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Ask Team Practical: My Friend is Marrying a Jerk

A 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?

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!

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