A Friend’s Pain

Michele Grant aka @TheOneChele, novelist and creator of the Black ‘n Bougie blog, recently posted a series about a friend who caught her husband kissing another woman. The initial question posed was whether hubby’s claim that “a kiss isn’t cheating” was plausible. In a subsequent post, Grant informed her readers that her friend had chosen to forgive her husband and forget what she saw. Readers were asked whether or not the wife made the right decision.

Is a kiss cheating? It’s certainly not benign. If I caught my man kissing another woman, I would be deeply hurt. Could I forgive him? It depends. 

But it was this line from Grant’s post that gave me pause:

“If she’s happy, all I can do is be happy for her.”

I’ve uttered those words after watching girlfriends cry about lying, cheating, abusive partners, convincing everyone but themselves that they deserve better. And then stay in the dysfunctional relationship.

I said it because I felt that’s what I had to say to be a good friend. To show my friend that I wasn’t judging her. That I recognized her autonomy as an adult woman to make her own choices, and not to impose my beliefs on her.

That I had to love and support her choices, no matter what, because that’s what friends do.

I no longer feel that way.

Before I filed for divorce. I would cry to my friends about how miserably unhappy I was. I’d chronicle every fight, every dumb and offensive thing he said, every moment of feeling unappreciated and unloved.

My friends never told me I was crazy for staying. They never said, “Girl, get out!” The closest any of them came was to ask me, gently and politely, what I planned to do about being unhappy.

My mother gave me that much-needed kick. My parents never divorced, but theirs was a brutally unhappy marriage. When my mother told me I was describing her own marriage, I knew it was time to do something, to stop the cycle, because the last thing I wanted was to repeat the words, “you’re describing my marriage” to my own daughter.

After I filed for divorce, my friends spilled their guts in relief that I’d finally chosen to get out. They told me how hard it was to hear me repeat the same story, over and over and over again, across the years, but do nothing to free myself. They told me how hard it was to watch me self-destruct by overeating and no longer doing the things I used to love to do.

They told me I’d become barely recognizable and that they were glad to see “me” back.

But they said none of this in the eight years I was with my ex.

I asked them, “If that’s how you felt, why didn’t you say anything?”

“It wasn’t my place,” they responded.

Bullshit.

I am not blaming my friends for not telling me to leave my marriage. Staying was my choice. Leaving was also my choice. I stayed until I was ready to leave, and I left when I was ready to go.

We don’t live in our friends’ relationships. We don’t know when there’s still hope for someone else’s marriage, and when it’s time to get out and move on. Only the two people in the relationship can answer that question.

We can and do, however, form opinions based on what we observe and what we’re told. And when you see a friend drowning in misery, it’s dishonest to pretend to be happy and supportive of her decision to remain in the relationship that’s causing her so much pain.

You think she’s hurting herself by not leaving, which hurts you. But you know there’s only so much you can do to help her. You have your own life, maybe even your own dysfunctional relationship to deal with. 

So you cringe when she calls you. You side-eye her husband when she brings him to your events and you see her playing one-half of a happy couple. You begin to dislike him to the point that even the way he asks for a glass of water irritates you.

Your continued silence is damaging. You keep quiet because you’re afraid your friend will take offense. You keep your mouth shut to preserve the friendship. But instead, your true feelings become this big huge secret that drives a wedge between you.

So to all of you silently watching a friend suffer in a bad relationship: if she is truly a friend – if you really, truly care – speak up. Tell her how you feel. Maybe your worst fears will be realized, and she will cut you off. But maybe she’ll hear what you’re saying. Maybe your words will help empower her to take action – even if it’s not the action you think she should take. And maybe your friendship can recover.

The friendship may not, however, recover from your silence.

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20 Responses to “A Friend’s Pain”

  1. Tarana Says:

    as close as my best friend and I are, this is the one thing that we struggled with for years…until we came to the same conclusion. It really depends on the types of friendships you develop. If you are truly friends, it may rock the union, but it won’t break it. Women know. When they lash out at their friends it’s bc they haven’t worked up the courage to direct that at the man. When that point comes, they will apologize and mend the friendship. It’s up to the friend to be able to say what needs to be said in a way that doesn’t pass judgment against the friend for staying or making the choices, but expresses the judgment you have for the situation openly and honestly. Great post CE, soooooo many sisters need to hear this!

  2. Mark R Says:

    I agree completely, CE. Only the truth will set you free. But friendships among women are unfortunately not that simple. More often than not, a friend who does (or says) the right thing quickly becomes a former friend, either through confrontation or avoidance and abandonment.

    What’s the difference between men and women? Given a choice between his friends and his woman, a man will more often choose his friends. Given a choice between her friends and her man, a woman will more often choose her man.

  3. HerMelness Speaks Says:

    We cannot, however, abdicate a life defining decision onto someone else. As in grieving, we are told not to make decisions based on what someone else wants for us. A deeply unhappy woman may take our advice and months or years later wonder ‘what if?’ What if I had not followed my friends’ advice and stayed? Could we have made it work?… and so on.

    The most I would say now is ‘go by how you feel when you are with this person’, thereby imparting what I think, but letting her come to her own senses and arrive at her own decision – to stay or go.

    There is truth in most of our catalyst for change though – that we change only when the pain of staying were we are is greater than the pain of change itself.

    Thought provoking post. Thank you. HMS

    • carolynedgar Says:

      I agree with you, and I never suggested that one abdicate a life-changing decision to a friend. But I don’t believe being a good friend means keeping quiet and watching a friend endure a painful situation because you’re afraid speaking up will damage the friendship.

      • HerMelness Speaks Says:

        I think I would not avoid speaking up for fear of damaging the relationship, but worry more perhaps of leading a friend who trusts me down a path which may be premature or wrong for her and, moreover, while she is so vulnerable and in a heightened state of emotional flux.

        Again, I would speak up but encourage her not to act solely on the advice of anyone, friends, et al, but look at the mix as a whole as it pertains to her happiness and the choices she is comfortable with.

        Any damage to the relationship would probably be temporary anyway as the pain of the situation is diffused over time.

  4. LaToya/gradmommy Says:

    Did you ever say anything to your mother? I find myself in this situation sometimes with my parents, looking at this dysfunction and wanting to say something but feeling exactly like your friends said: “it’s not my place.” But of course, I feel that way not just because I want to “mind my own business” but because these are my parents, two people I love dearly, but just think are not working for each other. What do I say in this situation?

    • carolynedgar Says:

      No, I never said anything to my mother. She was very clear about her reasons for staying married to my father, and that was that. But I appreciated her words to me.

  5. OneChele Says:

    I have to say in this particular instance, I’ve talked to my friend sooooo many times about her husband that there’s nothing more for me to say. So on this one, I’ve completely given up. Once someone tells you that your opinion isn’t wanted or needed, all you can do is play the silent and supportive friend role.

    • carolynedgar Says:

      I agree. Once you speak your piece, you’ve done all you can. I was focusing on those situations where the friend doesn’t speak up.

      • OneChele Says:

        I completely agree. I know way (way, way) back in the day, I was head over heels for this guy and both of my roommates knew he was cheating. Neither of them wanted to tell me to “preserve” my feelings. Like my feelings weren’t more hurt when I found out that not only was he a dog but they knew? It irrevocably altered those friendships. I never felt 100% trusting of them again.

  6. chele Says:

    I understand where you’re coming from but as a divorced person I cannot see myself telling a married person what to do in their marriage. My best friend is in a marriage that makes her miserable. She talks about her dissatisfaction often, I think just to vent not to solicit advice. I usually listen and allow her to vent. At most I’ll say things like, “I don’t know how you deal with that” or “I could never stay in a situation like that.” But the truth is, I’m not her and she’s not me. She can’t do what I do and I could never do what she does. No two relationships are exactly the same. I’m there to listen and support and if she ever does decide to leave, I’ll be there for her.

  7. Lena Kale Says:

    I wish you and Chele would do a show on this – where to draw the line between “keeping your own counsel” “turning a blind eye” and hurting someone with your silence.

  8. Alicia Says:

    Anytime I talk to my friends about their relationships, I try to keep my comments and opinons focused on them. I never have those he’s no good conversations because they are useless. My theory is that if she doesn’t know that he’s no good, then she will never know. I try my best to empower my friends to make decisions that will lead to them being happy. It’s a difficult task because sometimes you may say the right thing but the timing is all wrong.

    • carolynedgar Says:

      Yes! It’s not about trying to tell someone what to do, it’s about helping them understand their options, out of love. Less about “he’s no good” and more about “you’re unhappy and I want you to know you have the power to change your situation.”

  9. J Danielle Says:

    Thanks so much for writing this. I think most of us struggle with this. Women are very sensitive about their relationships, and no woman wants their friend to accuse them of butting in, or being jealous etc. Or, for that matter, simply not being supportive. But what’s the real purpose of having friends if they don’t help you remember your self worth and value in those times when you forget?

  10. aisha1908 Says:

    Thanks for writing this! For many, it’s difficult to straddle the line between honest accountability and overstepping criticism. Among my close friends, we are very vocal with each other about the guys in each other’s lives. I am grateful for this openness – if it didn’t exist, 1) I would have never come to terms with the fact that I am a survivor of sexual violence, 2) I would have continued to doubt myself & stay in a horrid relationship 3) I would have allowed myself to be so isolated by abuse at the hands of my ex, I would have no friends. So I am grateful for posts like this and my three closest friends Lola, Tanisha and Erin, who challenge me & my romantic decisions from a position of love and concern.

  11. Bella Syk Says:

    I’m talking on the phone with my cousin who stopped to talking to a friend who told her to leave her ex guy. Shes says its the approach and not giving to many negative statements while trying to prove your point. I’m on the fence. Some people are ready for the talk, some people will always be to weak to leave so I don’t think I will ever say anything.

  12. Natasha Says:

    If a friend is in a ‘bad’ relationship, but never mentions it, I ***try*** to remain silent. (If y’all knew me you’d know why it’s “try”. LOL)

    Once my friend comes to me in tears, the floodgates that are my mouth open. Over time, I’ve learned the focus of my comments need to be focused on the friend. If she complains about X, then I ask why X bothers her. I then ask what she’d prefer. Only then do I give my advice.

    If, however, this friend continues to go back for more, and continues to come to me crying, I put my own foot down. I just can’t do it.

    Sometimes I break my own rule and subtly question a friend if I think she’s putting her head in the sand out of fear. (Oh, he’s doing X again? Wow, that would drive me crazy. ) If she takes the bait, she needed to talk. If she doesn’t, then more power to her, and hopefully I’ve opened her eyes a little.

    Above all, we must remember to go into these conversations with love in our hearts.

  13. ames Says:

    I would and have told folks not to marry a person or why the heck would they mess up their life like that. When they break up, I express my relief that they recognized the problems they were in. Once they are married, I am silent because I gave my opinion ahead of time. I don’t believe people marry and are suprised by the problems. They ignored the problems and hoped for the best.

  14. Tiffany In Houston Says:

    I am late but I have recently been burnt by providing support to a friend who found out that the man she had been dating had been lying. These weren’t little white lies but lies about the number of children and baby mamas he had. Those type of things are serious character issues. In addition, my husband used his resources to confirm some information she’d found out about. She has decided to take this man back, and threw my husband under the bus with this man by disclosing the information we shared with her in an effort to support her. Her dude now has beef with my husband and as a result she naturally chose her dude. But the fallout from this means that she won’t socialize with us anymore because of him and the group dynamics (there were several couples that socialized together) that we had are now altered. We are the odd couple out. And it hurts.

    I will not be offering advice to anyone’s relationship anytime soon.

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