Q: I have a friend that won’t stop interfering in my relationship, and I am so close to losing it with her. She never liked my partner of almost a year, and she keeps picking up on little things and turning them into big things. We have been friends for years and used to share every detail about our dating experiences, but she hasn’t had a boyfriend since her last relationship ended two years ago. She keeps bringing up stuff from the beginning of our relationship and makes it very clear that she doesn’t trust him. I love my partner, but it’s getting harder to deal with her suggesting he might cheat on me or that she doesn’t think he is good enough for me. We don’t have any issues in our relationship, and I like how it is going, but her constant negativity is annoying me. My partner doesn’t want to be around her now because he feels like he can’t do anything right, which affects me when we want to go out in a group of friends. I feel like I have to choose between them, and I don’t know what to do.
Dr. West replies: Take a pause for a second and reflect on why she could be behaving like this. Do you have a shared history of talking about partners, and sharing what your relationship ups and downs are? She may be trying to be protective of you and not wanting you to go through some of the issues you may have shared in the past. Our friends and family can often spot red flags that we can’t see as they have more distance from the relationship. If you shared stories of negative behavior from the beginning of the relationship, she might have legitimate fears that the relationship might be of concern. She could be coming from a place of love but going about it the wrong way. Conversely, you might not want to hear what she is saying if you feel deep down that she is right. It’s hard to hear that our partners may not be who we romanticise them to be, so it can be common to ignore or minimize red flags. If you have had a history of abusive relationships, she may be on high alert for any sense of negative behavior in order to try to protect you.
Alternatively, it could be nothing to do with you and everything to do with her. She may be feeling jealous, which is usually a sign of insecurity. She may be going through some relationship issues of her own and projecting those feelings onto your relationship. If she has been single for a while, perhaps she is struggling with the idea of a new relationship, or maybe she fears losing you to your boyfriend. She may sense that you are not spending as much time with her, especially if you have started to avoid nights out with mutual friends when your partner is coming along. This feeling of impending loss could be driving her behavior, and if this is the case, some reassurance from you would go a long way to addressing the situation. Often, we can get wrapped up in relationships to the extent that we neglect our friendships. If this strikes a chord, reflect on this and see if you can make space for your friend and talk about the gap between you. Don’t invite your partner to this talk; he will be defensive and she will not feel comfortable opening up about what is going on for her.
It can be hard to talk to friends about these issues, but just like romantic relationships, our friendships take work too. Remember your shared history and the reasons why you are friends and try to talk to her to see if anything is going on for her. She might be struggling with something and not know how to bring it up, as it’s a lot easier to talk about the good times rather than expose our vulnerabilities and let people know that we have something going on.
Talk to her about how her accusations and suspicions make you feel. Try to make it an open conversation, not one where she is a target of blame. Equally, be prepared to listen to her concerns rather than immediately defending your partner. She may have good cause for her concerns, or it may be projection — you won’t know if you don’t have this conversation. Remember that you have built a friendship together and she has been there for you before, although you are not obligated to continue the friendship if it makes you uncomfortable due to her issues. If it’s red flags that you have been avoiding, this is a different matter. It’s easy to assume the worst of someone, but we all deserve a chance to be heard, with the obvious disclaimer that if someone is abusive, they do not deserve any explanations for cutting off contact, as you need to prioritize your mental health and your safety.
If it’s an issue on her part, explore how you can support her in addressing what’s going on for her, and what this means for your friendship going forward. If she isn’t willing to respect any boundaries that you set, it may be time to re-evaluate the relationship. Friendships change and grow in all directions as we go through life, and maybe one or both of you have outgrown the friendship. This is very common and there doesn’t need to be a big blowout — people can change in ways they never foresaw. Hold some compassion in your heart for her and think about what she has to say. It’s not sustainable to stay in this situation, so as hard as it may be, you will have to talk, and perhaps make some tough decisions, but despite being tough, they will be necessary.
Dr West is a sex educator and host of the ‘Glow West’ podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to email@example.com. Dr West regrets she cannot answer questions privately