It’s the middle of the night and your cell phone is ringing. It’s your best friend with yet another story of how the man she’s dating has disappointed her, hurt her feelings and left her feeling dazed.
“What should I do,” she asks you, as if she’s never asked before and as if you’ve never given her an answer. You can feel yourself boiling over with anger, not merely because of the late night call, but because you’ve heard this same story too many times to count. You’re angry at him, but you’re also angry at her for allowing herself to be treated this way.
You’ve tried everything: pointed out what a jerk he is and how she deserves better, begged her to leave him, tried to introduce her to eligible male friends of yours, you’ve even offered your help in writing an online dating profile so she could meet someone new, so that she can be seeing anyone but “him.”
It’s coming from a place of caring, but never-the-less, you’re angry.
Her current relationship is clearly not working and it’s even starting to create tension in your friendship because it’s all she talks about when you’re together. You can’t imagine why such an amazing woman would put up with such terrible treatment.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
We’ve all been there. We’ve leaned on our friends for sympathy, advice and support, and we’ve offered that same advice in return.
But my question to you is: has any of that really been the most effective way to help a hurting friend? Was the advice you offered ever taken and put into action? Have you personally ever listened to the advice you were given?
If you’re like most people, you offered a solution only to have it rejected, and worse yet, you became the bad guy when, two weeks later, she finally got back together with Mr. Less-Than-Wonderful.
Why is it that no matter how many times we tell our friends what to do with their love lives, they still don’t listen?
It’s Not Your Journey
We seem to think that because we love our friends, we have every right to critique them, show them how to be better human beings, and let them know when they’re slipping up or falling behind. But, that’s not why we have friends. We have friends to enrich each other’s lives, to be supportive, to cheer each other on, and yes, to give our honest opinions — but only when asked.
Why Your Advice Falls on Deaf Ears at Times
Your friend’s choices are a reflection of her readiness for the right relationship. There’s a great line from Shakespeare; “Me think she doth protest too much.” Your friend may complain, cry and threaten to leave, but it’s her actions — such as staying in an unhealthy relationship — that are actually telling you something about where she is on her path. She may be asking you what to do, but ultimately, the decision is up to her.
Consequently, you may be giving her advice she’s not ready to hear. Convincing a woman to leave a man is literally easier said than done. And again, it’s not really what you’re there for.
Here’s How to Help
The best thing you can do is to remind your cherished friend of her values, her personal goals and what makes her happy. This will give her the imagery she needs to stay on track, and will help her make her own choice, not yours. For example:
The friend that devotes every waking moment to an undeserving and controlling man? Lift her up by telling her she loves to spend time with friends and family, but lately you’ve noticed she’s not been available.
The friend who gave up her dreams and is now living someone else’s life? Tell her stories about how her passion for what she loves has always inspired you, and mention you miss seeing her fulfilled in that way.
Your job is to be the mirror for your friends, not their teacher or their mother. Show her a true reflection, help her see the the beautiful person she is, and how she shines just as she is. Referring to those things that make her unique will gently illuminate the situation for her, and will help her determine for herself what she wants and deserves in a relationship.
Obviously, if your friend is in an abusive relationship, that’s a different story, and you will want to urge her to get help and get out. But in a relationship that’s merely unhealthy or unrewarding, supporting a friend wherever she is in her journey is the best way to be there for her.
And I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have an example of how you helped a friend leave? Has someone helped you walk away from a man who wasn’t right for you? Tell your story in the comments below. We can all learn from each other.
And in the meantime, have a great weekend!