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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Could It Be that Your Friends See Things About Your Lover that You Don't Want to See?

One of the most challenging situations between friends is when your friends don't like your lover or vice versa.  At times, your friends might not like your lover because they see things about him or her that you don't see.  It can be a very disappointing and frustrating situation.  It can put a strain on your friendships and on your relationship.

The following example, which I'm providing with permission from a friend, with names changed and all identifying information changed, illustrates how friendships can be challenged in this type of situation:

John:
John and I have been close friends for more than 20 years. Several years ago, he began dating Ali.  Prior to dating Ali, John had been in a two year divorce battle with the woman who was his wife at the time, which left him emotionally depleted and disillusioned about relationships.

So when those of us who were close to him heard how enthusiastic he was about this new person he was dating, we were thrilled for him and looked forward to meeting Ali.  But all of that changed when we met Ali one night over dinner at John's apartment.   Within a few minutes of meeting us, she told me she "didn't believe in psychotherapy," she told our journalist friend that she didn't like his newspaper, and she kept calling another friend by the wrong name (even though our friend kept telling her the right name). Ali looked bored throughout the meal as if her participation was part of a court mandated community service penalty.

About an hour in, she told John she felt a headache coming on and she asked him to drive her home. Throughout the dinner, John sat there gushing over Ali, looking at us and saying, "Isn't she wonderful!"  We all nodded our heads politely, not knowing what to say.  He was so smitten with her that he didn't even notice how she behaved towards his friends.

It was an awkward situation, but I thought, "He's really crazy about her, and I guess if she treats him well and he's happy, that's what really matters." But no sooner did I have this thought when I heard Ali criticizing John, while he was telling us he'd be back shortly, for not being quick enough to get his car to drive her home. She barely said good night to us as she sailed out the door.

After they were gone, we were silent for a long minute.  Finally, Amy broke the silence, "This is a nightmare! What are we going to do? Should we say something to John?"  We decided to wait to see if he asked us for our opinions about Ali.  But when John returned, he was gushing about her. Knowing how unhappy he had been in his marriage and how enthusiastic he was about Ali, none of us had the heart, at that point in time, to say anything negative.

A few days later, I met John for lunch. It was just the two of us.  When he brought up Ali, he told me that he hadn't been this happy in a long time.  Prior to that, I considered talking to John, hoping to spare him the heartache that seemed like it would come inevitably.  But he didn't seem to want to hear it, so I hesitated.  Sensing my hesitation, he said, somewhat defensively, "I know she's rough around the edges, but I really care about her.  All I ask is that you get to know her and give her a chance."  His look made it clear that he didn't want to hear anything negative, so I kept quiet.

Over the next couple of months, I socialized with John and Ali a few more times with similar results.  Each time she showed very little interest in getting to know John's friends and she found some reason to end the night early, insisting that John leave too.  It was painful to see John being bossed around like this and his being so unaware of Ali's behavior.  But he had already made it clear to all of us that he didn't want to hear anything negative.  I reasoned that he is an adult who could make his own decisions. His other friends and I were all dismayed, but we respected the boundary he set.

Then, one day I got a late night call from John, who sounded very upset.  He asked if he could come over to talk.  When he arrived, he threw himself on my couch and began to cry.  He looked awful, as if he had already been doing a lot of crying. I waited for him to compose himself, and then he told me that Ali informed him via text message that she no longer wanted to see him. He couldn't believe she would end things this way. He never saw it coming.  Then, with a touch of resentment, he said, "You knew all along that she wasn't right for me, but I didn't want to hear it."

In the weeks that followed, John and I were able to talk about what happened. He told me that he knew I had his best interests at heart, and he wished he had been more open to hearing my feedback, as well as the feedback of his other friends.  He was hoping so much that this relationship would work out that he put blinders on.

John did eventually meet another woman and they're happy together.  But every once in a while, he talks about how he ignored all the obvious negative signs with Ai, and how he discouraged his friends from saying anything negative about her.

This is a common experience for many people. Fortunately, this situation didn't destroy longstanding friendships.  But many similar situations end badly for friendships.

Of course, friends aren't always right when they disapprove of your lover, but if if you have close friends that you know have your best interests at heart, isn't it worth it to take a moment to consider if they might be seeing things about your lover that you don't want to see? Especially at the beginning of a relationship, love be truly blind. It's easy to say, "They don't know him the way I do."  But very often, like John, you do know when something is amiss in your relationship, but you don't want to see it.

What is Your Responsibility to Your Friend if He or She is in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship?
If you're the friend of someone who is with a lover who doesn't seem right for him or her, what is your responsibility towards your friend?  This can be a tough dilemma, and there's no one-size-fits-all answer. If your friend is in a physically abusive relationship, you should talk to him or her about it.  But in other situations, where your friend doesn't want to hear any criticism, sometimes all you can do is let him or her know you're there as a friend.  As in the case of John, your friend will probably come to you for support when the relationship falls apart.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, Somatic Experiencing, and EMDR therapist who works with individuals and couples.

I have helped many clients with relationship issues.

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

To set up an appointment for a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.