Relationships can be complicated at times.
The closer we get to one another, the more likely we are to experience personality clashes or find elements of the other person that we don’t like.
It might be a personality quirk, some negative thing that wasn’t known ahead of time, bad decision making, or the person is just having a hard time.
Everyone has vented off some of their frustration about their partner to a friend.
And as a friend, it can be awkward or difficult to find a way to be supportive.
We want to be present to support our friend, but how we do it can change from situation to situation.
Furthermore, you can create a lot of problems for yourself by taking on too much of a friend’s load.
Helping a friend with relationship problems in a healthy and productive way requires a balanced approach.
Always set boundaries and remember they are free to act how they wish.
There are certain boundaries you will want to set and stick to so that you can support your friend without owning their problems.
You also want to avoid catching any backlash or fallout from “sticking your nose in other peoples’ business.”
These guidelines will help you do both.
1. Avoid giving direct advice unless specifically asked. And even then, maybe not.
Direct advice is great when you need some constructive criticism about what is going on or what to do.
The issue with direct advice is that it assumes a level of responsibility for the other person’s problem.
By giving direct advice, you are subliminally telling your friend that you are better qualified to decide how they should conduct their life than they are.
That’s not a message you want to send.
If they take your advice and it blows up in their face, they are going to blame you for their hurt.
There’s a common thought that it’s okay to give advice if you’re asked for it, but that isn’t always true.
You may experience repercussions from your friend or their partner, whether the advice was good or not.
2. Remember that you only know one side of the story.
Your friend is your friend. If they are talking to you about their relationship problems, you probably have a somewhat decent idea of who they are as a person and some glimpses of their relationship.
The problem is that you may only actually have a limited perception of what is happening in their relationship.
It’s tempting to take what your friend has to say at face value, but they are going to be a biased source of information.
Any advice you give in that situation may be wrong because your friend may not understand the problem, their emotions could be clouding their judgment, or they may not have been completely sincere.
People are far from perfect. Advising on their word at face value can be a big mistake.
3. They need to live with the consequences of their choices.
Do you want to help your friend?
That’s great. That’s being a good friend.
But you must keep in mind that their life, their pain, and their decisions are all things that they need to live with and work through.
They will have to live with whatever they decide to do.
And you don’t want that to be a lousy piece of advice that they are still mad at you about years later because your opinion led them down the wrong path for them.
What’s right for you may not be right for them – and that’s okay. Life would be pretty dull if we were all the same, living with the same experiences.
4. You may be biased or perceived as biased.
They’re your friend, right?
Doesn’t it make sense for you to be on their side?
Not in this situation.
Whether you have an emotional investment in the situation or not, you will appear to be biased if you back your friend up, even if the other person is in the wrong.
That will bring more disharmony to your life if the other person pushes back and defends themselves from a perceived attack.
And what if you don’t agree with your friend?
Then they could accuse you of not being a good friend by supporting and validating them, which means they probably aren’t going to talk to you.
That’s just more disharmony and chaos to deal with in your life.
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How can I help my friend with their relationship problems?
Helping a friend with their relationship problems isn’t as complicated as it’s made out to be.
In fact, it can be a simple process of active listening and meaningful support.
1. Be present for your friend by actively listening.
Active listening is giving your total and undivided attention to whoever you are listening to.
It’s turning off the television, putting away the phone, and not thinking about how you’re going to answer while you’re listening.
It’s a concerted effort to demonstrate to the other person, “I am here for you, and you are important.”
Active listening is an effective way to show that you are there with your friend in their pain.
Your presence is likely to help more than you realize. Just not feeling alone can do wonders for one’s ability to shoulder the difficulties of life.
2. Ask clarifying questions so you can be sure you understand the problem.
Ask about any point that you may be unclear on.
That could be something that’s not communicated well or details that don’t line up correctly.
It’s easy for a person to overlook or confuse specifics when they are in a difficult mental space.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you find that you don’t understand what you’re being told.
You may also want to restate the problem back to them to ensure that you understand it. “If I understand you correctly, the problem is…”
3. Ask your friend what solutions they have considered for the problem.
By asking them for solutions they have already considered, you can more effectively help them find the right solution for them.
They may already know what the answer is, but may doubt themselves or not want to act on it.
This will also help you better understand the problem by providing additional context that your friend may not have brought up before.
4. Offer feedback and suggestions as your thoughts to help fill in gaps.
Avoid making assertions about either partner or the relationship.
Instead, frame your thoughts as thinking out loud, so you can offer your perspective without telling your friend what they should do or how they should feel.
Use phrasing like:
“Have you considered XYZ as a solution? What do you think about that?”
“What about XYZ?”
“Have you tried XYZ yet?”
5. Give direct help if asked, and you’re comfortable with it.
Some people aren’t looking for a soft approach. They want to hear direct advice or get some help with a situation that they are having trouble with.
If you feel comfortable doing so, then it is something you can do.
The people close to us often tell us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear.
Sometimes we need to bluntly hear that we are making the wrong decisions or picking a destructive path.
Sometimes we need more tangible, hands-on help when a situation isn’t going well.
That’s okay to do too.
But to avoid the possible blowback described earlier, you can always add your own little disclaimer to any advice you give:
“Listen, I can’t tell you what is right for you with 100% confidence. Not even close. But if you really want my advice, I’ll give it to you.
“Just take what I say as guidance only, and not something that you must do. It’s your life and you should think carefully about anything I say before coming to your own decision.”