Dear Dr. Darcy,
Help me out here, please. I am the "therapist' for my group of friends. The one everyone comes to for advice and a shoulder to cry on or an ear to vent but I have a friend who is constantly complaining and refuses to do anything about his situation. He is miserable.
[My friend] is in a loveless marriage, they sleep in separate beds, they don't have sex, its been almost a year. She is a workaholic and the bread winner who leaves him with all the parenting of their son and all the housework and yard work. He feels used and frustrated but I can't get him to see that staying in this marriage for their son isn't healthy for anyone. Maybe if I had so PhD backup he would listen to me. I love him like he is a brother and he is one of my oldest and dearest friends. How do I help him before he ends up a shell of the person I love?
Awe, Mama, you don’t need me to help fix his problem. You need me to help fix yours. You’ve set up an expectation among your friends that’s too much for you to handle. Any bartender, hairdresser or shrink knows that you can’t fix people’s problems outside of work or you’ll burn out, so we develop ways of shutting down conversations when the chronic complainers in our lives try to drain what little life is left in us by the time we get home.
You’ve got the need to please disease, which is how you find yourself on the receiving end of conversations that should be shared with a shrink – not a friend. For all your good intentions (and I know it’s coming from a place of love), you actually stop him from getting the help he needs because you continue to play a role that you’re unable to really play. So here’s what I want you to do:
Stop trying to fix his marriage. Stop trying to fix him. Just be a friend. Listen to him without giving your opinion. Mirror back to him (meaning, paraphrase) what you hear him say every few sentences. Validate his feelings. Tell him you wish you could offer him more. Suggest that he see a shrink.
And if he begins to turn into that shell of a person that you fear because he refuses to get the help he needs, you may need to step back from him for self-preservation. That’s his consequence for failing to do what he needs to do in life. If he’s not growing with you, he’ll hold you back. Water seeks it’s own level. We all have friends like this who we’ve had to recategorize; who we keep around more because of shared history than because of what we have in common today. Surround yourself with people who have the energy and attitude that you want. The only person you can help is yourself, and I suggest you start focusing on that.
Writer’s Stats: Female, Heterosexual.