiasm feels (and sounds) disingenuous. Not enough enthusiasm feels like I’m not being supportive. How can I be a good friend right now when it all feels like a lie?

Concerned About Pal

Dear CAP,

Honesty is central to friendship. This is when it becomes vital. Be honest with her.

But here’s the important thing. You’re not going to change her mind. I need you to realize that right up front before we move on. I’ll bet you my last dollar that she’s still going to marry him, and it doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it. Most of us need to learn things the hard way, through experience, and that goes double for relationship stuff. It’s really, really hard to impart wisdom with just words, and that lovely little, “No one understands us!” bubble of coupledom makes it all the more unlikely.

I’m not telling you to be honest with her because I expect you to convince her. I’m asking you to be straightforward because it’ll make your friendship stronger. You and I both know that if she does marry this guy, her trouble is just beginning. At some point down the road, shit will hit the fan, she’ll realize what a big mistake she’s made, she’ll be staring down the barrel of divorce (or worse), and she’s going to need a reliable, honest, caring friend. The friend that honestly says, “Hey, I’m concerned about you,” is the friend I turn to when that stuff breaks down.

So fix that in your head right now. Any pressing desire to change her mind, to whisk her away from him, to say the perfect thing that flicks on the light bulb—get rid of it. Replace it with the goal of building a solid friendship, and see how that impacts what you say and how you say it.

If your main thrust is to love on your friend and create a solid friendship, you’ll want to approach her with your thoughts gently. Take her out for coffee and give her the reasons for your concern. Be sure to avoid anything that sounds at all like it’s self-interested (“We never hang out any more!”) and focus instead on, “Here’s why I’m concerned for you.” Try to use specific examples and facts, instead of general feelings and guesses. Like, “He’s kind of a creep and you’ll end up divorced!” might not be helpful, for example. This isn’t an interrogation—don’t put her on the defensive or demand a rationale. Instead, approach this as a chance to give her some things to think about. And here’s the important part: make it clear that you won’t be bringing it up again. And then, don’t. She’s an adult. That means she can handle hearing your opinions, and she can handle being expected to receive gentle concern well. But, it also means she can make her own damn choices and her own mistakes.

The ugly truth is that there’s no guarantee she’ll handle it well. Even if you’re careful, she may jump on the defensive (particularly if something you say rings true). Your conversation might make her mad at you and create tension in your relationship. She might even distance herself completely. This stuff doesn’t always end well, but do not take the guilt of that on yourself. You can’t carry that responsibility. Carefully choose how you address her, and it’s up to her to choose her response. I know, I know. You desperately want to preserve this friendship. But what kind of friendship is saved by dishonesty and an inability to express care and concern?

After you’ve said your piece, you’re right. It’s time to suck it up and try to be supportive. You’ve given her your opinions, and then you have to trust her to weigh them in making her decisions. Try to be excited with her by focusing on what I said above, your friendship, instead of this jerkwad she’s marrying. You don’t need to be excited about him, but you can be try to be excited about dresses and parties. Take comfort in the fact that you’ve said your piece, you’re not living a lie, and then try to be excited just because your friend is excited. I’m sorry. I know. Friendship is hard.

The bottom line is that you do not get to determine how her relationship with this guy pans out. But, you do get to determine (in part) how the friendship between the two of you works. My hope for you is that you can build it on honesty and care, as well as support for one another (even during disagreement), and that she’ll respond with respect.

In discussing this issue, I think we need to take a moment to also address abusive relationships. There is certainly an added sense of urgency when you’re afraid for your friend’s physical or emotional well-being. Believe it or not, my advice is still the same. Be gentle, be honest, and most importantly, be present. I’m not an authority on handling abusive relationships, but there are several informative websites on how to support victims of domestic abuse (including this one and this one), and I’d urge you to consult them or to check your area for free or affordable seminars (this is an organization in my area—perhaps you have a similar one nearby). It’s easy to be angry with your friend for “allowing” this situation, or to want to distance yourself. Like we discussed yesterday, blaming the victim solves nothing. What she needs most is to have friends to call on if she needs help. Because it can be emotionally draining just to serve as a support for your friend and to witness what she endures, be sure to keep a careful gauge of your own emotional well-being. Finally, if your friend is in an abusive relationship, you will want to be present, but you may want to avoid being a part of the bridal party. Being supportive of your friend and standing up in support of her marriage are very different things, and it’s fair to withdraw that one aspect of symbolic support of her union, as long as you don’t feel that will put her in a dangerous situation.

*****

Team Practical, have you had friends make terrible relationship decisions? How do you decide when to speak up and when to feign excitement?

Photo by APW sponsor Jesse Holland

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her son.

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  • http://www.laughterinthelou.com Emma

    Once again, tough question, excellent advice! Nailed it.

  • kgoesgallivanting

    Liz’s advice is spot on, this gem especially: “The bottom line is that you do not get to determine how her relationship with this guy pans out. But, you do get to determine (in part) how the friendship between the two of you works.”

    Having an honest talk with friends about their decisions is sometimes necessary for our own peace of mind, but ultimately, it’s their life and they will make their own choices. We can continue to be a great friend, even if they are doing something we don’t particularly agree with.

    For example, one of my best friends from college has been in a challenging relationship for the past two years. They have very different views on life and their values do not line up. Every time either one of them tries to break up with the other, they end up back together hours later with the same promises to change things.

    As her friend, it’s frustrating to watch this cycle over and over, but I can’t do the hard work for her. She knows that she would be better off without the stress, but cutting ties, especially after years with someone, is a hurdle that she has to make it over on her own. I said my peace about a year ago, and since then, I just do my best to be happy with her relationship when she is happy and supportive of her as an individual when she’s not.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    Spot on. After bringing the concern up once dropping the subject is important even when it feels hard. No one wants to around someone who is constantly second guessing their relationship. It’s exhausting and it creates so much friction and distance.

    You can also raise other concerns outside of the relationship. “You used to really be into doing XYZ. Is that something you’re still interested in?” Bringing those ideas up is less pressure in some ways than telling her you’re concerned about her relationship being bad for her.

    • One more sara

      I love the idea about bringing up stuff that isn’t only about the relationship. It seems like a good way to bring up the symptom of the unhealthy relationship that you can see as an outsider, without being all “I really dont like how Jerkface has changed you.” Then if she does decide to start going to book club (or whatever it was) again, but then Jerkface says “i think books are stupid. You shouldnt waste your time with them.” Then the friend might notice that her relationship with Jerkface is directly impacting her participation in her book club, whereas before she might have thought that the change was the result of her own disinterest.

  • http://smittenimmigrant.wordpress.com pluis

    Very good advice for sure! As someone with a history that includes one long term relationship that was destructive and abusive I can only confirm that it is very unlikely that you will change her mind. But once she will change her own mind, she’ll recall your concern and your honesty and appreciate you for it.

    I’ve had friends apologize to me for not urging me more to end that bad relationship, for not being more critical, for not speaking up more firmly whenever I called them in tears, but I told them all that I am glad they hadn’t. It would have only driven me away, whereas their acceptance of me was one thing that helped me see how bad that relationship really was.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whitehindu Carolyn Moir

      I had this situation too.

    • Sandy

      I suffered through a similar situation. My ex-husband was emotionally and verbally abusive, a fact I remained in the dark about for years, and my family did not like him. Especially my mother, who often told me that she didn’t approve of him and that I should not be with him. This made me feel all the more isolated because when things were bad I couldn’t go to her for comfort. I couldn’t tell her about this or that thing that he had done or said because it would only give her more fuel for her hatred. Instead, I bottled it up and became defensive of him.

      When I started dating my current husband, my best friend told me she didn’t know if it was a good idea. She told me that she was concerned I was entering into a similar pattern and that she was unsure if she even liked him very much. I was very, very upset, though I didn’t tell her, and I talked to my mother about it. She told me to listen to what my friend had to say but to continue doing what I thought was right. She said that from our experiences with my ex she had learned that I would be able to find the right thing for me and that she needed to trust me. She said my friend was doing that too.

      In the end, my husband and I are doing very well, with a very open and honest relationship. My best friend and my husband are not the best of friends, but she has come to see how my relationship with him is different and better than she feared. They may never truly “like” each other, but that isn’t what’s important. The fact that I know she’s in my corner, that is what’s important.

  • Stephanie

    This is perfect!!

    I’m sort of dealing with this right now. My BFF is marrying a guy who says she is too emotional, that she has crazy episodes. He doesn’t take her very seriously, especially when she has financial concerns. He does not support her in her life goals. He definitely isn’t a team player in their relationship.

    I have told my friend that I’m concerned, but she is going to marry him. I hope all his bad behavior is due to immaturity – my own husband had to grow up a lot after we got married, but he managed. So maybe it will all work out, but if it does not, I know I’ll be there to help her pick up the pieces.

  • Anonymous

    I think I could have written this letter, and actually considered doing so! One of my best friends is engaged to a guy who treats her so poorly it makes me want to cry. He has a drinking problem, is rude and disrespectful, and has a criminal past. She loves him and thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread, but does admit that “he needs to treat her better”. I wrestled with talking to her about it for a LONG time, but in the end, I decided to say something, exactly as Liz so perfectly suggested.

    I told her that I cared about her more than anything, and that I think that she is awesome and wonderful and deserves to be treated like the amazing person that she is. I said that I didn’t like the way this guy treated her and talked to her, but that I understood that I didn’t know the whole story or everything about their relationship, but that I could only report on what I had witnessed. I told her that she never had to do anything she didn’t want to do, that it was never too late to change your mind, and that no matter what, I would be there to support her. She took it pretty well, and thanked me for being honest with her.

    I was so afraid that she would never speak to me again, but I had decided before speaking to her that if that was the outcome, then the friendship wasn’t what I thought it was. Fortunately, things are fine. I’m still going to be in her wedding, and as I promised, I will support her no matter what.

    It’s hard, CAP. Good luck!

  • Amy

    Thank you for posting this. I have been wrestling this issue for a while now with one of my friends, and now it’s looking like my sister-in-law is soon to be marrying a guy that everyone around her can see is not right for her. It’s not even that he’s a bad guy. They just seem completely wrong for each other. It’s so difficult to find the right way to tell someone that you don’t really like the person they’ve chosen to spend their life with… without making that person completely isolate themselves. And now that we are dealing with a family member, it seems even more difficult. I love this advice of talking about it honestly one time, and then dropping it. When it comes down to it, it’s the couple in the relationship whose opinions/choices matter. I’m looking forward to reading more comments on this…

    • Lauren

      I was actually going to post a thought very similar to yours. I also have a relative who is engaged to someone that everyone in the family can tell from a mile off is just not right for her. They would be great friends, but poor spouses, if that makes sense. And, I know there are people who don’t think my fiance and I are good for each other, but those people are few and far between and are not the literal entire family and I am not kidding about that.

      The way I chose to deal with it, for now, was to take my relative out for lunch and try and give them some “big sister” type advice based on my own life. She was headed off to college (engaged a smidgey bit too young for her emotional maturity, say I in my youngly-engaged self opinion), so I structured it around a “people change, college is time to grow and explore, yadda yadda” kind of talk. I don’t think it really hit the target, but I felt better afterwards at least expressing some kind of opinion and letting her know I’d be there for her.

      I agree that it gets even more complicated when the guy is not a total jerk, because your fears can seem unfounded. And then add in the family element, which is more likely to splinter off and affect other parties, and you’ve got a very awkward recipe for Real Talk Cake.

  • Anonymous

    I thought this was a very interesting post, and great advice Liz! I’d like to add to the other side of the story. I have a friend who could’ve written this letter about me. She actively dislikes my partner and believes he is not good enough for me, and has told me as much. She lives in a different city and has met him maybe four or five times, and has formed a very solidly negative opinion of him based on some obstacles we had early in our relationship. He and I have worked through that and all my other friends and family who have spent more time with him think we are great together and are very supportive. She’s made up her mind about him and hasn’t budged, even though all the hiccups happened over two years ago. For the record, he is wonderful, and has been very eager to establish happy relationships with my people. But he is understandably hurt by my friend’s very clear dismissal of him.

    I respect her opinion, but I know she is wrong in this case. I can also totally tell that she is faking any kind of enthusiasm she might have for my relationship, especially since she actively avoids the topic. It’s been a real damper on our friendship, and makes me incredibly sad.

    I guess all this is to say, before you completely dismiss a friend’s relationship as Bad with a capital B, it might be worth giving her the benefit of the doubt and taking a look at her partner with fresh eyes. Maybe you’re absolutely right, maybe he’s a huge jerk on the verge of being abusive. But it’s also possible that you are hurt that she has less free time to spend with you now than she did before, or that he brings out a side of her personality that is not the one you gel with (and isn’t a BAD side, just not your favorite). There’s a chance you could be projecting some of your hurt feelings onto him.

    • Elizabeth

      Yes, I think it is very important to take a step back and think through the reasons you don’t like him. Is he abusive, mean, and horrible to everyone around him? Or, do you just not like him that much? People’s priorities can change because of their relationships and that doesn’t necessarily make the significant other controlling. It just happens as people grow up. If it is the first, I think you absolutely say something, but if it is the second, and you just think she could be happier with someone else, well, then that is her call.

      • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

        It’s also not necessary to always like our friends’ partners. Obviously in an ideal world we would, but it’s not a requirement. Not liking a close friend’s significant other can create a really hard situation, but as long as everyone’s respectful of each other it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

    • Granola

      I’m trying to do this with a friend of mine as she and her partner get closer to an official engagement and wedding.

      I’ve met him once, when he was a guest in my home, and it was a pretty crappy experience all around. In a lot of other ways, I don’t know what she sees in him – they just don’t seem like a good match.

      But I love her, and if this is who she wants to spend her life with, then I’m trying really hard to at least be welcoming and kind toward him and give him another chance. We live in different states, so visits are infrequent. After the first visit disaster, I talked to her about it, but haven’t brought it up again. I hope that they’re happy and I’m wrong, and that you’re experience of positive growth is the truth I just haven’t yet seen.

      • Cali

        Just wanted to piggyback on this… I met the then-boyfriend-now-husband of one of my long-time best friends when she brought him to visit me and the two of them stayed with me for a week. I couldn’t stand the guy, thought he was a terrible match for her, that he brought out a side of her I didn’t like, etc., etc.

        Now, eight years later, I think he’s awesome. I think it was a combination of multiple factors that contributed to my perceived dislike at first. 1) They had been dating about six months, so were still very much in that giggly puppy love stage, which was what was irking me. 2) They were in college, so he was still a little immature at the time. 3) He was staying in my house for a whole week. Even people I know and love get on my nerves when they’re in my house for a week straight.

        It’s actually kind of hilarious now that I so intensely disliked him at first, because I love hanging out with them now. So. Yeah. If you met him while he was staying with you, maybe give him the benefit of the doubt? That’s a rough situation to meet someone for the first time.

  • http://fourfeeteightpaws.blogspot.com/ Rowan

    I adore Carolyn Hax (advice columnist at the Washington Post) and her response to questions like these are to focus on the aspects of your friend that have changed and not on the finace. So in this case, tell her that she seems different than she used to be (“shell of her former self No goals or ambitions anymore, just him and their life together” – nicely worded though) and you are concerned about her. Ask if she’s really happy. Bring up that she doesn’t seem to hang out with xyz friends anymore and ask how she feels about that. Let her make the connections.

    I also agree that she’s likely going to marry this guy. But you know what, it will probably work out, one way or the other. Either you are right and they’ll end up splitting or this really is the person for her. You never know what two people’s relationship is really like. He obviously fills some sort of need of hers.

    • KB

      Also – assuming that it’s not a truly abusive situation, this may also be just the bride’s growing pains. She may have reached a stage in her life where she realizes that she doesn’t WANT to hang out with xyz friends or she’s naturally lost interest in the things that used to make her ambitious and she’s focusing on the wedding right now because she doesn’t know which direction she should go in next, and it’s providing a nicely-timed stopgap to the next professional goal. And she may not be willing to tell CAP that because it will hurt her feelings. I totally agree with Liz and the commenters – CAP needs to take a step back and see if her friend is really happy or not, or does CAP think that her friend’s happiness isn’t justified – in which case, it’s an entirely different conversation or not a conversation at all.

      • Ros

        Oh, god, exactly this. When I started living with my spouse, I stopped going out as much… because I’m an introvert and need my time alone, my career took off hard, my family stuff went bonkers, and because the time I did have to watch movies/make dinners/etc got partially taken up by my spouse, so the amount of free time, in the end, was a lot less than I’d had before.

        Priorities can change. Completely different interests, abandonment of work or career, or a complete lack of ability to have priorities outside of the boyfriend, and not seeing friends/family at all is deeply worrying, but some shifting priorities and time allocations would be normal, so it’s important to separate those, too.

        • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

          It’s so much easier to blame the change on the relationship and disregard the fact that there are so many other reasons for people to change. When I started seeing my husband I was also finishing up university, going through a health scare, trying to find a job, starting to pay back my student loans. Life changed and I changed with it and while my relationship might have been the most profound change in a personal sense, it wasn’t necessarily the change that caused all the changes my friends might have seen.

    • Brytani

      “…focus on the aspects of your friend that have changed and not on the fiance.” Yep. I had to have a version of this talk when one of my bridesmaids wanted to bring her ex-boyfriend as her date to my wedding. I wasn’t close to her (geographically or otherwise) when she was with this fellow but I’d witnessed some big, concerning changes in her personality, even from a distance. I just communicated that I’d noticed, I was worried about it, and I didn’t think it was a good idea. She didn’t bring him but turns out she resented me for it and later on there was a big blow up. Whiiich….brings me to my word of warning.

      There is a possibility that the friend you thought valued your opinion does not/will not, in fact, value your opinion. In my case, the friend in question held it against me for so long that when she finally blew up about it, it broke our friendship. I just realized I had been in denial about the quality of her friendship because there was so much resentment stored up over many years. Other people probably know better somehow but I was kind of blindsided. I’m just saying, be prepared for silence or fallout…just in case.

    • Kara

      YES!

      And I have a couple of friends whose marital relationships I just don’t get. I wouldn’t want to be a part of them and I can’t fathom why they want to. BUT, I’m not inside the relationship…

  • mirandom

    I wish I could have read this four years ago. Now I could use some advice about supporting my friend through her divorce.

    • http://fourfeeteightpaws.blogspot.com/ Rowan

      Support her the same way you would if you had loved the guy. Be there for her, take the cues from her, and let time do its thing.

  • Stephasaurus

    When I saw the title of this post, the first thing that popped into my head was “Did I submit a question to ATP and completely forget about it? Did I do it my sleep?” Because I literally had a long discussion with a close friend of mine (who is marrying someone not so great for her in a month and a half) LAST NIGHT about this very thing. The difference with her is that she’s aware of it and knows that going through with the wedding might not be the best thing to do, but she’s afraid that if she calls it off (or even just postpones so they can work on things together), she’ll regret not going through with it. And to be honest, it’s not that I don’t like the guy. He’s usually pretty funny and quirky and fun to be around, but he also does not treat her the way that she deserves to be treated, and is just downright disrespectful to her. It hurts me to see and hear some of the things he does and says.

    So I’ve been completely honest with her. I told her exactly what I felt about the situation, and emphasized that there’s absolutely no shame in postponing or canceling the wedding (but not breaking up) to give them time to work through the problems and understand each other better. And I told her that I trust she’ll do what she feels is right for her, and that all I truly care about is 1) that she is happy, and 2) that she is being treated with the love, kindness and respect she deserves.

    • Kara E

      You know? Not every postponed wedding gets canceled in the end either. Sometimes it really is just about getting a chance to work through your ****.

      • Stephasaurus

        Most definitely!

  • http://thedilettantista.com/ The Dilettantista

    Thanks for posting this. I had a similar situation a few years ago with a friend (except maybe worse because he openly propositioned both me and another mutual friend and repeatedly tried to kiss us when he was drunk…awful). I posed a similar question to my mother and she basically gave me Liz’s advice 100%–you can’t do anything about it but be honest and supportive, which is what we did. Fortunately the lady in question woke up and realized that her fiance was no good. The engagement was broken off.

    I’d like to say that the friend’s taste in men improved but, uh, not so much. I don’t communicate with her as much anymore since she moved away, but I hope she’s okay.

  • Hannah

    I’ll be honest–my best friend married someone who I thought was a terrible choice. He had a long history of substance abuse with 5 DUIs and time spent in jail. A history of infidelity. The list could go on and on. By the time they got married, some friends chose to not go to the reception after their destination wedding.

    BUT.

    He appears to have sorted his crap out. He’s been sober since before their wedding and is highly active in his 12-step group. He’s finished his undergraduate degree and then a Master’s degree. They’ve had 2 sets of twins and he’s a dedicated father who is really active in parenting.

    I was scared to death when they got married. But I can honestly say that as of now (about 3 years post-wedding), he’s turned into a good man, husband, and father.

    I agree with Liz’s advice, but just will also say, that sometimes people will surprise you.

    • Anonymous

      I know not all stories end up this way, but wanted to add another ‘sometimes people will surprise you’ story to the mix.

      Thirteen years ago a dear friend became engaged to someone who drank too much, screamed at her too much, and even shoved her around too much. A number of us (including their pastor) discussed our concerns with them before the wedding. Three of us stood in front of her at the church before she walked down the aisle and told her there was a car waiting outside if she wanted to leave (I know, not the best idea) and she still married him.

      As the years passed, I cried with her during stories of his drinking and anger issues. I asked her what she wanted to do and listened to her response, even though I wanted to scream “just leave him.” I tried to avoid any social situation where he would be present, although that became difficult when they started to have kids. Their lowest point on a holiday weekend when in a drunken fit he threatened to kill her and take their children. She managed to escape, he went to jail and rehab.

      It’s been six years since this happened. He stopped drinking, learned to control his anger, became an amazing stay at home dad and went back to get a four year degree. He isn’t so bad to be around anymore.

      I know for every story that ends this way, there are many that will not. My friend is lucky and I would have never guessed their story would have taken this path. I’d tell CAP to be supportive, listen to her friend if/when she needs it, and have hope that they will have a happier ending too.

    • http://www.medeamaterial.com jules

      just. wow. Two sets of twins? how AWESOME. Insta playmates FTW

    • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

      Two sets of twins?

      [falls over]

      • Blimunda

        In three years!!!

    • Sara

      My aunt and uncle have a similar story but about 30+ years prior. And minus the twins.
      My mother told about how my aunt D met M as he was going through a really really messy divorce, raising two toddlers on his own and drinking heavily with his buddies almost every night. She was 20. He was I think 9 years older then her? (Ages get fuzzy with older relatives). The kids’ mother was even more of a mess than M was, so my aunt took his kids in frequently even when the mother was whispering vile things in their ears. Everyone told her to run – my mother included. She like M too, but didn’t think he could pull it together.

      Today he’s probably my favorite uncle (though he tells me all the time he’s allergic to nieces). He credits D with turning his life around and his(their) kids are warm loving people. D always says she could see what he could be and not what he was. Its important to give people a chance to change.

    • KC

      I also have a friend whose boyfriend dealt with stress… poorly. Like, not hit *her* poorly, but throw stuff around the room and yell poorly. Waaaay over my comfort lines. He was also not fun to talk to initially (more just an annoying thing, wherein if it was suggested that something he said was factually inaccurate [science, history, things that there are names and dates and stuff for], he’d go into defense mode rather than learning mode) and had done things while dating that were not awesome.

      But he has learned better coping strategies for stressful situations over the years, and has mellowed massively despite still having stress (which was my big worry at the time; if he’s flipping out like *this* over *this* minor irritant, what’s he going to be like under major life trauma? or when they have kids? and the answer fortunately appears to be “he’ll have learned a lot by then”). And, now that he’s not doing the insecure-suitor posturing, he’s also a lot easier to talk to, although part of that is strategic conversation tactics on our side (say “oh, that’s interesting – I thought it was different” and change the topic quickly to something of general interest! yay!).

      Looking back at the specific situations that caused him to overreact and having seen more people on the autism spectrum, I think a lot of it might be that he mentally can’t cope well with his plans or schedules or “the way things are” changing, and expressed that stress badly, and I think he has developed some tools to increase his flexibility and some approaches that moderate his reactions. And I think my friend might have known pre-marriage that he had a “diagnosis” and also a family pattern of “this is how you express stress” and that he was working on learning how to do things better, and hence felt more like standing by him was appropriate in spite of friends saying “this is not an acceptable thing for him to be doing in response to this stimuli” (but she didn’t tell us what was going on, because the dude is insecure and I’m pretty sure he would not want anyone to know)(it’s also *really hard* to cancel or postpone a wedding, especially when you want to be “right”, but gosh, it was rough on the bridesmaids to go through with it).

      Anyway, I wish them well, and it does change some things seeing it maybe more as the expression of a syndrome, rather than just him choosing to be a jerk to my friend.

      But in any event, it has gotten better, and I hope it keeps getting better. :-)

  • KB

    I wholeheartedly exactly every aspect of Liz’s advice – and have another aspect to think about: Be prepared for the fact that she will tell her fiance everything that you said about him/her. It is 90% certain. Even if it’s not a blow-by-blow account of your conversation, she may just say, “So CAP’s kind of down on the wedding” and that will be enough for him to use as a wedge between you and your friend.

    And, once she does tell him, it will make all of your future interactions with him super awkward OR he may use it as an excuse to further isolate her, even if he’s not outright abusive (because who wants to hang out with your fiancee’s friends who don’t like them???). So, given this, it’s all the more reason to tread as carefully as possible If you keep the focus on you and her and not “He has been the cause of X, Y, and Z” then there’s less direct ammunition from you that he can use later on. But even minimizing the damage as much as possible, he probably already knows you don’t like him (unless you’re like the Vegas World Poker Champion or something). I would say that this is just something to make peace with before you enter the conversation so that you can keep some distance and not say something that you’ll regret later.

  • http://landlockedlove.com Kelly

    I think Liz’s advice is key.

    Be kind always, be honest once. One time. Be clear, be kind, tell the truth, and then keep your mouth shut. SO so hard.

  • Anonymous

    I never post here anonymously, but I am going to this time to protect other people’s privacy.

    My best friend married a guy none of her friends liked. She married him only one year after they started dating, and it completely derailed her life-plan. Instead of moving to a big city and beginning her career, the way she’d been planning for years, she moved home to a very small town and took a job she didn’t go to school for and isn’t fulfilled by.

    We told her we weren’t comfortable with her getting married so quickly, and that it bothered us that he wasn’t supportive of her career goals. But she loved him, and she’s always wanted to be married, and nothing would change her mind. In the end, only myself and my (now) husband were at the wedding. I was her maid of honor. I did it because I love her and I needed to be there for her, no matter what. If things did fall apart, I wanted to be with her all the way.

    BUT things didn’t fall apart. Quite the contrary.

    They are very, very happy together. She may not love where they live but it’s a decision they’ve debated and ultimately made together. He’ll never be a guy we love hanging out with but he isn’t a loser either. He supports all of her hobbies, and she’s recently gone back to graduate school with his support. They’re having a baby soon; he’s going to be great dad. So despite his flaws, he hasn’t crushed her spirit the way that we worried he might.

    The truth is: he gives her what she wants and needs. We (her friends) might wish she wanted and needed different things–grander things–but she doesn’t. Accepting their marriage involved accepting the parts of her that we may not really understand. It meant loving her for who she really is, right now, and not for her potential. That has been a blessing for all of us.

    Anyway, I just wanted to give CAP a little hope. Don’t go into this assuming the worst. Please be kind and supportive. Allow yourself to be hopeful. Don’t wreck your friendship over this because, unless you know that he is dangerous in some way, there is a possibility you might be wrong about him. We were, and I’m glad about that now.

    • http://landlockedlove.com Kelly

      The truth is: he gives her what she wants and needs. We (her friends) might wish she wanted and needed different things–grander things–but she doesn’t. Accepting their marriage involved accepting the parts of her that we may not really understand. It meant loving her for who she really is, right now, and not for her potential. That has been a blessing for all of us.

      Oh wow, this is so powerful and you articulated it so well.

      • Anon for this

        I really, really needed to hear this. I am struggling with my sister’s marriage and impending baby and trying to figure out a way to be there for her in the face of the fact that I think it’s possibly the biggest mistake ever. This really helps.

    • http://livinglnf.blogspot.com Jo

      “Accepting their marriage involved accepting the parts of her that we may not really understand.”

      So, especially with family members and childhood friends, I think this is a relatively common thing to happen when someone gets married. It can turn out that you didn’t necessarily know your relative/friend from every angle, and you didn’t know (maybe they didn’t even know!) what they really need from a partner. Then they find their other half, and surprise! I know this happened with me – it took my dad several years to realize that while he and I are super-tight, I needed a husband who was pretty dang different from him. Now Dad totally gets my guy, and I think in the end, getting to know my husband has been a way for various people in my life to get to know me better as well. But at first, that can be kind of a shocker.

  • Allie

    Ok, so I was the one who was engaged to a crappy guy who was totally wrong for me. And I really wish that someone (family, friends) would have actually told me what they really thought, rather than waiting until after I decided to break it off, because it would have been much easier (and would have happened earlier) had I known their true opinions. [Sidebare: I think it’s really hard to break off something with someone when they are ‘ok’ and there isn’t a big smoking gun in terms of what is wrong with the relationship – part of me sleepwalking through the relationship was that I thought my family and friends would tell me if they had major concerns. I was wrong.]

    So tell her what you think, but do it in alignment with the above, and (as someone else said) with the knowledge that it can and probably will get back to him.

    Speaking to the friendship / being there part- my dad’s best friend married someone who was not right for him, really driving a wedge into their friendship (she didn’t like spending time with my parents, etc). When the friend hit a rocky patch in their marriage he discussed it with my dad; his wife found out and issued an ultimatum of “me or your friend”. Understandably he chose his wife and giving their marriage another shot. Fast forward 20 years and my dad got a call from his friend when he was going through his divorce (my impression is that his wife had really left him isolated in their marriage) and needed a friend / support. His call was along the lines of “I know I have no right but I wanted to reach out to you” and my dad’s response was “Don’t be stupid- you’re my best friend and I’ve always been here for you”

    My point is- really mean it. And know that it could take an almost inconceivably long time, possibly even never…

    • Karen

      This brought tears to my eyes. What a great dad you have!

    • Aubry

      I was also in the bad relationship camp, and I also wish my friends had been more honest with me. This guy was seriously bad news, and I think I knew it, but he was my first love. We got together when I was 16 and I guess I didn’t know what being treated well was. After 5 years I finally called it off, and not in a big dramatic fight way either. We were just lying around one day and I was done.

      The problem is that almost no one told me their feeling about him, even when I asked outright. The last year or so I was having lots of doubts and asked my close friends what they thought. Was everyone talking like they were about a few other very unhealthy relationships kicking around the group at that time? Nope, “no one would be surprised if you broke up” was the closest thing I got. Then after we split everyone suddenly has a thousand reasons they disliked him and us together. I was more than a little miffed they hadn’t said anything, and told them so.

      I think if I knew all my friends thought he was a jerkface I would have felt better about leaving him, and would have done it way sooner. I wish that had happened. But, timelines worked out great to meet my amazing FH and they might not have otherwise, so that is a blessing.

      So, maybe your talk is exactly what your friend needs. It might not make it back to him and it might give her a solid foundation for her fears.

  • Teresa

    A few years ago, my former best friend (I’m sure you can all see where this is going…sigh.) started dating a guy who would lie to her ALL THE TIME–so he could stay home and play video games, hang out with friends, whatever. She would always call me with some new lie he told her and we’d have to log into MySpace or FB to figure out where he really was, etc. She never felt comfortable just calling him to talk–basically, she never told me one good thing about him. When I finally met him (she was living across the country), he was mostly fine, but I knew all these awful things that he did and it was hard. When she was set to move back home, he proposed to her (he later told her he only proposed so she didn’t move back home without him). I was as supportive as I could be, buying a bridesmaid dress and helping to plan her bridal shower. Then, he called off their wedding. Told her that he didn’t want to marry her but that he still wanted to be together. She stayed with him, though they struggled for awhile. Eventually she asked me if I thought it was stupid that she stayed with him even though he told her he didn’t want to marry her. I was honest and told her that it sounded like he always treated her badly and that I didn’t think it was smart to be with him. And, that was the end of our friendship. She’s married to him now, I see that on FB, but she literally never called me again. I tried to get in touch with her to send her a Christmas card that year (a couple of weeks after we had that talk) and I never heard back from her and she played it like she just forgot, but that was literally the last time I talked to her on the phone. So, just don’t be surprised if honesty means she chooses him over you.

    • Cleo

      Exactly, Teresa.

      My former best friend’s boyfriend rubbed me the wrong way for several reasons, but there was never anything more than a personality clash for me to justify talking to her (she was extremely happy and he treated her well). Then, I was at a party one night and he repeatedly tried to honk my boobs (and succeeded a couple times), despite my telling him no and to leave me alone, repeatedly.

      The next day, I go to my friend’s house and tell her what happened in plain language (no conjecture, no elaboration), and that it’s a problem and I won’t put up with it, and I wanted to let her know what happened before I talked to him about it. Her response was, “Do you honestly think he wants to sleep with you? Because he doesn’t. That wasn’t sexual at all and I’m pissed you’d say something to imply that my boyfriend is trying to cheat on me with you.”

      I then said I don’t trust him and I’m not hanging out with them together in any capacity since she doesn’t see anything wrong with what happened.

      We’re still friends (though she’s changed in ways that I’m not in favor of since being with him), but not very good ones anymore.

      This friend has also cut others out of her life for having a similar conversation to what Liz suggested (when she was with other men, who she later dumped). I’m not trying to dissuade the asker (or any of you in their position) from talking to their friend, but be aware that this could weaken your friendship or not at all go the way you hoped.

  • Denzi

    I’m gonna cross the streams, and link some Captain Awkward here: [http://captainawkward.com/2013/02/22/454-darth-vader-is-a-tricksy-hobbit/]

    The thing I like best about Captain Awkward’s take on crappy significant others is that she points out that no matter what the situation, the best thing to do is to respect your friend as a grown-up who can make good decisions for herself.

    Because if Abrasive Jerk is abusive, then he is probably undermining her sense that she has good sense and can have her own decisions and opinions about things. And if Abrasive Jerk is just someone who rubs you the wrong way, extra respect for your friend and their choices is never a bad way to work on a friendship!

    • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

      This article was kind of amazing. I just found out that my ex-boyfriend was a Darth Vader, and after reading this it’s pretty clear why he was able to manipulate me for so long. I’ve moved on from the relationship a while ago, and now I’m in a completely different, happy relationship with someone who truly loves me, but this helped me find closure. Thanks for posting!

      • Denzi

        I’m glad it helped. I ♥ Captain Awkward, and I think many APW readers would too!

    • KC

      I would also note that if you have someone who breaks up with a Darth Vader, *please offer to be on-call if you can*. One of the things that helps people crash back into these relationships is that so much of life is slurped up into default habits (had something happen at work? Call the jerk! sad and alone at night? Call the jerk! can’t choose between two options? Call the jerk! want to do something? Call the jerk!) and it’s really, really useful to have some solid script-breaking, habit-breaking options that have been offered (key because Jerk has probably trained them that they “bother” other people too much and they’re not worth it, etc.) and are not just “sit at home alone and cry into a pint of ice-cream”. Make plans with them – be excited to be with them – start a crazy project with them – help them rebuild who they are *without* this swiss-cheese of holes left by Jerk. I mean, if you really can’t be called at 3am, that’s okay – but if you can, tell them that.

      I guess, this is sort of like having carrot sticks around and not buying potato chips if your roommate is trying to stick to a diet. :-) You’re not making their choices for them, but you’re expanding their pool of ready options so that if they’re hungry, there’s something there that they won’t regret.

      • Not Sarah

        Yup, this is so true. One of my really good friends has come to visit and stay with me for the weekend the weekend after each of my last two break-ups. It’s so helpful to have someone else around the first few days/weeks! Also, calling and sending emails is incredibly helpful. I spent about 5 hours on the phone with my mom and another friend after breaking up with my last boyfriend.

        After each of the many ends of my Really Toxic Relationship circa 2007-2009, the main reason I slurped back into it was because he was my PRIMARY friend and I had no one else to slurp to instead. It was really bad. We broke up and got back together so many times.

  • ashley a

    this advice is so spot on. it is an approach i have had to take towards a friend who is so much more than a friend…she is also my mother. after my parents divorced when I was 18, she dated a couple guys, she ended up meeting this one guy, started dating and a week later moved in with him. a year later they are engaged and about 8 months after that they break up quite nastily(like cops being called for domestic disturbance). following a 4 month break up they rekindled what they had though they have not gotten engaged again yet. where this advice comes into play is that from day 1 i had a bad vibe from this guy. he doesn’t want my mother going out unless he knows who with and where. she isn’t allowed another guy’s number in her phone unless he knows the guy etc… i have been in an abusive relationship before and the red flags that popped up were simply blinding. towards the end of their engagement, i voiced my concern in a conversation with her and she claimed to understand what i was saying. but like this article says, I have since let her do her own thing since she’s an adult and needs to learn this the hard way. on top of this, he is severely asthmatic, smokes a pack a day, drinks several beers a day and was recently diagnosed with diabetes. i don’t want my mom to be talking care of someone the rest of her life, but she will end up doing so and I just hope that when things crumble, I can be there to help her pick up the pieces. and maybe when that happens we can spend more time together since his behavior towards her is just a little too trigger-y for me and my past to be able to spend time with them right now

    • anon for this one

      I totally understand how you are feeling, because I have been in this situation as well with my mother. She was in a relationship with a terribly emotionally abusive person for years. When they finally broke up for good I could not have been happier. I told her flat out a few times what I thought and just tried to live with it for the rest of the time. I was still living at home when they got together, and we REALLY didn’t get along. It was easier after I moved out ( about 3 months after graduating, much sooner than I would have if he wasn’t around).

      She finally ended it, so I don’t have any advice for you Ashley, but I want to send you a big ol’ internet hug. It really sucks and I’m sorry you are dealing with it. I hope it all ends well.

  • Copper

    An associated question is: where is the line regarding relationship stuff you need to speak up about? I have a friend who wants to marry this guy, and while he’s a nice guy and mostly treats her well, he does not have his shit together at all. And she does. She’s a lovely professional woman who could go really far with a partner who inspires her to be her best self and supports the type of life she says she wants to live. But instead she’s with a partner who she has to drag into the adult world. There’s been legal trouble, borderline/almost/kind-of-cheating, a dead-end job and while he says he wants to do better, every step of the way she’s having to push and push and push him and getting really frustrated with it. I’ve asked her when she said she wanted to spend her life with him, if she was ok with always being the one pushing him to do more, and she said no, but she’s sunk so much time into this guy that it’s preferable to starting over. I don’t think she’ll be happy with this in the long run, but haven’t told her so, I just listened and hoped the question was enough. Do I bring it up again, or did I have my one chance already and I blew it by being half-assed?

    • http://www.emilywenzel.com Emily

      There was a piece on here a while back about how starting over is scary. Especially if you’re not “young” anymore. Giving up on this guy means going back to being single. To dating. To being that much farther away from getting engaged, getting married, having kids, etc. (If that’s what she wants) For some people, that can feel worse than being with someone that’s not right. We’re so scared to fail our own expectations – the one where we’re married at a certain age, or having kids by XYZ or not the only single one in the group – that it’s easier to settle.

      If you can find that piece, I’d suggest passing it along. It was a wake-up call for me. I thought I’d have kids by a certain age, but as we get closer and closer to that point, I find I’m not in the right place yet. Not emotionally or career-wise. And, it’s taken me some time to say I’m okay with that.

      Good luck.

    • Cleo

      I have been in the position that your friend is in. My SO doesn’t have a lot of the markers of adulthood that some people think are necessary. These are mostly material things, but also the fact that he doesn’t have high career aspirations. Anyway, his not having them results in my appearing to be pulling most of the load for both of us.

      I have had one friend talk to me about this, multiple times. She thinks he takes advantage of me, doesn’t appreciate me, and doesn’t respect my opinions/desires. To a very small degree, his taking advantage of me is true (very small, as in, I have a car, he doesn’t, so I’ll run errands for both of us), and her comments have inspired some positive discussion about the status of our relationship and what we both want to change. But the changes are minimal.

      I’ve told my friend I’m happy, that we’ve done some readjusting to compensate for the inequality (he does the dishes and knows that I go to the grocery store once a week, so if he wants something he didn’t ask me to get, he needs to wait or figure out how to get it on his own), and asked her to drop it. She doesn’t. So now, whenever she asks me how things are, I am only positive. If she asks me about a specific thing she knows that has been an issue in the past, I act aggravated about it and roll my eyes and say that I had a talk with him and he’s coming around, and omg aren’t men frustrating. This seems to satisfy her and it keeps the judgment away.

      Not to say that your friend is being disingenuous with you, but at a certain point, this sort of repeat questioning can alienate her from talking to you, even if she does have a problem. I say drop it. She got the message.

      • Copper

        I do think it’s a little different, because when I asked her about it, she didn’t say she was happy. She said it wasn’t ok, but basically that she’d settle for it. But as you say, I don’t want to be that person who keeps harping on it either.

  • NB

    “[T]he best thing to do is to respect your friend as a grown-up who can make good decisions for herself.”

    Yes. This. Backed with all the love you have for your wonderful friend, this.

    Sometimes, if people are going to move on from someone cruddy, they need to do so at their own speed, under their own cognition (Or at least: I did.). For me, particularly, in a bad relationship where I often felt that I was losing my sense of self, I could not hear “You need to dump that jerk!” without hearing “I know what’s right for you better than you, just like he does.” Maybe that’s not rational or right—but I really couldn’t separate the two in my brain.

    What did help, though, were the words of a very kind friend telling me that (a) she loved me, and she respected me; and (b) that she didn’t think that his *current actions* were rising to the level of behavior and respect that I deserved; but that (c) the decision to stay or go was mine, and she’d continue to love me and respect my choice no matter, even if she didn’t agree with me.

    Now, there was nothing scary happening in that cruddy relationship: just mind blowing mediocrity and epic levels of merglely turdness, so that may not be the right choice for everyone. Also, I have kind of major Picking the Wrong Underdog issues and But I AM A Grownup Who Makes Choices! issues, so I feel the need to caveat here. When a friend said : “hey, he sucks, you should bail” my reaction was to fight for him, and push back against what I felt was her telling me that I wasn’t capable of making my own decision about my love life.

    Particularly in a relationship where I often felt belittled or overlooked, I really, really needed to be reassured that my friends saw me as strong and capable, even if the choice I was making wasn’t theirs. Crucially, I needed to be told that even if he was being kind of terrible (fact: he kind of was, but I didn’t really understand that until much, much later), my friend understood that I might have weighed the pros and cons, and decided that the pros, even if they weren’t appealling for her, were enough for me that I wanted to stay, and that she respected my choice in doing so. Framing it like that cast the decision for me away from “every day you don’t leave is another day you failed, you weak woman!” and toward “the choice is yours to make: tolerate if you must, leave when you’re ready” helped me to stand up for myself and start demanding what I needed. So, too, did a gentle reminder that my friend was upset in the same way that *I* would be if someone treated her like that.

    Knowing that, I think, eventually gave me the strength to leave.

    And, btw, that true-to-the-core friend was a bridesmaid in my wedding, when I eventually did find my Person. So, there’s that. Hang in there!

    • KC

      I think “tolerate if you must, leave when you’re ready” is a great thing.

      And saying, basically, “in any event, I’ll support you” and, if you’re comfortable with it, “and if you ever want to hang out at my place for a while to think, it’s a safe space for you” or “if you need help at any point, let me know” can be really helpful, too. If someone wants out, but the technical difficulties are overwhelming them when taken in addition to the emotional difficulties, unconditional help (food; a listening ear when they would otherwise be reverting to the habit of calling Jerk; a place to stay; some distraction) can be a huge lifeline.

    • Emma

      “[T]he best thing to do is to respect your friend as a grown-up who can make good decisions for herself.”

      Wow- this is so interesting… both the article and the comments. I was in the position of the friend… and it was mostly my own fault. (First, let me say that my now-husband is not abusive in anyway.) We had an up and down dating relationship for 5 years, and when things were bad I talked to my friends. My friends listened and told me everything you’d want a friend to say “you deserve better”… “I can’t believe he said that!” thats what we do as girlfriends, right?

      However, when my then-boyfriend asked me to marry him last year, he and I talked about what it would really mean to be committed and together forever. We talked about what’s important in a relationship and how we’d work out the issues we had in the past. And after a week of deep talks, and of deep looks into my own heart and mind, I accepted. It wasn’t something I went into casually- I’m 40, and have been independent for a long time, but I knew I loved this man and wanted to make a life with him, trusting in the deep conversations we had. When I told my friends, I knew they might not be jumping for joy, that they might be cautious about it, but I wasn’t prepared for one of my good friends reactions. I went to dinner with her and was prepared to listen- I knew she had serious concerns- but after listening and talking with her she said that she was disappointed in me, that she wouldn’t and couldn’t be there for me “when the marriage goes down the tubes”, and that she wouldn’t come to our wedding… that she couldn’t be a witness to it.

      I was, and still am, really hurt, even a year later. I tried to continue being friends in some fashion, but I didn’t, and don’t, know how to go on being friends after that. She really wanted me to not get married, and I can understand her concerns, but the truth is that I’m an intelligent grown adult and I decide what’s best for me. If things end up going bad in the future I won’t be calling her.

      That said though, I’m glad I married him. Being married is good- it’s not always easy, but it’s good. We work through issues when they come up because we like and love each other. But I still miss the friendship I had.

      Mostly, it just taught me to be really careful about what I say and to whom. Which is a bummer in some ways, since I’m a sensitive person and talking about things helps me to work them out.

      PS: I didn’t tell my husband what my friend said- it would have hurt him. He does sometimes wonder out loud why I don’t see her anymore… I tell him we’re both busy.

  • Brigid

    This is just completely amazing. A few years ago, a friend of mine was marrying someone that we (all our mutual friends) did not like, and no one was brave enough to say anything. I had never heard the approach suggested here before, and I so wish I had. However, I’m glad I have this advice for future reference.

  • NTB

    This advice is spot-on. I was in a terrible relationship in college, and my best friend warned me over and over that staying with him was a huge mistake. I didn’t want to believe it, so I stayed and stayed. Eventually, the relationship ended, and in hindsight I realized that my friend was right all along. But I still had to learn that tough lesson myself—unfortunately. Sometimes experience is the best teacher, although this is an unfortunate fact of life. I’ve learned the hard way many times, but those lessons stuck in my brain because the experience turned out to be the best teacher.

  • Amy March

    I think another aspect is how you let this guy treat you (if you socialize together). When I dated a jerk, friends telling him to his face when he did obnoxious stuff to the group (not specifically to me) was really helpful. It gave me a model to follow in regrowing my backbone, and reinforced that I wasn’t needy or crazy.

  • http://www.erintakespictures.com Erin

    I was dealing with this a couple of years ago, and I took your advice. My male friend had, in the course of six months, been broken up with, met a new girl, invited her to move in with us, and proposed to her. Every single one of his friends and family members took him aside and said “Hey, why don’t you take some time? We’re not saying she’s awful, just that maybe you should slow down a bit.” He didn’t listen to any of us, and married her a couple of months later. We were all there at the wedding, and we supported him the best we could. When the marriage ended 18 months later because she cheated, we continued to support him.

    Now he’s engaged again and the woman he has chosen this time seems to be kind, thoughtful, caring, intelligent, and in line with his hopes and dreams, and we’re all hopeful that it will work out better for him this time. I hope the same for your friend.

  • Sara

    This is reminding me of one of my best friends. When she got engaged at 19, I hated her boyfriend. To be blunt, he was a jackass. He didn’t like her talking to me, got very possessive and just was mean. I spoke up, voiced my concerns, said I’d be there if things fell apart and then dropped it. I participated in the wedding a year later as a bridesmaid, smiled, danced, told the groom to grow up, drove them back to their hotel when they got too drunk and hugged them both goodbye when they moved to California for his Marine deployment.

    He did grow up. He is a much better person today then he was six years ago. We got along much better after he was finished with the Marines, they settled back in town and bought a house and we went out frequently. However, he showed his true colors this past year when he cheated on her and asked for a divorce out of the blue (to her). I was her first friend to know because as she said “you never liked him anyway”. Which….true. I’m sad and disappointed I was right (because, I said, he did grow up), but I’m glad that I said something in the past because she felt like she could come to me with this pain (she still hasn’t told many of our friends about everything happening).

  • Cali

    This is always hard. I’ve been on both sides of this equation (the one in the shitty relationship–though fortunately I jumped ship before we ever were engaged–and the one with a friend in a bad situation), and I think you have to tread lightly.

    Personally, when I’ve had friends in bad relationships, I usually focus on asking questions and trying to get her to think it through herself. If the friend in question pointedly asks me for my insight, then I’ll give it… but otherwise I tend to keep my mouth shut. If a friend was in an abusive/dangerous relationship, I would speak up without being asked… but otherwise, I only offer my opinion if she seems like she wants it (often someone knows deep down that something’s not right, and they bring it up).

    I do this because, when I was in a terrible toxic relationship with a guy who treated me poorly, people voicing displeasure about him or our relationship only put me on the defensive. I would instantly go into “we’re in love and you know nothing!!!” mode, even when I kind of knew they were right. Weirdly, I think I stayed with him LONGER because I wanted to prove the naysayers wrong. And I felt isolated because I didn’t want to go to anyone when bad things happened, because I felt like I would just be adding fuel to the fire.

    Now, if it had been presented more as a concern over whether or not I was OK because I seemed depressed lately, less interested in things, antisocial, etc…. maybe I would have been more receptive. Not sure.

    • Not Sarah

      “Weirdly, I think I stayed with him LONGER because I wanted to prove the naysayers wrong. And I felt isolated because I didn’t want to go to anyone when bad things happened, because I felt like I would just be adding fuel to the fire.”

      THIS.

      I stayed in a really toxic relationship for almost two years and it didn’t help that I didn’t have anyone to talk to. We broke up a few times and after the first time, one of my friends said “I never liked him anyway.” Well if you never liked him from the beginning, I don’t really believe that you had my best interests at heart when you told me I should break up with him. So, I, uh, got back together with him. Yeah. We sort of had an open relationship in that I went on dates with other people (it was long distance) and so eventually going on those other dates made me realize what the relationship was missing. Thank god because my friends stopped listening. A guy saying that he would only have sex if you wanted to??? Wait, that’s how it’s supposed to work??? Yeah.

      My last relationship was a bit unhealthy, but one of my really good friends KEPT LISTENING. No. Matter. What. She’s the best! It wasn’t unhealthy in the way that my two year one was, but we just weren’t a great fit. I kept quitting activities that I loved, not hanging out with friends, and tons of other stuff, that became clear indicators to other people, but it took me awhile to realize that. It wasn’t that *he* didn’t want me to sign up for softball or to quit curling, but that the pressures of the relationship convinced me I shouldn’t. Also bad, but in a different way. Another friend basically told me that if I couldn’t get my work done (I couldn’t), I was dropping all of my hobbies (I was), then it was toeing the line of emotional abuse. That was kind of the final kicker for me to realize that I wasn’t living a life I wanted to and I couldn’t with him in my life.

      Having other friends so helps you realize what’s wrong with your relationship.

  • KC

    I always recommend premarital counseling to friends. I went through three batches (two Prepare-Enrich, one other; it was a complicated officiation situation!) in addition to a lot of advice from healthily-married couples, and it was super helpful in removing some speedbumps from the road ahead of our already-good relationship. Peoples’ mileage does vary (a lot depends on the counselor), but it can really help give you tools to deal with any problems later.

    If you are not at all comfortable with directly confronting their relationship, it may or may not be possible to recommend premarital counseling in a sufficiently non-insinuating way (seriously, the “families of origin” part of the test made a lot of in-law relationships so much less confusing than they would have been otherwise; premarital counseling is not even just about the married-couple-and-them-alone’s relationship).

    Some abusive jerks are nice and charismatic and can fake things through counseling, but… having extra tools to deal with things can help, if there’s going to be a rocky marriage ahead, and having a third party observing and potentially saying things like “That doesn’t sound like it’s the best way of communicating; have you tried the listen-and-respect technique?” might help her as confirmation that there’s something concretely wrong, and not with her.

    But all talking or advising or anything rarely bears fruit right then and only sometimes bears fruit later. But sometimes, and it’s worth it if what you’re seeing is bad enough.

  • Katherine

    “Most of us need to learn things the hard way, through experience, and that goes double for relationship stuff.”

    AMEN to that!!! Hindsight is always 20-20, but at least if you have the wisdom to learn from the experience & not repeat it down the road, it makes the experience (however sucky & miserable it was while it was happening) itself worth it 100x over in the long run.

  • Ceka

    Go read To be an Anchor in the Storm: A Guide for Families and Friends ofAbused Women, by Susan Brewster. It’s about how to be a friend to someone in an abusive relationship and it’s very, very helpful. The biggest thing is helping your friend maintain her sense that she can trust her own judgment, which protects her from the abusers’ lies and enables her to know what she knows and see what she sees. That will make it much more possible for her to dig herself out when the time comes.

    Good luck and hang in there.

  • http://notjustbrides.blogspot.com Heather

    Excellent advice! One of my only regrets in my whole life is not voicing my concerns about the man my best friend married – we had all gone to high school together and I had reservations about him for a number of reasons. Now, she’s going through an ugly divorce and custody battle, and even though it probably wouldn’t have changed her mind about him, I wish so much that I’d said something.

  • Guest

    My best friend was dating a guy that was nice and I liked him, but just wasn’t a good fit. He was getting a lot of outside comments from friends/family about what a cute couple they were and how much they loved him. As a gay guy, he just lapped up the approval and ignored his inner voice. One day I said to him, “I’m only going to say this once. And whatever you decide to do I will support you 100%. But I have to tell you this…You know I love Bob. I think he is a great guy. I just don’t think he is *your* guy.”

    When they finally broke up, everyone came out of the woodwork, “Yeah, I never liked him”, “He wasn’t the right guy for you”. My friend was so pissed–where were all these people before? How could he ever trust his their opinions in the future. He was so grateful that I was the only person in his life to tell him the truth.

  • anonymous

    I just Googled on here to find some advice and this article came up. It’s helpful but I’m in a really sticky situation, if anyone can help me with some advice, that’d be much appreciated. My best friend of nearly a decade is in her first relationship right now, going on four months. She’s an AMAZING, WONDERFUL young Christian woman who’s been through a lot and deserves the best man ever (seriously!). They guy she is with is a total DUD!! He’s controlling, nosey, irresponsible, a partier, a drinker, and very lazy about his religion. SHE DESERVES *SO* MUCH BETTER. I’m trying my best to be supportive but she knows I’m “cautious”. I think he could even be potentially abusive, and there’s no way I can consciously let her into something like that. She knows I care and that I’m going to be honest, but I don’t want her to hate me and make her want to be with him even more because of that. But today she said she could see herself marrying him and they’ve even talked about it. He’s changing her dreams and she doesn’t even have any anymore. I need to break it to her this week, this guy is just NOT good news. Can anyone please help???