It's a well-known adage that you shouldn't tell your friend that you dislike their partner. It just generally doesn't go well. So figuring out what to do if you don't like your friend's partner can be incredibly tough. Unfortunately though, it's a common problem, so there are some known solutions.
When your friend starts dating someone you don't like, things can get very real, very fast. "No doubt this puts a friendship to the test but it definitely doesn't have to spell the end of your relationship with your friend," Eileen Purdy, master of social work and anxiety therapist, tells Bustle. It's just tricky to hit the ground running with "I don't like your significant other."
"The problem with confronting someone about their partner is that it forces them to think of reasons to justify why they are with that partner," David Bennett, counselor and relationship expert with Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "So, every time you bring up a friend’s partner’s faults, it causes them to defend their partner, which further reinforces their decision to be with them. My experience is that unless they come to see their partner’s faults on their own, they won’t really listen to you as a friend." So yes, it's tricky territory. But there are ways around it.
Here are eight things you can do if you don't like your friend's partner, according to experts.
1. Try Not To Be Reactive
If you're going to tackle this potentially major issue, you're going to need to be able to keep a level-head. "You can tell your friend how you feel about their partner only after you have been able to meet and spend time with them, and if you see that this may be becoming serious," Dr. Danielle Forshee, doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle. "In the event that you decide that you need to say something to your friend, make sure you come prepared with objective examples of behaviors that you can present to your friend to help your friend understand this is coming from a place of concern and care rather than jealousy or any other emotional response." When you approach the situation like this, your friend is less likely to get defensive or upset about what you've said.
It'll also help if you have a few situation-diffusers up your sleeve. "If you really can't stand the person and want to tell your friend that, make sure you have a couple of neutral or positive qualities you can add when you are sharing your thoughts," Purdy says. This conversation may not go fantastically, but at least you'll have put your best foot forward.
2. Find Something Good About Them
As long as your friend isn't in a toxic or abusive relationship, try to give your friend's partner the benefit of the doubt. Once you've identified some OK qualities about your friend's partner, see if you can dig a little deeper. If you can find at least one thing you genuinely appreciate about them, doubtless the whole situation will get a bit easier.
"Force yourself to find some redeeming quality in the partner you don't like and focus your attention on that quality," Purdy suggests. "This can be challenging, no doubt, because it takes a level of maturity and wisdom that can be hard to muster in these circumstances, but you will be a better person and save your friendship if you can do it." Even if you're grasping at straws, it's a good exercise.
3. Recognize Your Own Confirmation Bias
If you've already decided that the partner is trash, you're likely to only keep noticing the trash things that they do.
"Our brains look for information that supports our thoughts and beliefs," Purdy says. "When you don't like someone or something your brain is then 'programmed' to find examples to support this. And it will do that by leaps and bounds! Recognize this bias exists in everyone and challenge yourself to see the person in different ways. You can still see that 'bad' stuff and you're not being asked to change your mind but try to counter your confirmation bias by seeing other things as well." So, at least, there's a chance that you'll be a little bit less exasperated by this significant other. And at best, you'll notice that they aren't as bad as you think they are.
4. Show Them A Better Way
Being a good example is a good time all around. This is just another example of that.
"While you can’t often logically convince someone to leave their partner, you can show them what a good relationship looks like," Bennett says. "Be a good example and focus on improving your relationships. If your friends sees that you’re happy, well-adjusted, and treated well in your relationships, they will eventually start to see how theirs don’t compare." Plus, you'll lessen your chances of being hypocritical. And your friend might be able to see what a good friend-partner relationship can look like.
5. Try To Build In One-On-One Time
If there's a sure-fire way to salvage a friendship, it's working on the friendship itself. "A way to maintain the friendship without having conflict with the partner may be to spend time with your friend outside of the partner’s presence," Dr. Forshee says.
Unfortunately, if the friend is super wrapped-up in the relationship, you might have to be upfront about wanting to be alone together. "You don't have to make a big issue about it, just let your friend know how much your one-on-one time means together and you'd love it if you can continue having that periodically," Purdy says. Friend dates are all the rage.
6. Enforce Boundaries
If, despite your best efforts, things aren't looking up, there's still stuff you can do. You might just have to work a little harder. "The key is to set appropriate boundaries. If you’re not comfortable hanging out with their partner, then assertively (but nicely) explain that to your friend," Bennett says. "If you’re sick of hearing them complain about their partner constantly (without ever leaving them of course), then any time that conversation arises, assertively state that you don’t want to hear about that anymore." You're not being a bad friend for wanting to avoid the consequences of them choosing a bad partner.
Emotional labor is complicated, but it's a learning experience to stick up for yourself.
7. Let It Go
Another way to make it through this little friendship bump in the road is to practice a little bit of mindfulness about the whole situation.
"Remember that you can’t control your friend," Bennett says. "Accept that they have made a choice and that they have to live with the results of their choices. If you keep proper boundaries, it’s important to accept that it is their life, not yours, and they are free to make choices that you consider bad." This will help the annoying partner take up less space in your head, and leave more room for things you care about. Like memes, and facts about Meghan Markle.
8. And Support Them If You Suspect Abuse
This is the trickiest part, but it's absolutely necessary to mention. Sometimes a bad partner is more than just a jerk.
"If you suspect your friend is being abused by their partner, you can give them names and numbers of resources like shelters and therapists, but know that on average it takes someone leaving an abusive partner seven times before they stay away for good," Amy McManus, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "In this case, the best thing you can do is offer your friend non-judgmental support." Being a good friend can sometimes feel like the hardest thing in the world. But luckily, help is out there.
No matter what, having a friend date a person you don't like is hard. But it will likely happen at some point. You'd want them to forgive and care for you if you chose a bad match, so it's a good idea to give them all the love you can. It'll be hard, but worth it.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.