NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Friendships: Losing a Friend After Giving Advice

One of the wonderful things about close friendships is the mutual support you provide to each other. Recently, a personal acquaintance told me how she lost her best friend after giving her advice, and she gave me permission to use her story, if I change her name, because she felt it might benefit others. Over the years, I've heard many versions of this story, and I've come to realize how common it is.

Yvonne (not her real name):
Yvonne and Sally were best friends since high school. They grew up in the same town, got married to their high school sweethearts with a couple of months of each other, and they continued to live close by even after they got married. They saw each other frequently, spending time with each other together as well as with their husbands. Over the years, they shared their secrets, hopes and dreams with each other. They thought of each other as sisters.

Sally and Yvonne Were Best Friends

It was not unusual for Yvonne and Sally to ask each other for advice. So, Yvonne thought nothing of it when Sally came over for coffee one day and told her that she needed Yvonne's advice. Sally told Yvonne that she suspected that her husband might be having an affair with his secretary.

At first, Yvonne thought Sally was joking. Everyone thought that Sally and Bob were the happiest couple in town. But when Yvonne realized that Sally was serious, she got over her initial shock and listened attentively to what Sally had to say.

Sally told Yvonne about all the telltale signs of Bob's infidelity: staying out late after work, sexually the provocative text messages on Bob's phone that Sally found when she became suspicious and searched his cell phone, and the sudden lack of sexual interest that Bob was showing for her.

They had been planning a vacation to Hawaii for months and now, suddenly, Bob wasn't sure if he wanted to go. As Sally told Yvonne all of this, she lowered her head and began to cry. She asked Yvonne, "I've been thinking about confronting Bob about this. What do you think should do?"

Yvonne told me that, at this point, her mouth had gone dry, and she hardly knew what to say. She had never seen Sally so upset in all the years they'd been friends. Her heart went out to Sally, and she wanted to help her. So, after a few moments of silence in which she composed herself, she told Sally she thought she should confront Bob. When Yvonne told me this part of the story, she said, "I would do anything now to take back those words."

A few days later, Sally came to see Yvonne. Sally looked like she hadn't slept in days. Her eyes were red and puffy with dark circles and she looked exhausted. Yvonne was shocked to see Sally in such a state.

After they sat down with cups of coffee, Sally told her that she confronted Bob. At first, he denied it. Then, after arguing about it for a few days, he admitted everything: He and his secretary were having an affair and he had no intention of giving it up. He felt ashamed, but he was also relieved because he hated lying to Sally.

At first, he thought his affair was only a passing thing. But after Sally confronted him about the affair, he had time to think about it. Before she confronted him, he said, he was going to break it off. But his arguments with Sally forced him to think about it more, and he realized that he was really in love with his secretary and he wanted to marry her. He apologized profusely to Sally, and then he asked her for a divorce.

As Yvonne sat there in stunned silence, Sally told her she couldn't help feeling that if she had not taken Yvonne's advice, Bob might have broken off his affair and all of this would have blown over. Maybe they would've had a chance to save their marriage.

But now she felt everything was lost. Bob moved out the day before to live with his new girlfriend, and he told her they should sell their house. Then, taking no responsibility for her own decision to confront Bob, Sally told Yvonne that she felt Yvonne's advice ruined her marriage and she wanted nothing to do with her ever again. And, with that, Sally walked out, leaving Yvonne in tears.

By the time Yvonne told me this story, five years had passed. True to her word, Sally wanted nothing to do with Yvonne. She ignored Yvonne's phone calls and email, and she refused to open the door when Yvonne tried to see her. In a few months after their last conversation, Sally sold her home and moved out of state. Yvonne never heard from her again.

Hindsight is 20/20
Hindsight is 20/20, and Yvonne had important insights over time. She came to see that, even though they were in their 30s, her friendship with Sally was somewhat adolescent and enmeshed. At the time, when Sally asked Yvonne for advice, Yvonne didn't have enough distance, due to their enmeshment, to stop and think about it before she gave advice.

She said that, if she could do it all over again, she would've told Sally that she couldn't advise her what to do and Sally should seek the help of someone impartial, like a mental health professional. She realized that, under most circumstances, no one can tell a friend what to do about his or her marriage.

Although time had passed and Yvonne was over the initial stage of hurt and anger for Sally blaming her and ending the friendship, she said she will never forget the important, painful lesson she learned. As I mentioned earlier, I've heard variations of this story many times. It can be a very painful lesson to learn that, even when a close friend asks for this type of advice, giving them advice about their marriage or relationship can backfire.

More importantly, we can never know what's right for another person's relationship. Even most experienced therapists don't give advice--they help clients to come to conclusions that are right for the individual clients.

So, the next time a friend seeks personal advice about serious problems in his or her relationship, unless you fear for your friend's physical safety, rather than risking the friendship, provide a comforting ear and a sounding board, but resist telling your friend what to do. Suggest that your friend seek professional help fro a licensed psychotherapist so your friend can figure out what's best for him or herself.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Exp I work with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.