In her former life, Emily “Gynomite” Gordon was a couples and family therapist licensed in 2 1/2 states. In this life, she’s a freelance fighter of your emotional woes with Ask Gynomite. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org- all emails stay confidential. Today, Gynomite takes on cheating and responsibility.
I am worried about my friend. Her boyfriend of over four years, the guy she thought she would marry, broke up with her in April. Within a week or two, she had a new boyfriend. I thought, Ok, not so healthy but she needs to rebound. Around Halloween, that guy broke up with her. Within days she had another “boyfriend.” (I never meet this guy and he sounded sketchy to me, like he only asked her out b/c she said she wouldn’t have sex outside a relationship.) At some point that relationship ended and she had yet another boyfriend, which I realized because of Facebook. Now, they can’t have known each other long than a month, I would say and now she is looking for apartments with him.
I am really worried about it. I kind of let it go when I thought she was just rebounding. I saw her behavior as unhealthy but I thought, She needs validation and I can’t make that change. But moving in with a guy — really, a stranger — so soon worries me. She had said before that she wouldn’t want to live with another boyfriend because she thought it made it difficult for her and her long-term boyfriend to break up and that it may have contributed to the relationship dragging. Also, she said it took away some of the romance and she would rather wait until she was engaged next time.
I’ve been fairly supportive of her decisions till now and have checked my judgment although some of other friends have said something to her. I feel like I shouldn’t keep quiet on this, but it’s also not my life. I don’t want to alienate my friend. I don’t think my opinion will change her actions. But I don’t think it’s right to keep quiet, either, when I am legitimately concerned. What should I do?
Watching a friend make poor decisions that aren’t life threatening is truly miserable, because there is nothing you can do. There’s nothing illegal or unsafe about making poor decisions in relationships, although god knows it should be illegal. I feel your pain.
Ok, so because you seem to be pretty well-versed in the idea that there’s nothing you can do to change her, and in the idea that it’s her life, etc and so on, I won’t belabor that point. You seem to have a good sense of what your responsibilities are and aren’t in the situation, you just feel freaked out. And that I understand.
So let me let you in on a secret of being a therapist. The thing that therapists aspire to most is to never ever show judgment towards our clients, and to never ever advise our clients of anything. The work in therapy should come from questions that are asked skillfully enough, and with enough knowledge of how the client’s brain works, so that the client arrives at some sort of solution on their own.
The quickest, easiest way to do this is to play dumb. Ask your friend if just the two of you can hang out- because frankly it seems like she could use some time away from this speeding bullet of a relationship- and go hang out with no lectures or “I’m worried about you”s prepared.
Just ask questions. Ask questions about this guy’s patterns of behavior, about how much he sweats in hot weather (if you haven’t been with a guy through both winter coat and sweating seasons, don’t move in with him yet), ask about what he was like as a kid, questions that most people don’t get to until well into a relationship. Ask her innocently about why she’s so excited to move in with this guy, tell her you are proud of her bravery for jumping into another cohabitation after the last one was hard for her- basically, support the ever-loving shit out of her, but with lots of probing questions.
It sounds a bit passive-aggressive, and maybe it is, but when you’re in the thick of a very intense relationship, you sometimes forget to step back and look at the big picture, and it sounds like she needs that bigtime. To jump from relationship to relationship post-long term relationship is normal, but to then sign a lease contract with one of those lilypad relationships is making things a bit more permanent than she probably needs right now.
Ask questions. Ask them without judgment, but ask a lot of them, and always always tell her that you love her and you want her to be happy and healthy. Lectures never stopped anyone from doing anything, but if you start her wheels turning, she may do the work herself. Good luck, and thank you for being such a good friend.