Daring to Speak Honestly to Friends about Romantic Partners
Updated: Jun 25
About five months ago, Elizabeth introduced her new boyfriend to her closest friends at a dinner party in her home.
The scene wasn’t pretty.
Her new man, William, talked about himself incessantly, while the others gritted their teeth.
That evening, while walking to their cars and later on their phones, Elizabeth’s friends talked about the “jerk.” A couple of them were more tolerant, suggesting that maybe William was tense about meeting so many people. However, as they came to know him better, they were disappointed to find that their initial impression was confirmed. He was a self-centered guy who showed little interest in knowing about other people and focused mainly on himself. He talked about himself, stroked his own ego, and seemed concerned almost exclusively with his own needs.
This self-centeredness extended to his relationship with Elizabeth. Her friends noticed, were worried, and soon were exchanging “William stories.”
“You won’t believe what he did this time,” one of them told another: “Elizabeth was describing how she felt about winning a community service award and he interrupted to talk about the day he became an Eagle Scout at 16. I wanted to cry. Then I wanted to strangle him.”
“What did Elizabeth do?
“She just listened.”
“What did you do?”
“I asked Elizabeth to talk more about her award. But he kept telling his Eagle Scout story. Can you believe it?”
The gossip continued for several months. Occasionally friends would drop hints to Elizabeth about their impression of William, but mostly they remained silent.
No one wanted to hurt her feelings.
No one wanted to offend her.
No one wanted to make waves.
Yet everyone felt the tension.
Were these friends doing Elizabeth a favor by talking secretly behind her back and withholding their viewpoint? Probably not. It seems that sometimes it’s important to step up to the plate, be vulnerable, take some risks, and share information that might be valuable to a close friend. Maybe Elizabeth was fully aware of the problem but felt that her boyfriend’s positive qualities more than compensated. But maybe she had a blind spot. That’s where feedback from loving friends can be so helpful.
Talking about a friend’s romantic partner/spouse requires sensitivity and tact. That partner may be around for longer than you wish. You wouldn’t want to alienate yourself from your friend. But sometimes a carefully worded statement can be a courageous and true act of friendship/love. Before moving forward, of course, you would want to consider your own level of trust with your friend, and your friend’s openness to feedback. You would surely want to preface any statement with some validation, such as: “You must find some wonderful qualities in William or I’m sure you wouldn’t be with him.” Then, it’s wise to ask for permission: “Would you be interested in hearing something I have observed about William?” If you get the go ahead, then you state what you’ve observed. Ideally you could follow with something like this: “However you proceed I want to remain your close friend and will do my best to have a good relationship with any partner of yours, William, or otherwise.”
By opening up, you just might be doing your friend a world of good.
For 8 years, Robert Schwebel Ph.D. wrote a weekly psychology column for the Sunday edition of the Arizona Daily Star. This article is one of many.