When a friend starts engaging in behavior that you do not agree with, it can hit your relationship like a ton of bricks. Sometimes a friend will get into a toxic relationship that is so clearly bad for her. Maybe she’ll get into a line of work that goes against your values, or even just brings out the worst in your friend. Maybe she just befriends a new person you don’t like one bit. There are a lot of decisions friends can make that let us down, but we have to remember that as long as they continue to be loyal friends to us, we don’t have to burn that bridge. In fact, if you’re like me, you may have already learned that ending friendships with every person who makes some choices you don’t support will leave you with very few companions. We can’t expect a lifetime of perfection from people. Even our favorites will mess up occasionally.
You can still find yourself in a tough position if you decide to keep a friend around who is doing things you don’t agree with. How do you remain a supportive presence in her life when you don’t support her choices? We’ll use the example of a friend being in a toxic relationship here, but you can easily see how each tip translates to having a friend who gets into even more complicated situations. These tips are to be used after you’ve spoken your piece and told her you don’t agree with what she’s doing. If she continues with it anyways, then you’ll have to learn to be there for her in a way that works for you.
Limit how much you hear
You are allowed to set some boundaries surrounding how much you’ll hear about this bad choice. Again, we’ll use the toxic relationship example. Hearing about some things, like all the emotionally abusive behavior and manipulative tendencies, can be triggering for you. It can impact your moods and your mental health. And just because your friend has decided that she is willing to engage in something that damages her mental health doesn’t mean that you have to go along for the ride. You can say, “I love you. But you know I don’t agree with this. It hurts me to listen to it, so if you choose to stay in that relationship, I’d prefer if you don’t share much about it with me.”
Leave your door open if she decides to change
Let your friend know that just because you no longer want to hear about the unhealthy relationship she has doesn’t mean that you aren’t there for her. At any point, when she’s ready to walk away, you’ll be there. She can stay with you. She can call you. You won’t say, “I told you so!” You’ll have her back. There is a caveat here: If she is in an on-again, off-again thing, you can draw a line. You can only take in a friend so many times if she’s just going to return to the relationship the next day. You give away a lot of emotional capital being there for someone after a breakup, and doing that for someone month after month takes too big a toll on you.
Ask that it not affect your friendship
You are allowed to create some rules for your friendship. You and this friend have always had an understanding surrounding how you engage. You know what it means to be good friends with each other. If she chooses to engage in a toxic relationship, it’s okay to ask that she A) not cancel on you at the last minute, or repeatedly, because of issues in the relationship and B) not spend the entire time you’re together talking about it. She needs to continue to be reliable, and this needs to continue to be a two-way-street of a friendship.
Lead by example
The best thing you can do is lead by example. Maybe telling this friend how horrible her relationship is hasn’t been successful. But what you can do is lead the type of dating life, or have the type of relationship you’d love to see her have. Don’t tolerate the types of things she tolerates. Don’t engage in the type of behavior she engages in. If there is a lot of screaming and name-calling in her relationship, it can be good for her to see that when you and your partner bump heads, you never raise your voices or say anything hurtful.
Easy on the unsolicited feedback
Just as you don’t want to hear too much about her situation, she doesn’t want to hear a bunch of unrequested advice. The reality is that, if she holds up her end of the deal by not telling you too much, you should be able to hold up your end of the deal by not commenting too much. But still, you may feel the urge to give her guidance on how to handle situations. You may feel the urge to tell her she was weak or acted crazy in a given fight with her toxic boyfriend. If she didn’t ask for it though, don’t say it. Nobody likes unsolicited feedback.
Make her laugh a lot
Laughter is incredibly healing. If your friend is engaging in something dark, she probably doesn’t laugh enough. She experiences heaviness and seriousness and stress. Be a source of light in her life. Make her laugh a lot. Send her funny videos, pictures, and memes. By making her laugh often, you can remind her of all of the fun there is to be had in life, and you can perhaps help her see how little fun she’s having in her unhealthy situation. Just try to keep her laughing and smiling, and it might become obvious to her that that unhealthy relationship doesn’t allow her to do those things.
Do not enable it
Don’t enable it. You can set this rule, too. If she had a gambling problem for example, don’t give her money. Don’t drive her to the casino or the tracks. If she is in an unhealthy relationship, don’t let her and that partner attend the small events you throw. Don’t let them feel that their situation is accepted. It isn’t. Don’t give them a place to stay when their landlord kicks them out because of complaints about all of the screaming matches they have. Let her sit with the discomfort of the situations that her choices bring into her life. Don’t ease those moments for her because it doesn’t help her.
Don’t say anything judgmental
Try not to say anything judgmental like “You’re being stupid,” or “You’re being weak,” or “I see you differently now.” Often, those who are making poor choices do so from a place of insecurity, so this is no time to tear them down. If anything, you should be pointing out to her all of her wonderful qualities and all of the reasons her life will not only continue to be good but even be better when she walks away from this bad decision. Tell her why it will be that way — because of all of her strengths and attributes. If someone is in a toxic relationship because they don’t believe they deserve better, you push them further into that relationship by saying condescending things.
Remember your own bad choices
When you’re at your wit’s end, do try to remember that you haven’t always made the best choices. You’re not perfect. Not even close. You have probably been in some crappy relationships that your friends had to silently witness. You’ve probably had some jobs that made you a nightmare to be around. You’ve probably gone through phases when you were doing “dumb” stuff – questionable stuff. Are your friends still there? Is this particular friend, who you’re judging now, still there? Well, then she probably deserves some grace and patience. You gave her reasons to leave you in the past and she didn’t. She deserves that from you now.