My friend is married to a complete loser. I don't like her husband, and all she does is complain. I can't watch her ruin her life. Last month she called me crying, and I told her it's her choice — she can either deal with him or move on; just don't complain. Today she told me she is upset with me because I told her it's her fault she is unhappy for trying to save her marriage. That is not what I said. What should I do? —O.T.
It's hard to sit idly by and watch people you care about suffer in their relationships, especially when you want so much better for them. Your friend is frustrated by her spouse, and you are equally frustrated because she doesn't seem to want better and also because she's complaining about her situation, likely over and over and over. When people are unhappy with their relationships, it seems to be all they think about.
You didn't say anything wrong per se, and your comments were pretty mild, especially if you don't like her husband. But if your goal is to be helpful, recognize that sometimes people just want to vent about what's going on and want someone to listen.
They're just not ready to do the hard work or make a hard decision that will improve their lives, and trying to push them to a bottom line before they're ready for change can result in their attacking you, just as your friend did. It's not because you said something wrong or inaccurate but because she needs to blame someone for her unhappiness, and you're an easier target than her spouse.
When friends, especially the married ones, come to me with relationship drama, I keep in mind what I once heard from a minister a decade ago at a very ritzy wedding in Georgetown. After having the couple repeat the standard vows, the minister stepped forward to address the 200 friends and family who had shown up to bear witness to the union. We, too, were asked to take a set of vows.
The minister said something like, "This marriage isn't the ending to a fairy tale; it's the beginning of a long road walked together that will have its up and downs." He added a heads-up that we would likely someday get a call from the bride that went, "Girl, you won't believe what this so-and-so did!" We'd also hear the groom complain, "Man, this woman gets on my last nerve!"
We vowed to push aside any negative opinions when those calls inevitably came and support the marriage because it is God-ordained, and we are no one to interfere with God's work (unless, of course, someone is being abused). Even if you're not the God-fearing type, recognize that it's a union of two people who pledged forever-and-ever and "for better or worse" to each other, and they need a support system to make it work for the long haul. It takes a village to raise a child and to maintain a relationship.
The next time your friend comes to you with relationship drama — and she will — ask her what she wants from you before you share your thoughts. If she gives you clearance to speak your mind, ask her, "What do you want to do?" Help her sort out her thoughts on whatever the problems are, and put the onus of figuring out how to solve the issue on her.
Not only is it more empowering for her to create her own solutions, but if they don't go well when she implements them, she can't blame you. There will also be less mental wear and tear on you as the conversation becomes solution-oriented instead of a draining emotional dump.
Once she has an answer figured out, send her back to her spouse to discuss. No matter who weighs in with insight, good or bad, it's their relationship, and only those two can solve the problems in it.
Of course, this is the best-case scenario. If your friend isn't receptive to being solution-oriented and just wants to unload, there is nothing in the Friend Handbook that obligates you to listen to the same complaint, or any version of it, more than once.
Also, if you already have negative feelings about her husband, it will be even harder to hold your tongue. Tell her that you are not comfortable discussing her relationship or you don't think that you're the best person to assist. She may be offended, but both of you are best served if you direct her to someone who is professionally trained, such as a therapist or a life coach, who can help her when she is ready and willing to make peace or make changes.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at email@example.com.