What to Do If You Think Your Friend Is Marrying the Wrong Person, According to a Therapist
For most of us, watching friends get engaged and married is just something that comes with growing older. Without much warning, it seems like the weekends suddenly shift from being spent out on the town with our single friends to being spent attending those friends' weddings. While this can be a joyful and celebratory time, it can also come with some complicated feelings—especially if you have your reservations about your friend's spouse-to-be.
It's one thing to dislike a friend's short-term partner, but when you're noticing red flags about the person your friend is planning to be with "'til death," the situation can feel impossibly difficult. If you're in this position, you should know that you're not alone. Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author of the upcoming book Date Smart, says she's often worked with clients—in their twenties, thirties, forties, and even fifties—who have concerns about the person their friend is planning to marry. Those concerns commonly stem from noticing red flags of controlling or dishonest behavior in a friend's partner, Dr. Manly says, and one of the most common questions people ask when confronted with this situation is: Is it my place to say something?
While Dr. Manly doesn't like to tell her clients exactly what to do, she tries to walk them through steps that will allow them to make their own choice with more clarity. So, if you're currently worried that your friend is about to marry the wrong person and you aren't sure what to do about it, the below steps can help you decide how to move forward.
1. Journal about your concerns.
If you're feeling worried about the person your friend is marrying, this might not be the fast-track answer you're hoping for, but Dr. Manly says journaling can be a helpful first step in figuring out what to do. Before deciding whether or not to raise your concerns to your friend, she says it's important to get clarity on what your exact concerns are and why you're having them. This will help you assess your own perceptions and any baggage that you might be bringing into the situation. For example, as Dr. Manly explains, someone who has recently been in a bad relationship may be projecting some of their own fears or concerns onto their friend's relationship.
More specifically, "If you experienced betrayal in your past and have not resolved your inner wounds, you might unconsciously project your fear of betrayal onto others," she says. "You might feel anxious and triggered when a friend announces [their] engagement even though you know [their] partner is honest and faithful. And, as the friend's marriage approaches, your own unresolved issues might cause even greater concern and apprehension. You may watch your friend's partner closely and even unconsciously misinterpret honest behaviors as disingenuous."
So, journaling is a way to get honest about your own perceptions and any past relationship scars that may be clouding your view of your friend's relationship. "If your journaling reveals that you still have some untended wounds, therapy is often a wonderful next step," Dr. Manly says. "In many cases, however, journaling will illuminate that your gut instinct [about your friend's partner] is on target and that the red flags [you're noticing] are very real."
2. Imagine the outcomes.
If after journaling you still feel concerned about the person your friend is planning to marry, then Dr. Manly says it's time to imagine the different outcomes: what could happen if you do say something versus what could happen if you don't.
"Imagine that you don't say anything and that your worst fears come true," Dr. Manly says. Those fears might be that your friend's spouse really is unfaithful, dishonest, or is an abusive partner. Dr. Manly instructs her clients to imagine how they may feel years down the line if these fears came true and they never said anything to their friend. Ask yourself, "When my friend, who I love, is in a bad relationship and now has two kids, how will I feel?'" she says. "And if you wouldn't feel good, then you have that piece of information."
However, if you decide that you'll feel okay about choosing not to say anything to your friend, then Dr. Manly says to make peace with that decision. "Keep records of why you came to that conclusion and journal about it so that you can put it to sleep," she says. "I call it putting a bow on it."
3. Weigh the risks.
When deciding whether or not to raise concerns to a friend who's getting married, Dr. Manly says a common fear among her clients is that the conversation could ruin their friendship. Depending on the friend's ability to take criticism, their own level of honesty with themselves, and their comfort in their relationship, they could respond with anything from appreciation and grace to retaliation and anger—and it's unfortunately true that the conversation could, as feared, end the friendship.
So, before you decide to have this conversation, ask yourself if you're okay with taking that risk. "Most people will say, 'I would rather speak my truth and know I did the right thing and if I have to lose the friendship over it, at least I've kept my integrity,'" Dr. Manly says. However, she says she's also had clients decide that they "would rather maintain the friendship and be there to help pick up the pieces five or 10 years down the line" if need be.
If your friend is in an abusive relationship, which means it can take a victim an average of seven times to leave before staying away for good, you may decide that protecting your friendship is more important to ensure that your friend has a system of support. You can learn more about supporting loved ones in abusive relationships here.
4. Determine if it's "your place" to say something.
To determine whether or not it's your place to say something to a friend about their partner, Dr. Manly suggests asking yourself these two questions: How close am I to this person? and Can I live with myself if I don't say anything?
If you have a close relationship with the friend in question and you decide that you wouldn't be able to forgive yourself for not saying anything, then it's your place.
5. Approach the situation one-on-one.
If you've decided to broach the tough conversation with your friend about your concerns, make sure to do so in a safe and non-intimidating setting. Even though you may not be the only one having concerns for your friend, Dr. Manly says it's better to have the conversation one-on-one rather than with another friend or a group of people. When you bring up the concerns in a group setting, it can feel to the friend like you're ganging up on them. "That alone to the psyche is very scary," Dr. Manly says. "And the fact that other people are talking about it then increases defensiveness."
6. Use "I" messages.
This age-old tactic for conflict resolution applies here, too. When talking to your friend about your concerns, "take great care not to use any words that indicate judgment or blame," Dr. Manly says. As a template, she says these statements may look something like this: "I noticed that [your partner] seems very controlling of you. I feel really sad about that and it concerns me for your future. I don't know if you have any red flags yourself around that issue, but I couldn't in all good conscience let you go to that altar without saying something to you."
7. Offer solutions.
When deciding to raise concerns to your friend about the person they're planning to marry, it's important to not only present the problem but potential solutions, too. For example, you can let your friend know about options for couples counseling, tell them you will support them if they need help figuring out how to end the relationship and let them know that you'll be there for them if they decide to stay.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of domestic violence and needs help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You are not alone.