Compassionate Support For The Aspiring Professional

LICENSED MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPIST
ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, GSEP PEPPERDINE UNIVERSITY

LONDON, LOS ANGELES (BEVERLY HILLS, DTLA, MALIBU), DUBLIN

Good Friend in a Bad Relationship: How to Help

It is so hard to sit by and watch a friend who is suffering because of a dysfunctional relationship. Maybe they want to leave, but feel stuck for some reason, or reluctant about ending it. Maybe your friend is hopeful that their partner will somehow change. Hope is a powerful force, and it can deceive even the most intelligent among us when it comes to love. 

When you are the concerned friend, you may find that your emotions about the situation vary. Perhaps you feel sadness and empathy, anger at their partner, and frustrated with your friend for not leaving the relationship. It can be a helpless feeling as an observer. It may even strain your patience at times, particularly if the friend has opted to stay in the relationship after ongoing maltreatment or abuse.

Perhaps you have grown tired of your friend’s complaints and lack of action to end the relationship. You may find yourself telling them, “Just walk away and don’t look back.” Being a supportive friend can be difficult in situations like this, and it is important to keep your own emotions in check and remember some key factors. 

Don’t Try to Solve It

Ultimately, you can love your friend and wish the best for them, but you cannot fix their relationship challenges. Your mind already knows this, but your heart may be reluctant to accept it. Rather than trying to advise them on how to solve their relationship issues, focus on what you do have control over; being a supportive, compassionate friend.

Set Healthy Boundaries

It may be tempting to try to intervene in your friend’s relationship by acting as a mediator or offering unwelcome advice to their partner. As well intentioned as you are, your intervention is not likely to help, and may actually cause your friend greater harm and discord. Setting healthy boundaries around your own behaviors can offer clarity to both of you about your role.

Ask Your Friend What They Need

When your friend comes to you to talk about their relationship, ask them what they are looking for out of this interaction. It may feel awkward to ask the question, but it can help you understand the best way to support them. Are they just venting, asking for advice, or do they want something different from this conversation? Knowing this ahead of time can help you provide the right type of support.

Listen to Your Own Mind and Body

If you are taking on too much stress, your mind and body will let you know. It is important to pay attention to the signals you are given so that you can take care of yourself. Absorbing your friend’s relationship stress may show up as muscle tightness, sleep disturbance, irritability, or restlessness.

You may notice that you are distracted or unable to focus on tasks. At times you may find yourself dwelling excessively on your friend’s challenges. Make sure you are taking care of yourself first, since you cannot offer support if you are emotionally and physically depleted. 

As your friend navigates their relationship dynamics and you offer support, try to be patient with yourself when you start to feel angry or frustrated, or even apathetic toward their situation. Remind yourself that you can be a good friend and offer support without absorbing their pain. Sometimes the greatest gift you can offer is to just listen.

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