Friends Are an Asset in Understanding Love Problems


If you are having trouble in a love relationship, check with your same sex friends for clues to understanding the problems.

At 39 Jeffrey has been married for nine years; he’s the father of six-year-old twins.  “I love Cheri, but she’s become so defensive.  Everything I say, she argues with me or attacks me.  This morning, I pointed out she left a cabinet door open, and we need to be careful because the twins could hurt themselves. She snaps, “Well, you leave it open too.’  I got ready to snap back the way I usually do, but I caught myself. I hate when we do this.”

“Do you have any thoughts about why Cheri needs to defend herself to you,” I ask.  “Even about something as minor as leaving the cabinet door open?”

“No. Well, I can tell you what she would say.  She tells me I’m always criticizing her about something, telling her she’s doing something wrong.”

“Does that feel right to you?” I inquire.

“No.  I don’t do that.  I’d hate to think I make her feel inadequate about everything she does.”

“People often demonstrate the same behaviors with close friends they do with spouses.  So, you may want to check with a good friend if he sees you as critical.  But it has to be a friend who’ll be honest with you.”

“Phillip’s my oldest friend, but what does he have to do with this?  He lives in Utah; he’s probably only met Cheri two maybe three times.”

“The way we are with those we love…” I start to explain, but he interrupts.

“That doesn’t make sense to me.  If Cheri would just leave me alone, not be so critical of me, everything would be fine.”

Jeffrey is not open to hearing anymore from me about this, but he does agree to talk to Phillip about our conversation.

The following week, Jeffrey starts talking before he even sits.

“You won’t believe this. Phillip, my best bud, tells me I criticize him a lot!”  He flops on the sofa.  “I can’t believe it. He says I’m a real pain in the butt, but he just ignores me.”

I listen, wondering if I should say something.  Before I decide, he continues

“I told him he was wrong; he didn’t know what he was talking about. He just laughed, pointing out how I again had criticized him.  I tried to explain I wasn’t criticizing him; he was just wrong.  He then said the most interesting thing.  He said if he felt I was criticizing him, then that’s what he felt. It didn’t matter if I believed I was doing it or not.”  Jeffrey shook his head clearly confused.  “I don’t get this.”

“Is it possible he’s giving you some important information about how you come across, even though that’s not how you mean to be towards others?”

“If Phillip thinks I criticize, I can guess it must be worse for Cheri.”  He looks stunned, as if he has just had a new insight.  “I’ve got to ask her.”  He shakes his head in amazement.

Sandra and Marlene have been friends for eight years. They spend a lot of time together, but lately Sandra’s been questioning their friendship.

“She makes me so mad.  She controls where we go, what we do. Even in our conversations, she dominates.  I feel like a third wheel and there are only two of us present!”

I ask, “Is she different now than before, or are you noticing it more now?

“Hmm.  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s always been this way.”  She reflects on this. “Either I’m more sensitive, or I’ve been letting her lead our relationship so she’s taking over more now.”

“That’s insightful, seeing you let her lead the relationship.  What do you know about yourself that could help explain this?”

Sandra’s still focusing on her last thought.  “I wouldn’t have liked her if she were this way when we met.  I think I have sort of faded out when I’m with her.”  Then she moves on to my question.  “What do I know about myself?”  She plays with her ring as she ponders this.

“The way I feel with Madeline is how I always feel on a date; I sit and listen.  They ask where I’d like to go, or what I’d like to eat, or what movie I want to see.  I always put it back to them, “What would you like”; then I complain they don’t care about what I think.”

Sandra had not thought about how she faded out when she was with men; she just thought she was being a good listener, a good date.  Once she saw how angry she was when she allowed herself to fade out with Madeline, she decided to tackle the issue with everyone.  “I don’t want to be a third wheel to myself.

She started with Madeline.  “It’s less scary to think about speaking up, about making changes with her.  I have less to lose.  I know she’ll like me regardless.”

She decided to initiate plans for the next time she was with Madeline.  To her surprise, Madeline was pleased.  “She told me she was beginning not to enjoy being with me; I was too passive.  What a hoot!”

That made it easier to try it with men. What she discovered was that men who didn’t like her being assertive were men she didn’t want to be with.  “I feel like I should buy Madeline a present for opening my eyes to what a wuss I’d become.”

Sandra wasn’t aware she had a problem with men until she tried to understand her anger at her friend. Jeffrey wasn’t aware he had a problem with his friend until he tried to understand his anger at his wife. Whichever way you get the input, friends can be a great asset for understanding love relationships.

If you have questions or comments or want more information, contact me at:

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis

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