Listen to this episode

Avoid the Fights of friends

Air Date: 06/10/10 Dr. Rebecca Jankovich, PhD can be reached at 322-1839.Ever have a friend try to pull you into the friend's marital struggles? Usually, this would be a girlfriend because guys don't ask their friends for help with a marriage. Most of us are comfortable listening to our girlfriends talk about their relationships. They tell us the story of the latest conflict, she said and then he said, and they ask us whether we would have felt the same way they did. They're doing what women often do: looking for emotional support and validation that their feelings are justified. Sometimes our friends aren't looking for validation; they're just looking to dump their feelings; they complain about their partner's poor judgment, difficult personality, lousy parenting, addictions, infidelities. As girlfriends, we're used to just holding a safe space in which our friend seeks support or vents. Eventually we might grow tired of hearing her make the same complaints and never doing anything to change her situation, but we all have different tolerances for how long it takes before we get weary of the same old story. If you lose your patience with your friend's complaints, what you do next depends on how much you value the friendship. If you don't care much about keeping her in your life, you can just avoid contact: you're busy, don't answer the phone when it's her, don't return the call for days or weeks. If you want the friendship to continue, then talk with her about how you feel. The trick is to have this talk without being judgmental or harsh, without making her feel she's no longer welcome to talk with you about any of her feelings. Quite a trick. The outline of how you do this is to use the sandwich approach: a chunk about how much you care about her, then a chunk about how difficult it is to keep listening to the same complaints when she's not pulling her share of the work to change the situation, then the closing chunk about how much you care about her and this doesn't mean you want her to stop talking to you about her emotional struggles. It's much easier to give emotional support if the person you're holding up is doing their best to change their half of the problem; so, nudge the talks into what she can do to make things different; use your time together to generate solutions rather than only griping, or validating the same repetitive cycle of feelings. What you should never do, and I mean absolutely never, is agree to be the mediator for your friend and her partner. This is hard enough to do when you've been trained to do it and the couple is not part of your social world; it's impossible to do well when you're not trained and at least one person is your friend. Even those of us who are trained, never agree to mediate couple disputes for our friends because we know it takes a lot more time than one evening to change a marriage, and there's a good chance our best efforts will result in having both people mad at us because we've hurt their feelings. Your answer to these requests is: "I know better than to even try; you're way too important to me to risk having me mess this up by trying to help". What do you do when you get a phone call in the middle of the night with your hysterical friend crying that her husband is crazy and trying to hurt her? What you DO NOT DO is go over there. Domestic disputes are dangerous; ask anyone who works in law enforcement and they'll tell you the calls in which there's the most probability of violence towards officers are the domestic disputes. You cannot help if you go over to your friend's house. You put yourself in harm's way if you go to her house, where you're not going to be useful anyway. She's probably dealing with a man who's under the influence of some substance be it alcohol or drugs; nothing she says is likely to get through his addled brain. What she needs to do is shut down this fight and get away. Tell her she can either call 911 and they'll show up to shut this battle down, or she can get away; either leave the house if she can safely flee, or hide in the house where he can't find her. If she's afraid to call 911 because he'll catch her or blame her for pulling in the cops, then you can offer to call on her behalf and then you get off the phone because you can't do anything more about this crisis. Remember, you DO NOT EVER go over there because it's too dangerous for you. Educate your friend about domestic violence. If he's been this crazy once, he's likely, very likely, to do it again. It doesn't matter how badly he feels the day after, how much he promises to never do this again, how desperately he pleads he couldn't live without her he's still likely to do this again and she's at risk. You help your friend by continually reminding her that her man isn't any different than other men who commit domestic violence: he's likely to do this again. Suggest the couple seek counseling and the man go to anger management classes. If your friend doesn't get around to insisting on getting help, you can't help her. Do you really want to spend your free time when you should be replenishing your energies, listening to someone who doesn't have the courage to take care of her own life?