When you dislike your friend's fiance

ELLY TAYLOR
Last updated 13:11 20/08/2012
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INTERVENTION: So, your friend has decided she's going to be spend the rest of her life... with a guy you don't like.

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So, your friend has decided she's going to be spend the rest of her life... with a guy you don't like. Is it ever your place to intervene? We ask counsellor Elly Taylor.

1. You don't like the guy. Are these your issues yours? Hers? A little of both?

It's your issue if you don't like him but they are happy and treat each other well. If this is the case, the stronger you are reacting (or over reacting), the more it is a signal that it is your issue. It's mainly her issue if he doesn't treat her well, but also yours because you care about her. It's both if it's affecting the friendship between you because that's a relationship you are both responsible for.

2. Should you try and broach the subject with your friend? And how should you: react to the news they are getting married?

Yes, openness and honesty (and sensitivity!) create the best friendships. We are all a combination of good and bad traits and she will see a side of him that you might not; she might tell you lots of lovely things about him which reassures you about their being together. If she shares more bad stuff about him, it doesn't bode well for them as a couple, but at least it opens the lines of communication between you for you to be a supportive friend.

If she announces they are getting married, try to control your panic and don't react straight away, or you may push her away.  Plan to have a more intentional conversation before she books the reception venue.

First work out exactly what the problem is. Is it his personality, his behavior or the way he relates to her? The first can't be changed but the second two can. Focus specifically on what you don't like and use the feedback sandwich (positive, negative, positive): "I think he (good point about him even if you have to make it up), but when I see him (what you are worried about) and the way you react to him (describe the reaction that concerns you), I get worried about you because I want you to be happy..."

3. Should you ever consider discussing her choice with a member of her family? With other close friends? (to be honest, how could you not??)

When we are shocked or distressed about something, it's natural to want to talk about it, to make sense of it and to get emotional support for ourselves. It's also natural to want to protect someone we care about. You just have to be tactful about how you do it. Best to tell her yourself that you have spoken to another and your reasons for doing so than for them to pass that information on and for her not to know the context of it.

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4. What if they ask you to give a speech? How do you give a wedding speech for a union you don't believe in?

Oh boy. Use the feedback sandwich. And drink. Lots. No, kidding, that will end up being like a scene out of a movie. I would avoid saying anything too personal, write something educational and hopeful about how couples grow and change over time and that it's up to each couple to find ways to grow together so they don't grow apart and hope they take something from it.

5. Is this subject absolutely none of your business and something that each individual has decide on their own without intervention?

It is your business if it affects your friendship with her. It also depends on the behavior/attitude/traits of his you are reacting to. If it's irritating but minor, it's harder to justify intervention, but if it's abusive there will likely be an imbalance of power in their relationship, and that's where people lose their ability to decide and so intervention is sometimes needed. The intervention needs to be sensitive too, so she doesn't lose her power more.

6. Sometimes it's a straightforward personality clash and it the reality is that the guy is just too much like you - that's one thing. But what if you can see how nasty he is to her? What if he puts her down in front of you and she doesn't say anything?

OK, so here we are crossing the line into abuse. Abuse isn't just physical; it's psychological and emotional as well. It's using power over another person to make them feel 'less than'. And it can be done in lots of different ways. Abuse can dissolve self-esteem and lead to feelings of powerlessness and depression. This is really the time for a heart to heart. Let your friend know what you've observed, how she's changed, how you've noticed what he says and how she doesn't react to it and what your concerns are. Again, focus on his behavior and not on your judgments of him as a person, which may put her on the defensive. If you do it tactfully, you may find that she is agreeing with you but just not sure how to get out of the relationship and then you are having a different conversation.

7. What if she complains about him all the time - or rolls her eyes when he's around. This isn't simply venting - this is thunder clouds!  Are you allowed to ask questions about her complaining /eye rolling when she tells you she's engaged?

The biggest predictor of whether a couple will make it or not in the long term is how they deal with conflict. All couples have differences and all couples have conflicts. Some have heated disagreements, but they do it fairly, respectfully and then make up afterwards. Others use criticism, put downs, refuse to discuss things, are contemptuous or become abusive.  These couples are headed for relationship breakdown and, if you can see this happening, of course you would want any friend to avoid this.

I like to make the distinction between what we say (or ask) and how we say (or ask) it. If we brooch a subject in a caring, supportive way the questions or comments will go down a lot better than if they are accompanied by criticism, put downs etc. I think any topic or question can be broached, as long as it's clear from our tone of voice, facial expression and gestures, as well as our choice of words, that we care. Practice it with someone else or in front of the mirror if you need to.

8.What if she is being emotionally or physically abused by him? What should you do then? Do you call the cops?

I have worked with clients who have had to pack a secret bag, stash some secret cash and call a friend  to say "watch my house this afternoon and if I put a vase of flowers in the window (or some other pre-arranged signal) you know I need help" because they have felt unsafe with an abusive partner. Abuse is real and it can't be ignored. If you witness the abuse or can overhear it happening, then you should definitely call the police to stop it. If you suspect it has been happening, but don't have any proof, encourage your friend to call or visit the police herself to report it, and go with her for moral support. Abusers need to know that violence or using power and control in other ways is not OK and will not be tolerated by anybody.

9. What if you can see she's horrible to him - do you ever speak up then?

I've pretty much covered this is question 7 I think Nat, can we combine these two?

10. What if you have spoken up and the friend chooses them - can you ever repair the friendship?

Whether the friendship can be repaired or not will depend on the circumstances. The abuse issue aside, how you both end up feeling about the discussions that have taken place between you up until that time. But relationships can always been repaired if both parties really want it. If she remembers that despite your concerns about him, your love for her came through, she will value that. Then you have to see how you continue to handle him and how her being with him affects your feelings for her and your friendship. You might want to pull back a bit, but still stay in contact. People change over time and, if she is a good friend, can be that again when her circumstances change.

If you feel you don't have the skills, or it becomes too difficult, or you think she is out of her depth in the relationship for any reason, suggest she see a relationship counselor with you to help you both talk over your concerns and provide additional support if needed. Qualified relationship counsellors deal with all sorts of relationships, they can be found through the Australian Association of Relationship Counsellors website. One session could save the friendship, and might even save the friend.

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