Should You Tell Your Friend Their Partner Is the Worst?This convo will suck, but it might be worth it.
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I’d argue that there is no friendship struggle as awful (or universal) as low-key hating the person your bestie is in a relationship with. Your friend is totally awesome, which is why you’re friends, but if and when they’ve made the baffling decision to be with someone who just absolutely sucks, it can make you want to scream, "You deserve better!"
And, as if having to tolerate this person’s presence isn’t torture enough, things get even more complicated if your pal has bestowed upon you the role of very unlicensed, very inexperienced therapist as they vent. Same goes if the opposite happens and your bud goes completely MIA.
What’s a loyal and concerned friend (which you obviously are) to do when you see that their relationship is clearly just not it? Do you grit your teeth and pray to T-Swift that they see the light—or do you say something and hope it doesn’t blow up in your face? It’s tricky territory, which is why the answer here is a frustratingly complex: it depends.
I know. Ugh. But if you’re ready to navigate this sticky situation, use this step-by-step guide to figure out if you should speak up at all and, if you do, how to navigate the convo like a damn pro.
How to tell if you should even bring it up.
If your friend’s dysfunctional, drama-filled, or otherwise questionable relationship has you feeling some kind of way, there are a few very important (!) factors to consider before deciding how to address it (or not).
First, own your shit.
It’s very possible that your triggers and relationship needs are influencing your feelings about your friend’s love life, suggests licensed clinical psychologist Jaime Zuckerman, PsyD, who specializes in relationship issues. While their relationship might not reflect what would work for you, it could be perfectly fine for them, so double-check that your not-so-great feels about your friend’s situation are actually about them and not you.
Then, consider the big picture.
Obviously, having what could be a really tough convo with your friend about their boo isn’t fun. Most of us who don’t live like we’re on Vanderpump Rules don’t even want to do it. In fact, you might actively look for reasons to avoid a conflict in friendship. It makes sense though considering that this confrontation could impact your dynamic. “Addressing this with them may cause tension between the two of you—and there’s a good chance they’ll say something to their partner, which may make things extremely awkward when you’re all together,” she says.
Only you can decide whether speaking up about your pal’s S.O. is worth the weird vibes that may follow, but it’s good to weigh the consequences of saying nothing versus saying something. Think about which would be more harmful to your friend or the friendship itself.
“It may seem like letting things be would do no harm, but maybe your friend feels stuck or trapped and doesn't know what to do,” suggests licensed psychologist Kyler Shumway, PsyD, who specializes in friendships and is the chief clinical officer of Deep Eddy Psychotherapy. “Or, maybe your friendship will corrode over time as you resentfully hold back your feelings and wish things would change.” Suddenly, keeping quiet doesn’t seem so chill.
You can also consider what you’d want your friend to do if the roles were reversed, Dr. Shumway adds. Whether your partner was nothing more than a Love Island-level drama queen or something more toxic, how would you feel if your friends didn’t make a peep about it? Maybe it would be worth figuring out how to be more assertive in this situation.
How to tell a friend, "You deserve better."
Though there are a few exceptions (like if your friend with the obnoxious boyfriend also happens to be your boss), it’s generally, like, the whole point of friendship to speak up if you’re concerned about a pal’s relationship, Dr. Shumway says.
But what you do or say depends on whether their partner is holding your friend back from being their brightest, happiest self or a legitimate threat to their well-being. You’ll need a different game plan for each situation (more on the serious situation in a sec).
So if you’re more concerned about your friend living their best life than the safety of their literal life, here’s how to navigate that tricky talk without blowing up your friendship.
Get the setting right
While you probably weren’t going to have this conversation in your Instagram DMs (and if you were, def don’t…), this is just a friendly reminder that this exchange should go down in person, one-on-one in a private and relaxed setting, like on a walk outside together (think park not busy city street), suggests Dr. Zuckerman. Since it’s very possible your talk will get emotional, you’ll want a safe space free from interruptions.
Get consent before diving right in
Once you’re together, avoid sneak-attacking your friend with the topic of your feelings about their shitty partner. That likely won’t end well, says Dr. Shumway. But something like "Hey, can we talk about the person you've been going out with?" should give them a heads up of what’s coming.
Then, obviously, you’ve got to respect their response. “If your friend says ‘no,’ then that's the end of the conversation,” Dr. Shumway says. “Any attempt to share or advocate for them could cause unhelpful conflict. They aren't ready to talk about it, and that's their choice.” Hey, you tried!
Have zero expectations
Even if you get the green light to air your feelings, don’t expect your friend to agree with you or take any action based on your chat. “The main objective here is to share your thoughts, not to change anything,” says Dr. Zuckerman. “People’s relationship patterns and attachment styles have long been ingrained in their minds and take a lot of self-reflection and therapeutic work to change.” Ultimately, by being honest with your friend, you’re encouraging them to do their own self-reflection. But what they decide to do with that is up to them.
Keep your cool
Though you might want to literally shake your friend into seeing how unbearable their partner is, the calmer you are, the better. Dr. Zuckerman calls the ideal tone of voice for letting them know you’re not down with their relationship a “compassionate concern.”
Another good move here is to focus on your thoughts, feelings, and observations, which can help keep your friend from feeling blamed or critiqued, the experts agree. “Instead of saying ‘Your boyfriend is rude,’ you might say, ‘When your boyfriend made that joke, it made me feel uncomfortable,’” Dr. Shumway suggests. “Instead of claiming, ‘Your girlfriend is toxic,’ describe the behaviors that you've observed and how those make you feel.”
Leave others out of it
Yeah, you’re probably not the only one who feels this way. And it can feel way too easy to drag people into your conversation by saying something like, “We’re all confused about what you see in them!” But doing so pretty much guarantees your friend will feel overwhelmed and attacked, Dr. Zuckerman says. This conversation is between you and your friend, so keep it at that.
Set healthy boundaries as needed
If you continue to find yourself on the receiving end of your friend’s relationship venting sessions post-convo, it’s not wrong for you to feel tapped out or fed up. “Your friend venting to you is a good thing because they’re trying to let you in and to share their inner world,” Dr. Shumway says. “But if your time together tends to revolve around their [relationship issues], there won't be much room for all the awesomeness a friendship can bring.”
When that’s the case, some strategic responses can help you maintain your sanity and your friendship. “While you don’t want your friend to close off to you, sometimes venting can become a strategy to avoid taking action,” explains Dr. Zuckerman. “Venting repeatedly about the same topic can give us the illusion of control and make us feel as though we are somehow taking action and solving the problem, when, in reality, we aren’t doing anything different.”
Yep, letting your pal word vent all the time can destroy your soul, while also enabling the continuation of the shitty relationship. So, the next time it happens, let your friend know how you’re feeling by saying something like, "I've been holding a lot of this with you, and it makes me feel stressed too," Dr. Shumway suggests. Then, it might be a good time to ask if they’ve considered enlisting the help of a therapist.
If the drama continues, you can set a boundary by asking your friend not to bring up their partner when you hang out, adds Dr. Shumway. “You can't control them or their lives, but you can set boundaries that help protect your emotional well-being,” he says.
What to do when you think your friend is in danger.
If you suspect (or know) that your friend’s relationship is seriously unhealthy, you have to tread very carefully when talking to them about it. “Often in dysfunctional or toxic relationships, there is already an awareness of the issues within the relationship,” says Dr. Zuckerman. So, you bringing it up directly “could result in the person shutting down, becoming defensive, and not sharing relationship information with you in the future.” This is especially true in abusive relationships, she says. In this case, your friend might feel a lot of shame or guilt and work harder to cover up any abuse, which just leaves them in even greater danger. To best protect your buddy, there are two moves to consider making here.
Offer support, support, support.
If you can’t confront a friend directly about their toxic or potentially abusive relationship, tell them that you’ve got their back. “If you see that your friend is unkempt or not going to work or anything that is typically part of their daily routine, there is nothing wrong with expressing your concern for their mental well-being and letting them know you are there for them, even if just to listen,” Dr. Zuckerman suggests. Your goal here is to make sure that friend knows that they can always come to you if they’re in danger.
Better yet, do this on a regular basis. “Routinely let your friend know that you are always there for them in whatever capacity they need, whenever they’re ready,” she says. “Eventually, they may decide to leave and will need support in the form of a place to stay, financial assistance, someone to listen to, and so on, and it’s critical that they view you as a support.”
Consider sharing your concerns elsewhere.
Assuming your friend has a solid relationship with their family and you feel comfortable talking to them, you might want to reach out—especially if you’re not sure how else to help your friend, suggests Dr. Zuckerman.
And, of course, if you’re afraid for your friend’s immediate safety, calling the authorities on their behalf might be your best option, she says. You got this!
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.