How do I stop my friend from being a homewrecker?
November 29, 2005 6:30 PM   Subscribe

My friend is in a relationship with a married man...the wife already knows but it's causing a lot of pain. She seems to be happy in the relationship, but I don't see this turning out well. I don't want to run her life or play holier-than-thou, but how do I get her out of this before things get worse? What do I say, how do I say it?
posted by aquavit to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Has she asked for your opinion, or for your advice? If not, in this kind of situation, I don't think there is anything you can or should do. Obviously you shouldn't pretend to be supportive of the relationship if you're not, but I don't think it's your place to "get her out of this."
posted by amro at 6:34 PM on November 29, 2005

Tell her how you feel. Tell her how it might turn out. Tell her to have common sense. Dont decide for her.
posted by wheelieman at 6:35 PM on November 29, 2005

It's not your place to interfere with her relationship (even if she asks) any more than it is her place to interfere with his marriage (even if the wife knows). "Tell her how you feel" is bad advice; the world is quite overrun with people telling each other how they feel about things that were none of their damn business in the first place. Stay out of it.
posted by cribcage at 7:14 PM on November 29, 2005

amro's right.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:15 PM on November 29, 2005

Abandon the goal of "getting her out of this." You don't have that power, and making her life choices is not your job.

As her friend, it is your job to share your concerns with her. You can tell her that you're worried about her; you can tell her that you want her to be happy, not just now but in the long run.

Then ask questions. Ask her what she's getting out of this relationship. Ask where she sees it going. Ask how her choices are fitting with her own ethical beliefs and personal integrity.

Ask these questions as neutrally and open-mindedly as possible. And really listen to what she says. (You might try echoing back what she says so she knows you've heard her.)

Throughout this conversation, remember that your goal is to be a good friend to her, not to "fix" her or to be "right."

From then on, as far as possible, stay out of it. It sounds like there's already plenty of drama in the situation; you don't need to get sucked into it, or to add to it.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:16 PM on November 29, 2005

You can't get her out of it - she has to want to do that herself. All you can do is be a good friend to her. Be there for her, give her advice if she asks for it and help her when it all falls apart.
posted by Serena at 7:17 PM on November 29, 2005

W.S. Burroughs said, "Never get involved in a boy-girl fight." I first heard this eleven years ago - I think it was in one of his books on tape - and every time I've ignored it, I've come to regret it deeply.

No, I'm serious. I don't mean that every time I've ignored it, I've looked back and laughed and thought, "Well, that was a mistake, wasn't it?" It was much worse than that. It's been an unpredictable, terrible trainwreck catastrophe every single damn time.

On the real, though, yo. Don't do it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:28 PM on November 29, 2005

Ditto what ikkyu2 said. The one time I got involved, and told my friend, "Yo, she's totally psycho- don't date her!!", he did anyway. And has been- for several years. Mucho awkward! It's never been the same between us. Of course this thing is a train wreck- but t'ain't ya bidness. Hold your tongue and hold onto your friend.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:35 PM on November 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

Okay, okay. The "you can't fix this" point of view has been thoroughly expressed, and I hope, taken to heart. But I'm sure that in the meantime, aquavit is wondering how to even relate to this friend, how much of his (her?) opinion to hide from the friend, whether friends have any kind of supporting duty to give their friends a reality check now and then.

If a friend fell into a drug habit, you couldn't end their habit for them, but you'd certainly give them your opinion, offer support, and be absolutely clear about what you think is going to be best for them. They very well might spit at you and it could cost the friendship. But that kind of reality check is what friends are for. This is a flawed analogy, but I hope my point is there somewhere.

Of course, you have to "chime in" on the subject very tactfully. And remember that offering support comes first and foremost as well as in the middle and at the end. The whole "expressing your opinion of what's best" should be the blink of an eye by comparison - but I think it's fine for you to do so for a friend.

Thank god for the friends who've had the love and the guts to check me over the years.
posted by scarabic at 7:38 PM on November 29, 2005

If she asks, gently say that although of course you want her to be happy, you don't think that being involved with a married man is a good way to accomplish that.

If she doesn't ask, say nothing. Please.

I was in this situation. I promise it does not turn out well when fourth parties get involved.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:54 PM on November 29, 2005

I have a similar experience, in that my best friend from college is seeing a guy that not only myself, but everyone we know, thinks is a mistake with a capital "M." Now, my relationship with this particular friend is entirely dependent upon honesty, so I was honest with her, but I was also very careful to reiterate on a constant basis throughout the conversation that I loved her and that I wanted to support her as a person, and that meant that I had to be honest with her about this relationship . . . since she'd asked. (Of course, we're close enough that I could have presumed to say something, but I didn't.)

If you are not in the type of friendship with this girl where your unsolicited honesty will be taken well, then don't offer it. It's up to you whether or not you think you're close enough to her that your unmitigated honesty will be welcome under any circumstances, but know this -- she will or will not make this mistake no matter what your opinion is, so after you make your thoughts known once, you've had your "freebie." All you can do after that is wait and see, and hang around to help pick up the pieces if that's necessary.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:57 PM on November 29, 2005

In situations like this, I turn to AskMe so I can act like the meddling hall monitor I am to people who have actually asked for advice. My friends tend to just stop talking to me.

That said, if she asks for your opinion you could tell her what you think. If she doesn't ask and she's still happy, it's probably not a good time to rain on her parade. Unsolicited advice is the fastest way to demonstrate to someone that you don't understand them at all.
posted by Marnie at 8:11 PM on November 29, 2005

You can't get her out of it, any more than anyone can get any other person out of any bad situation. She has to hit the bottom first, on her own, and she quite probably will. All you can do is state your opinion and step back and wait.

You don't have an email in your profile ~ there are some very good web forums out there that could be of help but I don't want to post them here. Feel free to email me.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:20 PM on November 29, 2005

I think you should tell her once, then let it drop.

"I know you really like this guy, but please think about the moral and ethical implications of dating a married man. It makes me really uncomfortable. I worry what you would think of this situation if you weren't involved. You're my friend, I (love/value/really like/whatever) you, and I'm here for you however this turns out. But I don't like what you're doing."

Do say something, though, if you're really her friend.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:32 PM on November 29, 2005

croutonsupafreak - nOooooooOoooooOOOOOO!

See how many "I"'s there are in your words? This is not about you. If you say anything, do not, under any circumstances use the words "I" or "I'm" or "I feel" or "I think". If you can figure something to say, without including the word "I" that is still worth saying, then say it. If not, then S.T.F.U. This is not about you, and as booksandlibretti said, these things will not turn out well for fourth parties...
posted by BadSeamus at 9:16 PM on November 29, 2005

Well, an apologetic "I think" is better than an accusatory "you are."

But I'm another voice weighing in with: Don't say anything unless she specifically asks for your advice.

My best friend in college had an amazing ability to be supportive during my relationships and then be supportive during my break-ups, when she generally told me she had hated the guy I was dating (always with good reason). However, she never gave me the impression that she had bitten her tongue during the relationship, or was judging me. She spent her time really just checking in with me, and giving me the advice I asked for without expanding the scope of the discussion too much, and generally being a good listener and a good friend. I wish I had realized at the time how rare, and how valuable, that type of friend is.
posted by occhiblu at 9:22 PM on November 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

Your question doesn't spell out why you don't see this turning out well, so here goes...

Don't tell her anything really obvious that you know she knows, like "Dating married men is considered by many to be a no-no, maybe you shouldn't do it on general grounds that have nothing to do with the case at hand". That sounds like a great way to get ignored and resented.
If, on the other hand, you think that this particular guy is bad news for your friend, and you see important things about him that you're pretty sure she doesn't see ("He's married!" not being one of those things), then you might have something to tell her. You'll probably need to tread carefully to overcome her suspicion that you're only badmouthing him because you disapprove of the dating married men thing (whether or not you are, or do).
I myself am married, faithful, and have the proper respect for the institution of marriage. Which includes the recognition that many, many marriages (about half, apparently) are made to be broken.
posted by Aknaton at 10:00 PM on November 29, 2005

You don't have to tell her off to salve your conscience. You can ask questions instead: "Are you happy? Do you think this is going to work out? Do the morals of this situation bother you?"

I do think that as a friend you have that responsibility. I know that I have told friends of mine when I think they're being stupid. What scarabic said.

However, you can only do this once. And if and when it turns to shit, you are not allowed to say "I told you so." You have to be there instead. Friends who wander off when their friends have done wrong are a pretty shallow kind of friend, I think.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:34 PM on November 29, 2005

As others have mentioned, your question isn't specific as to why you're worried about your friend.

If it is solely because she's gotten into a relationship with a married man and this is causing great pain to the wife (and probably to the husband and maybe to your friend)...

My parents got divorced under similar circumstances when I was about eight and have since remarried and surrounded my sister and I with a plethora of half and step siblings. Looking back at the ripe old age of 21, I cannot imagine my mother and father as a happily married couple. I also think their new spouses have improved both of them for the better in many ways. Everyone gets along amicably and having two families is great. My parents were not meant for each other, long term.

Aknaton is right; many marriages are made to be broken. I can definitely sympathize with experiencing the emotions involved in the process though, even if viscerally. I vividly remember all of that, and it was bad. I wanted to do something so badly, to somehow fix the situation.

If, on the other hand, you think this guy is trouble or that your friend isn’t taking the matter seriously and might just be having a good time…

I don’t have any advice there, really. I do have an anecdote. I just recently started talking to a very good friend of mine again after almost a year. I spoke out vehemently against the horrible bitch he was dating and unintentionally made things so awkward that we didn’t speak until they finally broke up recently. I thought I was giving some good, blunt advice. It turns out I was completely right about the situation, too, but he just needed to find out for himself. What ikkyu2 said, really.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 1:10 AM on November 30, 2005

"Tell her how you feel" is bad advice; the world is quite overrun with people telling each other how they feel about things that were none of their damn business in the first place. Stay out of it.

Amen. You don't even know this is going to turn out badly; it may be that the marriage will break up, causing significant but temporary pain, and your friend will wind up with the guy and live happily ever after. It's not your place to judge, it's your place to be a friend. If you speak out, you risk losing your friend, and for what? The satisfaction of being able to say "I told you so" if it does turn out badly? If she asks, let her know it makes you uncomfortable, but do so in light of Akhnaton's excellent comment.

(With all due respect to scarabic, this is not even the tiniest bit like a drug habit.)
posted by languagehat at 7:35 AM on November 30, 2005

I think you can say, "I'm so worried that this could end badly for you." if you must say something. You can't rescue people. You can only help her to the extent she wants help.
posted by theora55 at 7:38 AM on November 30, 2005

I really need to add a dissenting opinion here. Having been cheated on and left for the other woman, who happened to be a casual friend, I would have completely appreciated if just one of our mutual friends had asked her if she had considered the effect her actions were having on me. But apparently, none of them wanted to be "judgmental," which is complete bullshit. We judge people, including friends and family, based on their actions all the time, and act accordingly.

Personally, having experienced the enormous pain of infidelity, I could never respect or be friends with someone who was sleeping with a married person (with some exceptions for things like polyamory). And while I agree that it's not your responsibility to get her out of the relationship, I think it's perfectly appropriate and perhaps even necessary for a friend to say "you're doing something which causes me to lose respect for you and which will affect our friendship." Otherwise we're defining friendship as unthinking loyalty.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

BadSeamus, I guess we have to agree to disagree. I didn't tell a friend when I thought she was making a relationshp mistake a few years ago, and it blew up in her face. She might have made the same decision even if I'd said something, but she might also have listened to my (valued) opinion.

Ever since, I've made it a policy to tell people about my moral and ethical qualms about their behaviors. I don't want to judge, just to tell them and let it go. What if nobody says anything, when all the person needs is a bit of perspective?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:58 AM on November 30, 2005

Once upon a time, friend1 told friend2 that dating a married man was a terrible thing to do - pure moral judgment. Surprisingly friend2 woke up and claims to be forever grateful. I think this is because morality can be extremely fluid and in a certain microcosm of the world - a relationship, for example - anything can seem okay.
posted by Amizu at 1:24 PM on November 30, 2005

If she doesn't ask, say nothing. Please.

It's not your place to judge, it's your place to be a friend.

what the hell is a "friend" where you all live? A generic happy-supportive RealDoll? real human interaction includes real human disagreement and advice. If you have a true friendship, you share your internal life with each other. Sure, you can have acquaintancy style friends whose private lives you don't get involved in, but with close friends, major ethical choices like this are relevant. I would want my friends to talk to me about their concerns, & if I thought it would be useful I would bring up my own.

It is certainly risky to suggest someone's making a "Mistake" when you just don't like the guy, but when they're breaking up a marriage, voicing your opinion seems reasonable. I know getting bent out of shape about cheating is old fashioned around here, but it really is a sucky thing to do, and like scarabic suggested, friends should give a shit about each other enough to try to help each other avoid those pitfalls. It isn't in order to make the person feel bad - it's to help them stay true to the kind of person they wanted to be to start with. A good friend can be supportive of you by supporting the more ideal version of you, the You you will look back over and feel good about.
posted by mdn at 2:03 PM on November 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you do decide to bring it up, tread very lightly. Be supportive, and listen to her side of things before suggesting changes, or pointing out errors in her thinking. Things will reveal themselves if you provide an avenue for her to do some self-exploration.

Also, you know the mistress and the wife - have you considered speaking with the husband about this?
posted by lilboo at 6:59 PM on November 30, 2005

« Older What is that "and" character called?   |   What if my non-US citizen fiancée is denied entry... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.