I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about this, but it might make an interesting discussion: Have you ever told your friend that you think her relationship is garbage and that she deserves better? DTMFA is a common refrain among anonymous commenters here, but have you ever said it to someone in real life? What is your best advice for how to tell a friend to DTFMA?
I have done this exactly once in my life and it did NOT go well. Years ago I had a friend whom I loved who I’d describe as a dynamic, intellectually curious, taste-making woman. She was always the first to explore a new cuisine, and if you brought up practically anything in conversation, she had something interesting to contribute based on her wide readings and travels.
And somehow, she decided to get really serious with a guy who seemed to me to be totally Plain Vanilla. He didn’t want to try any other flavors, he had his opinions, and vanilla was it.
I couldn’t believe she was seriously thinking of marrying this guy, and worried that perhaps she was settling because she thought it was time for her to get married. And I basically told her that — that he was so vanilla, and I worried that the adventurous, curious life that she might otherwise have would be… vanilla.
We had a civil conversation, but afterwards… things were not right between us for a very, very long time.
I am trying to vague this up as much as possible because my friend and I are close again, but it took years and years and years for our relationship to recover from my overstep. (Meanwhile, she and the guy have been married for years and years, quite happily as far as she’s concerned.)
In retrospect, I realized I didn’t know the guy beyond more than a few conversations. And I was young enough and naive enough in my own relationship history to not realize that sometimes you need a yin and yang (or for one person to be “at the forefront of your relationship“).
So I regret my overstep, as well as our years of a chillier friendship. But surely there must be times when it IS correct to tell your friend that their relationship is garbage, so how do you know when you should step in or voice your opinion? Or, for that friend who breaks up and gets back together with a partner multiple times, do you temper your response when they break up so that it doesn’t seem as enthusiastic as you feel? (I feel certain I’ve done that, also — enthusiastically celebrated a friend’s breakup, only to see them get back together and then put me on the outs.)
So I’m curious to hear your stories, readers: Have you ever told a friend that their relationship is garbage? What are your best tips for how to KNOW when to step in — and how to tell your friend to DTMFA?
Psst: If your friend is experiencing physical or emotional abuse (or you worry they are), you may want to look into resources like The Hotline on how to support someone in an abusive relationship.
Stock photo via Stencil.
KS IT Chick
I have once. It was a male friend, getting into his third marriage. It was her second. He was in the wedding party for a mutual friend, and she seated at our table. He is adventurous with food. Well done steak wasn’t done enough for her, and she redefined high maintenance for me with how she kept the waitstaff running.
I told him that I didn’t think that they would be happy together, because they would always be compromising what they were eating. He told me I was worrying for nothing. I shook my head and let it go.
They got married and divorced within a year. He told me later that he should have listened to what I was saying, and what I wasn’t saying. After that he has paid attention to how the women he dated looked at food and treated waitstaff. He ended up married to a wonderful woman on the fourth try who is his perfect match.
It’s so hard to know what to do in this situation! It’s tough when it’s a friend you’ve known for years and feel like you kind of know what’s best for them, and it’s a partner they’ve only been with for several months or something. Another complication is when you haven’t seen them in person since the relationship started and don’t see how they interact with each other.
at this point in my life i’m totally stunned by some of the couples i know who have stayed together. so i’m glad i haven’t said it too often!!
to the Q – i said “good riddance” 1X in college after a friend’s breakup and she never forgave me even after they broke up the 2nd time
Your second paragraph – this happened to me with a close cousin. I held my tongue for years as she contemplated going staying with him or leaving, and when she told me she 100% had decided to divorce I finally whole heartedly told her I thought she was absolutely doing the right thing. I thought I was being validating but that was the last close conversation I had with her, and through a close mutual friend learned two months later she was thinking of staying with him. So I’m sure she doesn’t want to talk to me about it anymore because I made it really clear I didn’t think she should stay with him.
My lesson: there is almost never, ever a good time to tell a friend their relationship sucks. Even if they say they’re leaving. I literally think the only time I would say anything any more is if they were being abused, and then I’d keep it short, to the point, offer help and resources if they’re ever ready to leave, and back it up with all the non-judgement in the world for them if they decided to stay for now because clearly they need a friend.
My husband absolutely refuses to learn this lesson – he thinks he has to be honest with his friends and tell them that their girlfriends suck. As a result, he has lost a few close friendships. We go round and round with each other in conversations about this topic actually.
#1 piece of advice: If it’s not a character issue, shut your mouth.
#2: if it is a character issue, address it once, calmly, and without judgement. Anything from “this is unhealthy and will lead to x, y, and z problems down the road” to “if I told you I was dating someone who treated me that way, what would you say?”
This garbage ruins relationships. Back before I met my husband, I figured out that if my friends/family felt the need to throw shade at my SO, my choices were to shut it down, end that family/friend relationship, or watch my dating relationship develop emotional gangrene.
I did this with my brother. Made a long caring list of why marrying that particular woman so soon after his divorce was not without risk and probably going to impact his children from his first marriage negatively. He quickly married and immediately started having more kids.
Our relationship is definitely not close anymore.
I guess the moral of the story is talking to friends is hard with a low probability of success, and talking to family can be just a fraught or worse.
On the other side of this, my brother and some friends have made it known to me that they don’t approve of my husband of almost 8 years. He is neurodivergent and doesn’t pick up on or understand a lot of social cues (which I understand can be off-putting), but he is well-meaning and he tries to get a long with everyone, and we love each other and have a good life. It has put a real strain on my relationship with my brother and ended some friendships because I think they are being judgmental and it has honestly made me value their opinions less. I don’t even want to spend time with them apart from him because I feel like I have been judged for choosing to be with someone that they wouldn’t have chosen.
When we were in our first year of dating, a close friend of mine asked me when I thought she should tell a friend that she didn’t like their partner. I told her that if she thought her friend was in danger she should do it, but otherwise she should keep her opinion to herself. We don’t speak anymore.
I have and it hasn’t worked out all that well. I would never offer my opinion on someone else’s relationship without being asked, but it comes up in the context of supporting my friends when they’re having relationship issues and vent to me. I tend to take their side and agree that the boyfriend/husband is a scumbag for doing that, but then they get back together with the guy & act like that didn’t happen, but I’m still the b1tch for thinking their darling was a scumbag. Having learned this lesson the hard way, I try to focus my sympathies much more on my friend now and not what a POS whatever guy is being, because it will come back to bite me.
I have a divorced friend who went through a period of seeing her own prior relationship dynamics in other people’s basically happy relationships and would always make unsolicited comments about it, and that got old.
I had a falling out with a friend years ago after voicing some concerns for her well-being. Our relationship didn’t recover even after my concerns sadly turned out to be right on the money.
If you value the friendship and want to keep it, then the best course of action is to say nothing. The relationship will either work out or it won’t. Even people in abusive relationships will dismiss the concerns of other people. The only thing you can do is be a friend to your friend and take your cues from them.