Watch Your Words

I wrote a post a while back about the quotes that make a frenemy. Things like “you look tired” and “are you really going to eat that?” Blech.

But recently a reader questioned my inclusion of this statement: “I’m so glad you broke up with that asshole. I never liked him.”

When I wrote this, I explained that “If you speak these words, know that it is a virtual guarantee they will get back together. And I assure you: She. Will. Not. Forget.”

I stand by this.

Reader, after seeing my frenemy post, wanted advice on what to say to a friend who she thinks is in an unproductive relationship. The friend isn’t getting what she wants and isn’t being treated as she should, Reader says.

But Reader doesn’t want to harm her friendship by telling truths her BFF might not want to hear.

It’s a sticky situation. We’ve all been there.

A good friend should indeed be honest if she’s worried about a bestie’s romance. The trick is figuring out how to share those concerns.

From my experience, saying, “He’s a jerk, you deserve better” never elicits a positive response. No woman wants to hear that her friend hates her boyfriend or disapproves of her choices. On top of that, the implication that we put up with bad treatment—we are empowered women!—can be humiliating. So instead of breaking off the romance, we sever the friendship.

This is a gross over-simplification of a falling out, but I’ve seen this kind of fight take place. It’s upsetting and uncomfortable and not entirely unusual.

So here’s what I wrote to Reader:

“If you think your friend is being treated badly, you’re right to want to talk to her about it. The trick is in how you tell your friend what you think. Rather than phrasing it in terms of what is wrong with her boyfriend, make it about how much you care about your friend. As in, ‘How are you feeling? From what I hear you saying, I worry that you aren’t getting what you want out of your relationship, and I just want you to be happy.’”

I realize how life-coach jargony this sounds. It sort of makes me want to puke up rainbows and butterflies.

But I think this is an instance when the self-help speak is spot-on.

Once you insult a friend’s boyfriend, she often shuts down and simply doesn’t acknowledge what else you have to say. So I told Reader to talk to her friend, but I steered her away from the “you deserve better” comments. In fact, I suggested not mentioning him at all. She will bring him up.

Make it about how she feels rather than what he’s doing wrong.”

Do you agree with this advice? Do you have anything other words of wisdom for Reader? (And if you’re ever looking for friendship advice, feel free to email me. I’ll respond with my two cents, and open it up for discussion, if you want.)


Filed under The Search

8 responses to “Watch Your Words

  1. You know what I think is really interesting? This kind of conversation can be so much easier for men. With women, I think you’re totally right. It can be very tricky territory to criticize a significant other. Men, on the other hand? I have seen one guy friend tell another guy friend (and I’ve seen this happen on several occasions): “You and Girlfriend are not right for each other – when are you breaking up?” or even “You guys are terrible together” or “Dude, get out of that, she’s [insert something unpleasant here].” I’ve seen this happen, and then the guy breaks up with the girl, and THEN they even get back together later and get married… and THE GUYS’ FRIENDSHIP IS TOTALLY FINE! WHAT IS UP WITH THAT??? 🙂

  2. I do agree with you. If you diss the boyfriend, they will definitely get back together and then you’ll find yourself getting The Big Chill from both of them.

  3. Lorrie Paige

    I think your advice makes sense, and unfortunately, for the most part regarding human behavior, saying things like “He’s a jerk., you deserve better, I never liked him anyway,” will piss off the friend, but that just goes to show you how immature that friend is. They should heed those words and if they were mature would remember and ponder on those words IF they value their friend who said this and feel a great loyalty toward them, Afterall, if they are truly your friend, why would they say something like that if it wasn’t true? Maybe what they said IS something to think about….

    It happened with me when my boyfriend suggested I seek other friends than certain ones I was hanging out with. He felt they weren’t good enough for me and told me so repeatedly…. I didn’t agree at that time, but I didn’t get all pissy and angry at him and had this immaturity of wanting to cling that much more to them out of childish spite. I heeded his words although I kept silent. I know he just wants what’s best for me in my relationships and wouldn’t say this if there wasn’t valid reason for it. He’s seeing the relationship in an objective manner. Love can be blind…. I took to heart what he said, opened my eyes more and you know what? As time went by, I realized my boyfriend was right! They are no longer my friends and to this day I do not regret my decision to dump them; I wish I had dumped them sooner.

    People should grow up, listen to an objective friend’s words of wisdom. But it’s indeed sad that some people don’t trust their friends and have blinders on and are too immature to listen and take heed to the, as you put it Rachel, words we should watch.

    I see nothing wrong with, “you look tired” and “are you really going to eat that?” (sounds like something perfect friends Miranda, Charlotte, Carrie and Samantha would say! They are the farthest from being “frenemies”).

    “I’m so glad you broke up with that asshole. I never liked him”. If a friend said that to me, I’d just nod in approval.

    Maybe years ago, I’d get mad at all these phrases. I don’t know…I’m wiser because I’m old now–lol! Or maybe it’s being more spiritual as I get into that more in my life…. I don’t know but honestly, I would appreciate the love and honesty (sadly, I guess the old school of “tough-love” is extinct now) , again if the person who told me was indeed a BFF.

  4. The READER mentioned in this Post

    Hi Rachel, It’s me, aforementioned READER in this post. Yes I agree with you completely in fact, to the point where I just let my friend vent about said boy , I made sure to mention that I just wanted to make sure SHE was happy and comfortable ( because that’s what matters most) with her situation and then slowly and surely SHE realized on her own how he was treating her and took the appropo steps she needed and no harm done to our friendship.

    Definitely I wanted to approach this in a soft way and thanks for your feedback, I’m glad it worked out well.

  5. Amanda

    What about when you’re on the opposite side of this situation? My long-distance bff has made it clear that she doesn’t like my boyfriend, with whom I’ve recently gotten back together after our second breakup. I understand where she’s coming from – she doesn’t want to see me get hurt again. How do I get her to understand that I am happy with him right now – much happier than I was alone and trying to date other guys? I’m scared that I’m on the verge of losing my best friend over this.

    • That’s so hard, and I’ve actuallybeen there. My husband and I broke up for a little bit after college, and when we got back together the hardest person for him to win over was my BFF. I think it just takes time and her seeing how happy he is making you and how he’s changed and how well he’s treating you. Also, I think saying to her what you said here will help. Explain that you understand her hesitance about him but that you are happy and you would love for her to eventually be happy for you. I’m sure she just wants you to be happy…

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