Everyone knows at least one friend in an on-again-off-again relationship. Maybe you were that friend. But what advice do you give them for the millionth time when they break up or get back together again?
The challenge lies in choosing between telling them what they want to hear, versus what they really need to hear.
The first thing everyone should understand: when people come asking for relationship advice, most often, they don’t really want your opinion. They want you to listen. So… listen!
You’ve heard about how Dylan ditched Katie again to hang out with his friends for a million times. Listening to your friend vent (without commenting on how Dylan is definitely a douche and Katie should dump him) allows you to support her without seeming harsh or judgmental.
I’ve been both the supportive friend listening about the same boy problems and the friend who needed someone to listen. When I got back together with my now ex-boyfriend, a lot of people told me that I’d regret it—that I’d made the wrong decision.
Naturally, this made me upset.
Here’s my advice (passed down to me from my very wise, almost always right, mother): You don’t need to tell your friend they made a dumb decision. They most likely already know that.
INSTEAD, ask them questions that guide them to their own conclusion.
- “Has getting back together with him/her made you happier?”
- “Is he/she willing to change the parts of the relationship that made the relationship break in the first place?”
- “Are you willing to accept the things that he/she won’t change that made you upset before?”
Posing these questions let your friend think through a decision rather than being reprimanded about a dumb decision made.
The truth is, when someone comes to you for advice they almost always already know what they are going to do. They probably want you to validate their decision. It can be incredibly frustrating to spend hours giving advice to a friend and then them do the exact opposite moments later.
When my ex-boyfriend and I got back together, many people made their disapproval known to me. However, my mom and sister remained supportive and understanding.
One day my mom said to me, “You know in your heart that he isn’t the man for you, and when the time comes, I am confident that you will make the right decision. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be with them.”
First, my mom relayed her confidence in me to make the right decision. Every person that comes looking for advice needs to hear that you believe in them, especially if they lack self-confidence.
Second, my mom didn’t pretend or sugar coat the fact that who I was with wasn’t particularly right for me. Being supportive doesn’t mean lying and telling your friend that the jerk she’s with is great for her.
Last, “Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be with them.” How empowering is that? Those simple words are so strong. In just a few words, my mom relayed more to me than the hours I spent talking with my friends and other family members about the subject.
With that said, sometimes you do need to be straightforward, and maybe even a little harsh if it gets the point across. Safety is the most important factor. If a friend’s safety is compromised, your role changes from supportive to protective. Abuse is not only physical, it can be verbal, too.
I’ve always seen myself as strong in character, and someone not easily manipulated because of it. However, in my last relationship I became weak many times and let things happen in the relationship as to not cause a fight. I stayed silent.
Staying silent is the worst thing you can do—in any relationship. Your voice is your armor. It conveys your thoughts and allows for relationships to build between people. When we stay silent, we slowly kill that relationship.
If I learned anything from my mom, several aunts and uncles, siblings, and many wonderful friends, it’s that the best thing you can do for a friend in an unhealthy relationship is to empower them.
Tell them—show them—that you believe in them, that you know just how strong they are. Encourage them to speak up and make good decisions for themselves because they deserve happiness and peace.
Your friend might not be dating a jerk. Maybe he’s a great guy. In fact, I still remember good moments with my ex. However, that doesn’t mean that we were good for each other, and that doesn’t mean your friend should continue dating that person.
He may be nice. He may be handsome. He may be successful. That doesn’t mean he’s right for you.
And here’s the brutal truth: In any relationship, you’re either growing or dying.
When my ex-boyfriend and I broke up for the final time, my brother shared some very wise words with me. He said, “Everyone is looking for instant gratification thinking that it’ll bring them happiness. At the end of the day, you need to choose what gives you peace. That peace is what will eventually give you happiness.”
So, the next time your friend comes around asking for relationship advice, ask them, “Is he/she bringing you peace? Is he/she bringing you happiness?”
And then let them make up their own mind.