Friends in Low Places


Dear Dharma, 

I am in a tough spot, where I want to help a friend but don’t know what the best action is – I don’t want to harm our friendship or make her situation worse.

She is in a long term relationship, for about 6 years, with a guy who seems nice when we go out in a group, but how he acts when it is just the two of them makes me think there are some serious problems there.  I should add I only know what she tells me, so take it with a grain of salt.

He is not physically violent, but he is the king of the silent treatment, and will shut her out for days over some slight that only he can see.  She will have no idea what she did, and when he finally does start talking again, he refuses to tell her what she did, or else it is some hopelessly lame thing that is totally not worth that sort of reaction.

The really bad thing is that when she tells me this stuff, she isn’t saying what a dick he is, but asking for advice on how she can be more observant, or listen closer so she stops messing up all the time.  She is a well-educated woman, and to hear her talk like this is upsetting!

How can I help her to see that she is not the problem here?  I don’t want to drive her away, because I suspect she will need friends in the future.

Frustrated in Friendville

Dear Friendville,

It’s always hard to watch someone you care about do something you know isn’t in their best interest. We wonder how in the world they can’t see how unhealthy their environment is and why they refuse to do things any differently.  Our words of wisdom fall on deaf ears and we wish we could just shake some sense into them.

Yeah.  We’ve all been there, and probably in both capacities, right?  I can’t be the only one who stayed in a bad relationship waaay longer than necessary, much to the frustration and upset of those around me… and I can’t be the only one to counsel dumbass friends when they do the same, like some kind of karmic payback.

However, at the end of the day, you must know that no matter how well educated your friend is, she is going to continue down her chosen path until she’s ready to go in a different direction.

If you don’t want to drive her away, then the best thing you can do is just listen, and not offer much advice at all.  Especially because she’s not asking for advice on how to leave, she’s asking advice on how to stay.  You can try gentle ways to encourage her to see the light, but you need to be prepared for her not to hear you.

The one thing you don’t mention is whether or not your friend is, overall, happy in this relationship. Does she go to pieces when he gives her the silent treatment or does she roll with it and find productive ways to fill her time?

It doesn’t sound like she speaks badly of him, and it doesn’t really sound like she complains… so is this maybe more a case of you thinking she deserves better, but she doesn’t really see it that way?

Which is probably the part that frustrates you the most, and that’s understandable… Sadly, though, nothing is going to change until your friend wants something to change.  Hopefully she realizes that someone using the silent treatment to punish her like a child is not her equal, and hopefully she turns to you for the support she is sure to need.



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