Carolyn Hax: Should a friend point out relationship faults?

11/17/2013 12:00 AM

11/14/2013 11:50 AM

DEAR CAROLYN: A good friend recently ended a years-long relationship because of her boyfriend’s emotional limitations. After they broke up, I let her know I had always wondered whether he was right for her.

She feels disappointed that, as a good friend, I had not been more forthcoming about my own doubts.

My negative opinions were about his personality and personal style, things my friend and I had discussed, but only insofar as she had mentioned problems with those things. There were never any concerns about safety or abuse. I had often wondered if I should offer my opinion, but decided that if she was happy, then who am I to criticize her choices?

She is surprised I would see sharing my opinion as criticism and feels let down. I feel genuinely confused about whether her expectation that I weigh in (and that I could have helped her avoid wasting years on a bad relationship) is reasonable. My husband and I had a similar situation with another friend and his wife. They divorced, and he was later angry that we had not told him we didn’t like her.

Am I a bad friend or are these dear friends placing too much responsibility on me for bad decision-making (or luck)?

– Trying To Be A Good Friend

DEAR TRYING: As with the imploded relationship itself, the assignment of blame isn’t so tidy.

Well, one part is: The notion that you extended the life of these time-wasting relationships by not speaking up is just buck-passing bunk. Someone reeling from a breakup does get a pass for floating this idea. Once. But the people who start and stay in bad relationships are fully accountable for any time wasted.

Meanwhile, there’s a fine line between withholding your objections and creating the impression that you have no objections. If my closest confidants put on a show of liking a partner of mine about whom they privately had concerns, I wouldn’t blame the relationship on them, but I would feel lied to by people I trusted. Chronically so. So, it’s worth asking yourself on which side of this line you’ve stood.

There’s also this: We can’t expect our friends to have needs or expectations identical to ours, nor can we read minds. Sometimes, we guess their needs wrong. Bummer, right? So we listen when they correct our mistakes, and vow to improve: “I’m sorry I let you down. I didn’t know you felt this way – but I understand now, so I’ll do better next time.” If you’re unclear on any fine points, discuss, then move on.

Next, there’s the matter of holding in all your doubts and concerns ... until you let them seep (or tumble) out as soon as the breakup’s official.

And finally, when in doubt: “Do you want my opinion, or just an ear?” From now on, invite friends to state their preference while you have a chance to provide it.

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