Thursday, March 09, 2006

Q37: How can I help a friend who might be in a too-intense relationship?

Hi Beavers,

I need advice on how to handle a situation with my friend. She's in a very serious relationship with a guy who I think is a little too intense. She's not doing well in school right now and has lost touch with her other friends because she spends all her time with him. I had started to think he was an ok guy, because she says he is really supportive of her, but now it seems like he's completely taking charge of her life. It might not be any of my business, but how can I tell her that I don't think she should be in such a serious relationship?
- Confused friend

From Beaver #1:
This is serious, so I'm just going to write something down real quick...

For me, I generally prefer a direct approach--she may not like what you have to say, but it sounds like you really should say it. Relationships in which one person is in complete control can quickly become abusive. Hopefully, that hasn't happened and won't happen, but either way, a relationship should not alter someone's life to the point where their future could be affected -- I'm particularly thinking about school here.

I'd say find a way to see her in a place where you both feel safe. Keep your cool, because she could get angry with you. It's also possible that she may need real help, especially if abuse has already started (emotional or otherwise). He may be threatening her, in the event that she leaves him. In this case, also be prepared to help her get the assistance she needs, possibly with mediating groups at your school, or more therapeutic groups in case she's depressed/anxious.

If things go well, you may just need to talk to her and help her realize that her relationship either needs to cool down or break off. But if things are more serious, be prepared (and possibly get other friends involved) to give her the help she might need.

At worst, she could shut you out completely. But it's better than never trying at all.

From Beaver#2:
If you don't think that it's gotten to the point of "possible abuse" yet, then you could try taking an exploratory approach, initially. First off, talking w/ your friend is key. Talk to her alone, tell her that you're there for her, and find out why she's letting this guy "run her life."

There is a possibility that you're worried over nothing -- quite a few people tend to "disappear" when they get into a relationship, especially if they haven't had a "serious relationship" before. However, if she's letting her academics slip, then you might want to find out exactly what kind of "support" her boyfriend is giving her. Be supportive, too. You could throw in a few lighthearted comments that she never spends time with you any more. Ask her about school, and tell her a few of the resources available. These can range from tutoring to extra credit projects, etc.

You could also talk to the boyfriend, or ask him to help her w/ her academics and such. Be VERY careful on that one -- if she's the jealous type, she might think that you're trying to steal him away, or that you're butting into her affairs. And whatever you tell him, he'll probably tell her. And you should definitely talk to her first before talking to him. When you talk to her, you could even suggest that she study more w/ her boyfriend. Then, if you run into him in the hall or something (I don't recommend writing him an email or seeking him out), then you could ask casually, "So... have you and [insert your friend's name here] been studying a lot lately? It's getting really busy for everyone. Maybe we should form a study group. Would you guys like to join?" Try to include her in more group activities, especially academic ones.

At MIT, if someone's failing their classes, he/she will receive an academic warning. If she's gotten one and refuses to do anything about it, you might want to talk with the Dean of Student Life, or perhaps one of the various academic or residential advisors on campus. They have more experience in dealing with sensitive or possibly harmful issues, and might also be able to give you more insight into the situation.

We wish you the best of luck, and we hope that your friend will be okay.

[Note: If this didn't answer your question, or if there are more details you'd like advice on, feel free to email/post again.]


At 9:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the knowledge of the Dear Abby column and "Ask Anne," I'd have to say that this has the ear marks of an early stage of an abusive relationship.

Meaning, nobody starts out abusive in a relationship. They evolve, right? So like in every single abusive relationship in the Dear Abby column, the relationship started out great, then became uncomfortable when the guy started taking control of her life. Totally tell her to dump his control-freak ass.


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