How to support a friend who wont take your advice
January 23, 2017 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Friend is not in a good relationship. It hasn't been good for a long time. Every crisis I try to be there for him but after multiple infidelities and a downward spiral and no sign of leaving her, I'm exhausted by this situation. How do I remain a supportive friend?

My friend has been in a relationship for 3 years (he's male and 22 if that matters). Despite not being happy for the majority of the relationship, admitting he is not physically attracted to his girlfriend anymore, numerous times she's either had an emotional affair/ or tried to initiate a physical affair (they are not in an open relationship), and just generally not treating each other well (which may because they aren't a good match), my friend will not leave his girlfriend. I remember crying for a full day imagining myself treating my own SO the way my friend's S.O treat him after the second grueling emotional affair. Most recently, even after she asked for a break and not even three days later had violated varrious terms of the break including going on a date with a guy and attempting to get physical with a crush, did my friend break up with his S.O. I only include these details to back my point that this is a relationship that isn't happy and in my opinion shouldn't continue for the sake of both their happiness (friends with her too).

This couple seems to lurch from problem to problem and I've started to more forcibly vocalize why I think this relationship isn't working and ask the types of questions I feel like my friend should be asking himself to determine why he wants to stay in this situation, like 'why do you stay?', answer 'I can't do any better', 'We were happy once' ect. After this latest drama she decided to break up with him but he convinced her not to break up with him! This is despite my advice to let her end it/initiate a break up. I don't think my friend should just take my advice; I know he doesn't have to listen to me but every time a major disaster happens it really stresses me out and it breaks my heart that my friend isn't happy. I believe he will never find the happiness and companionship he desires in this relationship. I just feel exhausted after coaching my friend, trying to give advice in his own longterm interest, for him to take none of it.

My question is how can I remain a supportive friend in light of this frustrating situation. I see my friend continuing to make choices that aren't making him happy. I don't think anything I can say or do will make him leave this situation. How do I come to terms with this? How do I emotionally divest from this situation? Or should I even? I really don't think I can go through this emotional roller coaster again.
posted by aquablue582 to Human Relations (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Set firm boundaries. Just say "I can't be the person you talk to about this anymore. It's stressing me out and its not even my relationship!". Repeat until they stop talking to you about it.
posted by KMoney at 6:22 PM on January 23, 2017 [21 favorites]

Are you by any chance a woman? I ask because as women we are socialized to give and give and support and give and ask for nothing in return, and that's exactly what's going on in your question. In your friendship with him, what does he do for you, how does he support you? Does he know about how upset you've become on his behalf? Does he understand that he puts you through an "emotional roller coaster" when he dumps all his problems on you?

I think that the way you can be a supportive friend is to remove your support entirely. You've made your opinion clear and he hasn't listened; he's using you for comfort, for emotional divestment, as a dumping ground for his woes. What would he do if he didn't have you to provide that service? If he were to come onto AskMe and ask a question from his perspective, we would tell him to stop depending on you and get a professional therapist and DTMFA girlfriend.

He's using you. A good friend might not realize this right away but when told would take steps to rectify that. If you tell him you don't want to hear another thing about his relationship, what do you think he would do? Would he get angry at you? Or would he be mature and apologize and seek help elsewhere and enjoy your friendship in a way that isn't just an emotional prop for him?

You're clearly a very empathetic and kind person. Your distress at his problems says nothing about you except that you feel things deeply. If he understands that about you then he will respect your boundaries after you set them, because he will understand that he's hurting you. If he doesn't, or if his relationship drama is so all-enveloping that he has nothing to talk about with you apart from it, then it's really a lost cause. Be supportive of yourself.
posted by Mizu at 6:30 PM on January 23, 2017 [17 favorites]

I've been in your shoes -- it's very frustrating. You need to think about what you want your role to be in the friendship, and then stick to that. I gather that you no longer want the role of someone to vent to while he just keeps doing the same things that make him miserable. Do you want to be someone who's a friend but doesn't want to hear about the relationship problems anymore? That would be okay; you wouldn't be a bad friend. Do you want to offer help in case he does want to end the relationship? If so, decide what you'd be willing to do. Would you let him live with you for a while, and if so, how long? Would you be willing to help him find a therapist? Hold his hand during the misery of the first months after the breakup? Think of specific things. You don't need to lay them all out for him...just mention an example or two. The list is for you -- ask yourself what help you want to give, and what might be off limits.

Once you've decided what you'd like your role to be, tell him. You can say, "I've tried to help by listening, but my listening isn't helping you change your unhappy situation. I want to give help that you actually need, not just be a sounding board. I still want to be a friend, but please don't talk to me about girlfriend anymore. And if you do decide to end the relationship, I will support you and help you through it."

I've initiated the "no more talk about bad SO" conversation four times in my life (two with the same person in different relationships). It was taken well, probably because my friends knew I genuinely cared about their happiness.
posted by wryly at 6:34 PM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

(friends with her too).

if you're friends with both of them but he's the one exhausting you to the point of coming here to ask for help, perhaps she's a better friend. and if she actually came to the point of breaking up only to be talked out of it, maybe she's someone who would actually make practical use of your moral support. he clearly won't. use all this tremendous effort on the person who just needs a little push, not the one who's stuck in his misery hole because he likes it there.

but also you don't have to switch roller coasters even if the other one's better. there's just no reason to get all worked up over someone else's unhappy relationship to this degree, ever. it doesn't make sense. There's no hint in your question that you're interested in him (or her) but if not, then why...why? Why do anything more than grimace sympathetically and nod until you're so bored you make your excuses and head home?
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:36 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

"You already know my opinion on this. Hey, did you hear about those xxx?" I've been the emotional sounding board for my male friends for my whole life, and I'm fine with it up until we are spending months/years having the same conversation with no change from their end.

Now, they're not obliged to take my advice. But I'm also not obliged to be their therapist, especially when they show no interest in holding MY hand through a relationship crisis. So now I give them my opinion, but if the topic keeps coming up and they want to have the same endless discussion, I draw a boundary and change the topic. They get the message, we stay friends.
posted by Jubey at 6:42 PM on January 23, 2017 [10 favorites]

"I love you, but I cannot talk about the drama any more. You need to move on."
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:55 PM on January 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

"I can't give you advice about this anymore." And don't be surprised if the friendship ends.
posted by thirdletter at 6:57 PM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

Perhaps it is easier to say everything you need to say in a letter. I agree with the other posters that it's probably time you stop helping your friend (or trying to help). A long letter that says explicitly how much you care for him, and that illustrates how you see the relationship and why you don't think it's worth saving, might be the most complete and satisfying way to express yourself on this subject. You can say "I can't keep repeating myself: this is what I think about the relationship, for the last time..." This might jeopardise your friendship with him, though—I don't know how worried you are about that.
posted by Clotilde at 6:59 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your friend is choosing to stay in this shitty relationship. I suggest you choose to not listen to him talk about it anymore.

If you're friends with her too, tell her to break up with him, because he is constantly complaining about her and obviously not happy in the relationship, and neither is she since she keeps cheating on him. Tell them both that because you're their friend, you're advising both of them to cut the shit and break up because they're terrible for each other.

Sometimes being a good friend means to stop putting up with their shit anymore and give it to them straight. They won't like to hear it, but enough is enough sometimes.
posted by Autumnheart at 7:04 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

This sounds kinda wrong, I think, but what's worked best for me with friends in a situation like that is making a conscious decision not to talk to them about it. They know on some level that the relationship is bad, but they won't listen to you if you tell them; they have to decide for themselves. If you want to stay friends, I'd recommend just generally being supportive but not judgmental of your friend or his partner, and waiting for him to come around.
posted by ferret branca at 7:08 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's not clear whether your friend keeps trying to drag you into this, or you're just inserting yourself. It is definitely not normal to spend a whole day crying over someone else's relationship problems.

You can't fix someone else's emotional problems for them. Your friend has to make his own decision to make a change. You need to detach yourself big time. Simply stop having conversations about his relationship. "Friend, you know my stance on this, no point rehashing it. Let's talk about something else."
posted by ktkt at 7:19 PM on January 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

Does your friend ask for advice and then not take it? Or are you offering advice unasked when he tells you about what's going on in his relationship? Either way, I think it's okay to stop giving advice.

There are a few things you can do -

Listen but don't get caught up in the story or give advice. Just say "Gee, that sounds rough. I hope things get better for you. You deserve to be happy."

Set a boundary and don't talk to him about it anymore. Tell him it's stressing you out to listen to the continual drama and you can't do it anymore. Suggest, gently and sincerely, that he talk to a therapist instead.

Get some distance from this guy. See him less frequently and only in group settings, and seek out other friends who don't pull you into their drama in this way.

I've often found myself trying to rescue people and I can't think of a single time when it has worked. People have to rescue themselves. You can be supportive (listen, give advice when asked, help strategize when they're ready to make a plan, remind them that they have what it takes to deal with this situation and that they deserve to be happy) but you can't force them to take a step they're not ready to take. And you can make yourself nearly crazy trying; it can become very unhealthy. At this point in my life when I catch myself going into rescue mode, I take a deep breath and a step back. I can perform small concrete tasks to help people, I can listen, tell them I care, and I can remind them that they're good humans and deserve good things, but I can't rescue them.

[The advice I recently gave someone in a similar situation was this: It's easier to be happy alone than with the wrong person. I doubt they took it or even remember it now.]
posted by bunderful at 7:35 PM on January 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

This does not make you a bad person at all, but: your lack of boundaries is causing you a lot of unnecessary pain. Your question has many of the markers of codependency. Codependency is common and once you can recognize it then you save yourself so much heartache and frustration.

I strongly agree with what others have said above about women often taking this role of being emotionally responsible for their loved ones and asking you to consider what you're getting out of this friendship. Often what you get out of codependent relationships is a feeling of being needed, which can feel like being appreciated but, unfortunately, it's not.

Feeling this upset about someone not taking your advice is a clear sign that healthy boundaries are not in place. If someone keeps making stupid choices and asking you to make them feel better about those choices, they're not asking you to be a good friend — they're asking you to be their enabler. Support can include listening and giving advice, but accepting that people need to make their own decisions is essential. The other key part of a healthy relationship is the other person taking responsibility for their actions and not taking up mass amounts of emotional labor instead of figuring out their own solutions.

I suffered from codependency for a long time. I have no idea what your personal situation is, but I felt like no one would love me if I wasn't there for them no matter what, and it also meant that I felt highly responsible for other people's feelings and actions. This attracted people who wanted to emotionally drain me without giving me anything in return, and on the flipside it ruined relationships with healthy people because I insisted they had to take my advice as a way of proving they loved me. I was often insisting on 'helping' people when they weren't asking for me help.

I know it hurts that your friend is making bad choices and that you want to be supportive, but we can only control our own behavior and you have to take ownership of your feelings. He cannot make you feel better about his actions (both 'cannot' and also 'should not', it's not his job), but you can, by having healthy boundaries.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:36 PM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

Not your monkey, not your circus. You have done your best and he needs to resolve it on his own without dragging you down. Heck, he is dragging the girlfriend who tried to break up with him too. It is a form of vampirism/parasitism.
posted by jadepearl at 7:39 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had started to think of not talking about / giving advice about the relationship anymore and your answers have made me really think about and be resolved to do this. I know I've found it hard when a new event comes along and I feel like I can affect some positive change but I just need to accept there's nothing I can do and its really not my job. Thanks for helping me see this situation with more clarity! Great answers! (Also I'm female and totally am very guilty of taking on more than my share of emotional labor in some friendships. Also makes me feel icky that I do this, hard cycle to break for me at least.)
posted by aquablue582 at 7:59 PM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

Perhaps because I have little patience for people who do this:

"I can no longer talk to you about this.
You know my feelings on the matter; they have never wavered.
I need to step back for a while.
Call me when you've finally walked away from this trainwreck."
posted by blueberry at 11:56 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Therapy really helped me with this, because my therapist at point said, "oh, hey, I have no dog in this fight, I just want you to be happy, and you seem unhappy with this situation". Once she set that boundary that my decisions were firmly on me, I got better at setting that boundary with friends, too. You can tell him you're sorry he's in so much pain, and you want him to be happy. And it sounds like you're on your way to telling him that you can't be the person he talks to about this anymore, which is great! It may help him to see that his decision is on Him, not you, or at the Very least you won't have to hear about the drama and have it take over your head anymore. If it starts to, be sure to instead focus on something about your life you can work on instead.
posted by ldthomps at 8:42 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Why do you insist on giving unsolicited advice, exactly?

You have a friend who needs to vent. Be a friend and just listen.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:10 PM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think it's complicated to condemn the guy when he is clearly in an abusive dynamic. If his answer is "I can't do any better" there are a couple of things that seem pretty obvious. Firstly he has terrible self confidence which leads him to believe this is as good as it gets and it's worth noting that is a common sign of abuse. Secondly it's pretty interesting to turn this around and question if his unenthusiasm and unhappiness is fair on his partner. I mean, she sounds awful but there are two people in this relationship so actively convincing her to stay when she wants to leave is participating in keeping her in a situation where she stays with a man who hangs on because doesn't think he can do better.

I'm not attacking your friend here, just pointing out that his lack of action regarding her indiscretions and his own consequent feelings isn't great either.

But regarding your post, I don't think it is a poor reflection on you to explain that this situation has caused you to struggle within your friendship and despite caring for him deeply, you cannot discuss it with him further.

It is good to remember you are not responsible for his happiness or his sadness. As hard as it is sometimes we all have situations where it is necessary to step away from a friend in order to protect oneself. The outcome may actually be a positive one for him, in a weird way you may have unkowingly contributed to enabling his behavour by providing the emotional labour regardless of his actions.
posted by TheGarden at 11:24 PM on January 24, 2017

« Older when your pain is de-legitimised   |   The Triby Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.