Is one of your friends dating someone who disrespects her; treats her unkindly; or even lies, cheats, or takes financial advantage? You’re probably at your wit’s end, but it’s hard to help someone who is deluding herself, trying to make something work that was broken from the start. Here’s some advice on how to help your friend dump that chump and get out of the situation that’s holding back her happiness.
Stating the Facts Won’t Help
Have you ever watched a horror movie and screamed, “Don’t open that door!” at the screen? It never works—the heroine always walks through the obviously dangerous door, right smack-dab into the carnivorous birds or league of zombies. Bad relationships are like that, except that the person keeps going back again and again for more no matter how loud you yell.
If your friend is dating a chump, you’ve probably left enough obvious hints that her boyfriend is a good-for-nothing. Unfortunately, in these situations it almost never works to come right out and complain. Even if you can recite ten or fifteen specific times when he’s acted like a real jerk, doing everything from spoiling family functions to wrecking her credit history, you’ll probably find she’s got a pack of rationalizations to counter all of them. It doesn’t exactly hurt to remind her of the bad times he’s caused, but don’t tear your hair out expecting her to respond to facts alone. His negative behavior may be at some level the exact thing that attracts her to him.
If your otherwise smart friend is letting her life get ruined by a parasitic loser, it’s likely because this monster in some way fills a dark void in your friend’s past, replacing it with an ugly but otherwise manageable present. He’s the absent father who was never there to tuck her in, the boozer whose self-pity was his excuse for never keeping a job. And if her past traumas have scarred her with feelings of low self-esteem or self-worth, she may be living out Groucho Marx’s rule of not wanting to join any club “that would have me as a member!” She may shun men who treat her decently, because her no-account boyfriend’s piercing insults or blatant thoughtlessness confirm the low esteem she holds herself in.
Unfortunately, most women (and men) who are mired in bad relationships have a web of psychological issues that hold them there. But you don’t have to be your friend’s literal psychologist to inquire about her, find out about her past, and point out what you see.
Instead of focusing on what the boyfriend did, point out how that behavior is a repetition of things in her past. That’s something much harder for her to rationalize around! If she’s had other boyfriends in the past who also treated her badly, point that out too, that the current chump is just one more link in a chain of attempts to rectify something in the past that can never be cured by a man in her present. Mind you, it doesn’t mean she’ll actually leave him! But she’s far more likely to concede the point and admit how deeply rooted the bad relationship is if you bring up insights that ring true (and maybe you can even get her to go see a real therapist, which would help even further).
Eliminate Barriers to Exit
Truth be told, it’s very hard to force people to change their ways when it comes to a romantic entanglement, as you probably know from your own life! But a good friend knows that if you can’t push someone out the door, you can at least give her the keys to unlock it and make sure her first steps down the path to freedom are easy to navigate.
If you’ve gotten your friend to admit the relationship is harmful, but she’s still on the fence about whether to actually leave, it’s important to assuage her fears about the barriers to exiting the relationship. “Unhappy people may not end their relationship because forces other than love, fun, and satisfaction are keeping them together,” says Amy Strachman, a research scientist at eHarmony Labs. “There are ‘barrier forces,’ which include poor alternatives to the relationship combined with the potential loss of investments. If you’ve put in a lot of investment in the relationship, it makes it harder to leave. And if you don’t have a lot of other social outlets, the barriers to leaving can also be emotional, such as loneliness and fear.”
You’ve probably observed that people with few barriers to exiting a relationship are more likely to break up and try something new—Jennifer Lopez leaves her husbands at the drop of a hat, whereas Rhea Perlman has stayed married to Danny DeVito for decades!
To help set the stage for your friend to leave her loser, it’s essential that you minimize the barriers to exiting that would make it hard for your friend to say “adieu.” If she’s worried that she won’t be able to meet other guys, remind her of all the suitors she turned away when Loser Man first came around and let her know about some great places to meet single guys (there’s a fantastic one just one click away!). If she’s worried that finances will be harder when she’s on her own, point out all the money she’ll save by not having to feed his beer habit. If she thinks her kids will stop her from having the necessary free time to date, offer to babysit!
Above all, remind her constantly about all her good qualities and that she’s a wonderful person who deserves something better than being trapped in a dead-end relationship with a loser! The biggest barrier to exiting might be the fear that she’ll never do better than him, and you’ve got to prove how wrong that is!
It’s never easy to convince someone to quit a relationship if the person has convinced herself that it’s right. But by digging deep and making the breakup seem easy, you’re making the job as easy as it can be for your friend to dump the chump!