Friendly Crossfire

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

Dear Christine,

One of my good friends is friends with one of my ex-friends. Their friendship is not an issue for me - I don't want to get involved with turning anyone against each other. My concern is that my good friend is continuously being emotionally drained from dealing with the ex-friend in many of the same ways that I was, only worse. Is there anything I can do to help my friend be happier without being the typical jealous friend who wants everyone to be on her side of an argument?

- Trying to Be a Good Friend, 22, Maryland

Dear Trying to be a Good Friend,

I acknowledge you for your clarity and maturity regarding this issue. Your intentions are to support your friend rather than dissolve their friendship or come out looking "right" or "better than." Bravo for the self-awareness that you already have as it makes you a better friend to yourself and your friend.

My suggestion in a delicate situation like this is to support your friend in coming to her own conclusions and awareness. Think of it this way, at some point you realized your relationship with your ex-friend was exhausting and probably unhealthy. Then you made the conscious choice to step out of it. A challenging aspect with relationships, or any situation for that matter, is that sometimes we are AWARE of something that is not working; however, we are not yet ready to make the CHOICE to change it.

Since awareness is not always enough of a catalyst to make changes, although your friend knows she is emotionally drained; she may not yet be ready for "ex-friend" status. There may be something she is learning or getting from the relationship and it is part of her own journey to discover what that is. Just as you have grown from the relationship with your ex-friend, she will as well. As hard as it is to watch from the sidelines and perceive what happened to you happening to her, I encourage you to simply continue to be there for her without projecting your own experience onto hers. In other words, try not to assume that you know what's best or most supportive for her.

That said, I really do hear that you are seeing things that concern you and you want to do something. As humans, we always want to know what we can do. In my experience, the most useful way to support someone is to ask them questions that may guide them to their own "aha's" rather than telling them what we see or what we think should be done. For example, the next time she vents to you about this ex-friend, you could ask questions like: "How is this affecting you? What are you getting from this friendship? If you could say anything to her, what would you say? What do you want from this friendship?"

If you ask open-ended rather than leading questions and then just listen, your friend may start to talk her own way out of the friendship rather than you talking her out of it. Allow her to come to her own conclusions to alleviate your concerns about coming across as jealous. To that point, I encourage you not to overly concern yourself with what your friend may or may not think of you. Just focus on being a compassionate, honest and genuine friend. It sounds like this ex-friend relationship may have you questioning your role and confidence as a friend. Let that go! You learned your lesson and are creating more quality friendships moving forward.


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