What to Do If You Hate Your Friend’s Significant Other

A few years ago, I was dating someone who treated me pretty poorly. When my best friend John told me as much, I didn’t take it well. I cut him off for the next six months of my spiraling, toxic relationship. After the girl and I broke up, I slept and cried for a week, then texted John to reignite our friendship over tacos.

During that meal, I admitted he’d been right about her and apologized for being unable to hear him out. We promised each other that, going forward, we would never be “yes friends” — we would always be honest about each other’s relationships; we would never let the other wriggle around in a bad situation for longer than necessary.

For a while, it worked, and eventually, I extended the policy to my larger friend group.

“Rob is literal garbage, you need to run away screaming,” I told my friend Natasha.

“Guillermo has an emotional age of 12, it is probably illegal for you to date him,” I said to my friend Nora.

“Your boyfriend is completely untrustworthy, please dump him immediately,” I told John, about a year after we’d made our promise. I had met his new boyfriend over drinks, experienced a bad vibe, and felt I had to share.

Soon after, I stopped hearing from him as much. I watched Instagram videos of him and his boyfriend on boats and beaches, smiling on a train in Connecticut. (He didn’t even tell me he was in Connecticut!) Although we didn’t acknowledge it, I sensed there was a rift between us. I sensed I had done something wrong. But had I? What about our binding agreement over tacos?

I began to wonder whether radical honesty was really the best approach. Were there certain circumstances where it’s not advisable? What should one do if a friend has an untrustworthy partner if not tell him? What should I do now?

I spoke to Dr. Linda Carroll, a psychotherapist, life coach and author of Love Cycles. She walked me through what to consider when you dislike your friend’s significant other, and how to decide whether to be forthright, be a so-called “yes friend” or perhaps something in-between.

Step 1: Know when they can’t hear it

When we fall in love, Dr. Carroll explains, “our bodies are downloaded with a love potion.” We chemically change as our brains flood with endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine and we form a kind of druggy brain attachment to the object of our affections. In this stage, she says, “we don’t see red flags ourselves and we don’t want to hear about them because we want the fix.” We create a bright shadow around this person, believe everything we think “fits the model that the person’s right and it’s going to work.”

Those first few months, she suggests you hold off from sharing your dislike. “Your information is not going to be welcome,” she says. “They can’t hear it.”

Step 2: Decide whether your concern is objectively legit

While you’re waiting for your friend to get a little less lovesick, Dr. Carroll suggests exploring your own motivations.

Ask yourself: “Is this person bringing up something in me? Are they triggering a response from an old partner I’ve had? Do I have a certain kind of prejudice against [this type of person]?” Consider the red flags. Are they small, like the person is messy or impolite or full of annoying habits? Or do you have real data, like you know he or she has a history of violent behavior?

If you do approach your friend, it can’t be just because you don’t “like” the person. “You need to know what’s really happening,” she says. “Only if you’ve cleared it with yourself and you know that you really feel distressed about what you’re seeing,” should you say something. You don’t have to have the same feelings for your friend’s partner as your friend does — even if that’d be nice — but it’s fair to want your friend to be safe and cared for.

Step 3: Soften your approach

If you’ve thought about it and your motivations are pure, try starting by “asking your friend’s permission to share,” advises Dr. Carroll. For instance, “I have some feelings about your significant other that I’m not comfortable with and I feel like I should tell you, do you want to know?” This allows your friend to buy into the conversation and to process any information without feeling defensive.

And if the answer is no, drop it. Your friend is not ready to hear it and he or she has told you so. Try again in three months.

Step 4: Let it go

If your friend is not receptive, it’s important to try not to convince him or her, Dr. Carroll says. “They’re just going to push all the much harder to convince themselves that this is the right person and close out whatever you say.”

Honor what you feel without arguing your point. Reiterate that everything does come from your perspective, and that your friend may have information that you don’t. This provides an opening for your friend to “come back to you months later when the love drugs wear off.” Plus, if the relationship is actually dangerous, it’s crucial that your friend doesn’t feel isolated.

Step 5: Stop feeding yourself bad thoughts

What if your dislike is not legit? What if this person is annoying, but not evil? What if they suck, but don’t need to be shut down?

“If you don’t like this person, that’s fine. But don’t continue to look for evidence,” Dr. Carroll says. “Allow yourself to see that they’re bringing joy to your friend and it’s not for you anyway. Allow yourself to be open to changing.” And if you never change? “You don’t have to like each other, you just have to be kind,” she says.

After hearing the above, it became clear my best friend’s and my policy was misguided. “So what do I do now?” I asked Dr. Carroll.

She laughed. “Apologize! You’re human.”

Bailey Williams is a Brooklyn-based writer and playwright. She just joined Twitter but has been taking annoying vacation photos on Instagram for some time @buffalobailey.

Collages by Louisiana Mei Gelpi. 

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  • I’ve definitely been on the giving and receiving end of this advice, and while it sucks to give/receive, it really is helpful in the long run (if, as Dr. Carroll suggests, it’s done for valid reasons).

  • Emily

    I’d say consider where you’re coming from with the thoughts, if your concerns are reasonable, and if you have all the facts. When one of my best friends got into a serious relationship a few years ago I didn’t like his bf very much, and didn’t give him a fair shot. I was jealous and sad that my friend had less time to hang with me, and it was emotionally easier to think poorly of his partner than to realize that I felt jealous/abandoned/whatever. Later, another friend did this to me when I got sucked into the honeymoon phase of a long distance relationship. Rather than talk to me about her feeling sad I had less time for her, she acted passive aggressively and was unfriendly toward me and especially to my boyfriend, even when he went out of his way to reach out to her. It was v v awkward and she and I aren’t close anymore, not even so much because of this but because it created an atmosphere where I couldn’t talk with her or share about my life with her anymore.

    That being said, I can imagine situations where one really should say something, but from these experiences I think it’s important to think about where your concerns are coming from and if they have more to do with you than with your friend and their partner.

  • Adrianna

    I read this as “what if you don’t like your significant other’s friends” which is also an important topic.

    This should go without saying, but we don’t *really* know what goes on in people’s relationships. I think the dynamic you have with your partner when you’re together one-on-one vs when someone is a +1 in a group of friends is very different.

    • I am completely with you on this.

    • ladle

      I thought the same thing actually.

    • Ciccollina

      Totally. There’s also a genuine possibility that the friend who doesn’t like your partner is like, not that great of a person, or that your partner actually really doesn’t like them either. Being friends with someone doesn’t guarantee their compatibility with your partner.

      I have a couple of friends that I love because I’ve known them forever and am loyal to them, but I know that they are deeply immature and can be super annoying. I make excuses for them because I love them, but my bf just doesn’t. Why should he?! He accepts them, is polite enough and never complains, but he doesn’t make much of an effort, and that’s 100% fine with me.

      Naturally the friends in question think that he is cold. Only I know the full story and am adult enough to accept my choices along with their consequences: the choice to be with him, and the choice to be friends with them.

      • Adrianna

        My boyfriend and I started dating at 23 (we’re 29, living together, and own two pets now,) and I found a lot of his friends to be annoying and immature. I lived in NYC since I was 18, so there was a cultural difference. The guys were in a frat together, and to this day reference college as the best time of their lives. I just wasn’t going to fit into a nostalgic, binge drinking group of guys that wanted to spend weekends at their NJ college frat house and bars, and that’s fine. It’s important for people to understand that everyone in their lives isn’t going to successfully co-mingle.

        I didn’t care if my boyfriend went ahead and hung out with them without me, so it would’ve been really shitty if they turned around and told him I wasn’t a good fit for him.

        In my personal experience, the girl friends who tried to interfere with their opinions haven’t been in a relationship longer than 1-2 years.

        • sq

          Did they ever have an issue with you?

          • Adrianna

            I doubt they remember my name haha. That’s how disinterested they were in including a girl in their friend group, even in double date situations.

        • Ciccollina

          Amen sister!

        • nell

          Exactly – everybody doesn’t have to be best friends with each other! Grownups 1.) get to choose who they spend their time with, most of the time and 2.) know that sometimes you don’t get to choose and making small talk with someone you don’t like for the duration of a dinner isn’t going to kill you. My husband and I both have people in our lives who are, either organically or by design (i.e., no need to invite me when you’re hanging out with ____, thanks anyway!), much more my friend/his friend than “our” friend, and I think that’s fine and probably healthy.

    • Silvia Quiroga

      So much agree with you, well said. Only the couple knows what is really going on between them and no outsider should interfere. The role of a true friend is to be there for help and support when you need it but you can’t really protect people from themselves.

  • Fayla Garcia

    Also I feel like my friends are perfect, so I want someone great for them and any small issue their significant other has is magnified in my head. Although, I do try to keep most of my opinions to myself, only the people within the relationship really know what’s up.

    • silla

      YEP. I feel like no one is ever good enough for my queens!

      • silla

        (Point being that usually when I don’t like their SO’s it’s because of that and not because of much to do with them, which I constantly have to remind myself of!)

    • Bailey

      This is also my problem. I just want them to be wildly happy and appreciated 100% of the time!!!

  • Kattigans

    I had a situation happen very recently (like last weekend) between a coworker and my BF. We were invited to her house to pregame our company holiday party. Some coworkers had met my BF, and others, liker her hadn’t. I have a good relationship with this coworker and really like her, but from the moment she met my BF her whole demeanor changed. She seemed so off put by him and it was unclear why bc he was being nice albeit he can sometimes be really energetic in group settings. But needless to say, no offensive behavior from him. Anyways, I approached her really lightly about it later that night when it was me and her bc both me and my BF had talked about her reaction. She told me she was sorry but something about him just reminded him of boys she’d known way back in college. I totally felt better, but also kinda sad that she felt that way towards someone I love all because of some d-bags from college. Anyways, I just told her “totally understand and you’re most likely going to be around my boyfriend 0% of the time, but I do ask that maybe you give him a chance”

    So to go off Dr. Carrol’s advice I think this bit: Ask yourself: “Is this person bringing up something in me?

    I’ve had friends not like my boyfriend just because and its damaged our friendship. Its okay to not like everyone but I do think kindness is so important and having an open mind! Its so hard too being the significant other and coming in to meeting people’s friends and trying to gel with them. Empathy for the S.O is a good add on too

    • Adrianna

      Ooof, that coworker is literally the example of projection. And I say this as someone who bases a lot on first impressions. Even if your boyfriend was like guys she knew in college, it doesn’t really matter. You’re dating him, not her, and therefore he doesn’t need to pass her standards or be compatible with her

      • Kattigans

        agreed, it was weird & left me feeling weird for a day

      • Kattigans

        It was also really weird bc he was super nice to her but she wasn’t having it

  • Madeline C

    Knowing when is the hardest part!!! I am a firm believer that friends should support other friends in pursuing what makes them happy even if they don’t understand it. This applies to all aspects of life, I will never understand CrossFit, but I’ll be there if a friend has a competition with my full cheering game face on. We all have our own lives to lead, and only the person can honestly know what is making them happy. Because of this, I have a firm “just be supportive” policy. I think we as a society have created this kind of absurd ‘ideal’ partner that we want our friends to have. We need them to be cool but not cold, independent but not distant, great conversationalists but not annoying or too opinionated, successful but not too focused on money, down for a good time but never taking it too far, family oriented but not ‘weirdly’ close, etc. It’s insane. Having said all this, I am pretty sure I once let a very close friend down by not saying something when the behavior of the partner started to veer towards questionable. At the time, she was getting enough feedback in her life that she was pulling away from the friends and family who were saying something and becoming more isolated. I wanted to be there so that she never became entirely separate. I wanted her always to have a support system. Eventually, the relationship crumbled and I was there for her. Looking back though…..was I complicit in the relationship lasting too long? Did my support normalize things for her so she could say that it was just some friends that didn’t understand him? To this day, I don’t know, and I still struggle with some guilt that I wasn’t the best friend I could be.

    • Kattigans

      I love your approach, especially the part about how hard society is in creating this ideal for a relationship and partner its actually insane. My BF and I took a break for about two months and a friend Ive know for a while was there for me when it was going on bc it really sucked. My bf and I eventually worked things out and to my surprise my friend wasn’t happy about it. She told me she wasn’t ready to be around him yet, even in a group setting, and she didn’t think relationship was right. I was pretty taken aback bc I had just told her how I happy I was and how on track things were in the relationship. The break ended up being the best thing for my relationship with him. Anyways, I now I don’t feel as close to this friend anymore after her saying. It felt super judgey and absurdly harsh for someone she doesn’t even know that well. And to top it off, she doesn’t have the best track record in her own life so it was really weird to me when she was so quick to write off my relationship.

    • Adrianna

      I think you did everything you could in that situation. My sister has dated some assholes, and one was textbook abusive. I found it odd when I met him that he invited himself to our sister date, my birthday, and he would do things like dictate which concerts tickets we should buy for my birthday. It was maddening that she was complicit. He would physically insert his body between us if my sister and I were standing next to each other. She voiced some doubts, and I told her I would end the new relationship because it will be much harder later on. It escalated to physical abuse, and he even physical attacked my mother. She didn’t want to hear that she should end the relationship

  • Ciccollina

    Um, Bailey! The way you broached the conversation with Nora, Natasha and John was hardly radical honesty. Flippant judgements about someone you don’t really know is obviously not the way to help your friends.

    • Bailey

      Yes, hindsight is 20/20, though I stand by my judgement of Rob (though not my communication style!), who turned out to be cheating on her.

  • sq

    Really interesting article. One of my oldest friendships ended because my friend had an issue with my bf at the time that was totally her problem with him rather than him mistreating me in any way. She was someone who needed to be the centre of attention in a friendship group, and my bf was quite a lively person when in a group of people, so I think she must have felt in competition with him. Because of her irrational dislike for him I stopped being friends with her, and my conclusion about the whole thing is that she is probably a lot more dysfunctional than my bf was and my friendship with her was definitely a lot more unhealthy than that relationship ever was! I think if friends have an issue with your partner when there is nothing wrong with them, question the friendship not the relationship.

  • Amanda

    My husband and I had a good friend who was dating someone we were less than fond of. We never understood their relationship and resented her for keeping him from hanging with us. All of our friends talked about how unfortunate it was that we never saw our friend and even debated telling him that she was awful and he could find someone so much better, but we never did because as others have pointed out, we didn’t know what went on in their relationship. They eventually got engaged (and are now married) but during that period we learned his family felt the same way and said some terrible things about her, even to her face. After we learned this, we were relieved we never said anything because it truly hurt both of them. The only time I would speak up is if one party was abusive, because otherwise, it’s not really your place.

  • Chloe

    Several years ago now, when I was 17/18, I had a best friend who I had grown somewhat distant from due to her boyfriend. He was particularly nasty towards me both in person & over technology. He would steal her phone and text me horrible things about how I’m dumb, or say things like, “Omg Jake cheated on me!” and all of this stuff. It would look like it was coming from her and I’d be hurt, or try to respond appropriately. She’d always laugh it off like, “Oh that’s just his sense of humour!” He’d use Facebook to write nasty comments on my wall or my photos. It was awful. I told her how I felt and she literally laughed it off and said “That’s just how he is!”

    We eventually ended our friendship in a huge dramatic moment in which I had written an inside joke on a photo on her Facebook, her boyfriend was furious about what I was implying (he didn’t know the inside joke), and my friend was therefore furious with me for adding drama to her relationship.

    Anyways, they got married and a couple of years later got divorced. Although I did reach out to this friend, prior to her divorce, she didn’t seem particularly to care that she had lost a friend over her boyfriend-now-husband’s behaviour.

    Good riddance, I guess….except I’m still hurt.

  • Leah

    Can I still be friends with someone who sat back and watched her boyfriend insult my friends and I on social media to the point where we all had to block him? Please help, I don’t know whether or not to block her too 🤔

    • Chloe

      I posted about literally this very same thing. I stood up for myself and told her I was hurt. She laughed it off. We haven’t been friends since (it’s been 6 years maybe? after being best friends for 6 years before that). It sucks losing a friend over this type of behaviour, but if you tell someone you’re hurt by their or their significant others actions and they do nothing to correct it, then they probably weren’t a true friend, anyways.

  • Bella Zaydenberg

    I think the biggest thing I learned is that not everyone is going to be (or has to be) one big gigantic happy family. When I think two friends will click, I introduce them to each other. If they don’t hit it off, cool. But I won’t shove them down each other’s throats because “I want to hang out with boooooth of you!” It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to me. Sooooo much conflict avoided.

  • Wendy

    What about this scenario? Your partners sister hates you. She throws fits when I am around, and will actually ignore me completely for days on end for visits and holidays. Possibly because she doesn’t get the same amount of attention anymore from both her male siblings whom I’m quite close with. This woman literally throws tantrums and will physically remove herself from dinner tables, homes, and venues if something does not go her way. If my partner doesn’t come running to ask her if she’s okay, its then MY FAULT in her eyes. She has made it so it’s almost impossible to be around her family because she makes such a fuss its easier to just stay away. Does anyone else have a similar experience, or advice?

    • Adrianna

      It sounds like her family needs to stop enabling her bizarre behavior and tell her to get a grip.

      This is just my personality, but I would have a hard time trying to get her to like me in order to solve this problem. In my opinion, it’s up to your partner and his(her or their) family to handle this. Even if you’re legally married, you’re the intruder responsible for the changes in this woman’s eyes.

      I’m sure other people would advise you to invite her for coffee and a talk one-on-one