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I have a best friend who I have remained close to for almost two decades, despite living halfway across the country from each other for most of that time. I love her with all of my heart, but her relationship with her husband is making me crazy! She has talked about leaving him so many times, but always finds a reason not to. He has lied, and cheated, and is terrible for her self-esteem and psychological well-being. I feel like staying with him is a monumentally Bad Choice, like cooking meth or advocating for Donald Trump. I want to be a good friend, and listen to her and support her, even in the choices I disagree with, but it hurts to hear her talk about going to counseling together, or giving him another chance when he’s squandered so many. I know I can’t change her mind or force her to leave, but it’s driving me crazy, and I can’t stand to be around him. What can I do to stop this situation from driving a wedge between us?
— Signed, Feeling Selfish
As you pointed out, there is nothing you can do to stop this situation. To stop it from driving you and your friend apart, you will need to let go of what you think is the right move, accept her exactly where she’s at and behave accordingly. Your friend has formed a legally, financially and spiritually binding contract with a total schmuck, and she’s going to have to either keep living with it or dig herself out of that steaming pile herself.
Why does your friend stay with her cheating, lying husband? One theory is that people with low self esteem and/or poor relationship modeling will tolerate all kinds of crap from their partner. Your girl may not believe she is worthy of a nice man who treats her well. She may be financially dependent on him. She may be cripplingly codependent and have no idea how to live as a single woman. She may want to honor her marriage contract despite his forays outside of it. She may love him for his other, less evident qualities and draw from an endless reserve of patience and forgiveness. She may hope he changes. She may be betting on a happy future together playing golf in Florida despite a rocky present.
We’ve all been there — looking on aghast as the people we love throw themselves like lemmings over the suicide cliff of a Bad Choice, but it’s really your job to decide when you’ve had enough. Whatever she’s doing, whether it’s meth, voting Trump or staying with her unfortunate choice of husband, your job as her friend is to be honest, caring, and a consistent source of love and support. If you can’t do that, that’s totally legit; perhaps you’ve outgrown the friendship, and it’s time to move on. It’s your choice to cut your losses and tell your friend you’ll be waiting for her if and when she finally decides to leave her man (or get clean, or change her political views, or whatever mess she’s making.)
You could also go looking for that limitless reserve of patience and forgiveness that your friend has found for her husband. I think that’s what long-haul love might be. Every single person in the world sucks in some huge, glaring ways, yet there are people who love us no matter what kind of crap we pull. You may show your friend love by sticking around to support her, and find a way to let it drive you less nuts, or by demonstrating good boundaries and removing yourself from her life for now.
Your friend is tolerating a lot of crap from her husband. You love her. But is your love for her conditional on her love for him? That’s the question, Selfish. How can you best love your friend exactly as she is right now: married to a schmuck? — xoxo, Kiki
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 202.