There are few things more disheartening than having one of your best friends tell you they can’t wait for you to meet their new partner, only to find out you don’t like them at all. I know, because I’ve been there. When one of my closest friends introduced me to her then-boyfriend, I was put off by every aspect of his personality, from how disrespectful he seemed to be toward women to his limited career aspirations.
Because she kept insisting he was the one, I was hesitant to share my real feelings with her. Instead, I privately stewed about the many things I didn’t like, polling mutual friends to find out if they thought he was “good enough” for her. I started pulling away from the friendship, saying I was busy when she suggested double dates.
They were engaged within a year, and although I seethed to the point of saying I had to work the night of their engagement celebration (I didn’t), I patted myself on the back for holding back when it came to sharing my opinions about him. By the time they got married, our friendship had all but ended — we stopped reaching out to each other, and our conversations had become stiff and careful. Two years later they’re divorced, but our friendship is still over. I heard from a mutual friend that she changed her phone number, and she didn’t even bother to give it to me.
Looking back at the way everything unfolded, I’m pretty sure I could have approached that situation in a million more productive ways that would have kept my friendship intact. Because I don’t want anyone making the same mistakes I did, I decided to ask the experts for their advice on this topic — and I got some interesting insights.
If your gut reaction is negative, ask yourself where it’s coming from.
While it’s possible that your friend’s significant other is truly awful, it’s important to ask yourself if perhaps or if your feelings about them are more complicated than that. According to dating coach Monica Parikh, it’s not uncommon to mistake jealousy for dislike.
“If you haven’t been in a relationship for a while and are lonely, you may be especially envious of your friend’s happiness,” she explains, while relationship and wellbeing coach Shula Melamed says these feelings could be rooted in fear of losing your friend’s companionship.
“It’s important to check in with yourself to see if your dislike of your friend’s significant other has more to do with the space they are taking in your friend’s life rather than the interaction they have with one another,” she says. “If you do feel loneliness, acknowledge it, don’t push it away. Ask yourself what you might need in that moment. If you crave deeper connection with others, start examining how you can generate that in your life.”
Work on trusting your friend and stay open.
Looking back, I realize that even though I never voiced my opinions to my friend, she knew me well enough to see what was going on. She knew I felt very strongly that she was choosing the wrong partner, and according to Linda Carroll, LMFT, that was one of the places where I went wrong.
“We never know what goes on between two people, nor can we see the whole story,” she explains. “Someone who looks uncool may become the best partner we can imagine for our friend, while someone who seems super smooth may turn out to be narcissistic and too good to be true.”
Accept that who someone chooses to be in a relationship with is their choice, not yours. “Remember that you like your friend, so lean into trusting them to know what’s right.”
She adds that while you don’t need to share every unfiltered thought, it’s probably a good idea to let your friend know that you have some reservations, while also reinforcing that you trust them to make their own decisions. If they ask for specifics, be open about them — just try to be gentle and make sure to keep in mind that feelings could get hurt along the way. “If you stay open and your gut reaction proves to be true, you will be a safe person for your friend to go to when things go awry,” she says. “If you stay open and your instincts prove not to be true, you may just have another person in your life to love.”
And what if your friend doesn’t react well to your honesty? This will likely be the case, so Melamed says it’s important to work on accepting that. “Give them the space to process their feelings about what you have shared and be open to discussion after,” she says. “Understand that they might find what you have shared hurtful, and that they might have to get through that before you get into further dialogue.”
Once your friend is ready to talk about it again, consider setting up realistic boundaries around the topic. Maybe your friend will ask you not to offer unsolicited advice about their S.O. whenever their relationship comes up in conversation. If that’s the case, try it and see how it goes. “As you work out the boundaries, you’ll be much less likely to have conflict with your friend — which is your ultimate goal,” says Parikh.
When staying quiet isn’t an option, act.
Finding your friend’s partner annoying is one thing. Realizing this friend is in an abusive or violent relationship is another. If you know or suspect that that’s what’s going on, it’s important to speak up. “If your friend’s partner is displaying controlling or abusive behaviors, express your concern. Let them know you’re there for them and that you’re ready to help them in any way you can,” says Melamed.
If your friend isn’t responsive to you, it may be time to get other friends or family members involved to make sure they are getting the help they need.
It’s never easy when you don’t like your friend’s significant other, but don’t repeat my mistake. Taking steps to preserve the friendship, even if it means seeing someone you don’t like or having 3a difficult conversation, will pay off long-term.
If you are experiencing or have experienced domestic violence and are in need of support, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224.