Carolyn Hax: When to speak up on relationships

November 15, 2013 

Carolyn: A good friend recently ended a yearslong relationship because of her boyfriend's emotional limitations. After they broke up, I let her know I had always wondered whether he was right for her.

She feels disappointed that, as a good friend, I had not been more forthcoming about my own doubts.

My negative opinions were about his personality and personal style, things my friend and I had discussed, but only insofar as she had mentioned problems with those things. There were never any concerns about safety or abuse. I had often wondered if I should offer my opinion, but decided that if she was happy, then who am I to criticize her choices?

She is surprised I would see sharing my opinion as criticism and feels let down. I feel confused about whether her expectation that I weigh in is reasonable. My husband and I had a similar situation with another friend and his wife. They divorced, and he was later angry that we had not told him we didn't like her.

Am I a bad friend or are these dear friends placing too much responsibility on me for bad decision-making (or luck)?

TRYING TO BE A GOOD FRIEND

As with the imploded relationship itself, the assignment of blame isn't so tidy.

Well, one part is: The notion that you extended the life of these time-wasting relationships by not speaking up is just buck-passing bunk. Someone reeling from a fresh breakup does get a pass for floating this idea. Once. But the people who start and stay in unhappy relationships are fully accountable.

Meanwhile, there's a fine line between withholding your objections and creating the impression that you have no objections. If my closest confidants put on a show of liking a partner of mine about whom they privately had concerns, I wouldn't blame the relationship on them, but I would feel lied to by people I trusted.

Next, there's the matter of holding in all your doubts and concerns … until you let them seep (or tumble) out as soon as the breakup's official. There's a fine line there, too - the told-you-so line.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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