Your friend’s about to marry a toxic guy. What to do?

What do you do when you see a dear friend headed for certain disaster? It’s a tough situation, trying to balance your concern for someone you love while still giving the friend his or her space.

Heck, I’ve been in that spot myself. What did I do? I wrote a thinly-disguised HuffPost article about it, that’s what I did. He got married anyway, and I think we’re still friends. But I digress. Here’s a great letter illustrating that point:

Hi Dr. Ali,
I am a big fan of your book and have recommended it to several of my friends. I had a question and was hoping to get your advice. One of my closest friends has been seeing someone who I feel he is a giant screaming neon red flag.

I’ve tried to talk to her about it, but she’s convinced he will change for her. He’s in his early thirties and has cheated on every relationship he has ever had. His marriage wasn’t going well and he started a relationship with his second girlfriend while still married. His ex before my friend apparently started dating him when he was still closing the book on the second girlfriend and my friend started seeing him while he was still dating the third girlfriend because he said things weren’t going well.

They didn’t officially start a relationship until she moved out (yes- he never ended the relationship, she did). They’ve been together for a little under two years with large periods of him being away for work for months at time in between and they just got engaged.  They plan to get married in two months.

I am afraid she will be badly hurt in this process. I understand people have to make their own mistakes but am I misled? Is there a plausible explanation for his behavior? Or is his behavior a sign of a much bigger issue, and she needs to run away hard and fast? Thank you so much, Rhiannon

Rhiannon –
Wow, that’s a helluva story. Thanks for sharing.

Sounds like your friend is setting herself up for a high-speed crash into a wall. This is the most troubling sentence in the letter:

“I’ve tried to talk to her about it, but she’s convinced he will change for her.”

Yipes. The probability of this boy changing his behavior and suddenly becoming an obedient boyfriend who’s not interesting in fooling around with other women is not 50%. It’s not 10%. It’s not even 1%. It is precisely ZERO.

Which means that, if what you say is true, there is a 100% likelihood that he’s going to cheat on her. And that, once they’re married, he’s going to get antsy again and leave the marriage. This dog ain’t learning new tricks; the old tricks are plenty sufficient.

In general, the idea that someone is going to change when in a relationship with you is a dangerous mixture of fantasy, naivete and blind egotism. Some woman out there volunteered to be Charlie Sheen’s 4001st girlfriend, thinking, “Oh, the other 4000 women were fools. I’m going to be the one who changes him with my loooove.” No, honey. You’re just fool #4001.

I know it’s hard for people to change behavior because I professionally help them change. So even when they’re super-determined to make a change — to the point of being willing to pay big bucks for it — it’s still hard to do. With this philandering fellow you’re describing, there is zero hope.

For the other ladies who are reading, the message is this: go for the guy who’s already a good fit for you.

As for what you can do — well, these situations are tough, because in the end, there’s not a whole lot you can do. People have to live out their own fates and learn through their own mistakes. That said, this is your friend, and if she were cutting her wrists or unknowingly eating rotten shark flesh, you’d stop her. This isn’t so far off.

Remember, talking sense to her is not going to work that well. That’s going to hit her at the level of the cerebral cortex, and that logical part of her brain went on vacation long ago when she met this guy. Right now, she’s operating at the level of the emotional brain, the limbic system. So you need to hit her with some powerful emotion. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Assemble a panel of friends under the guise of a dinner outing or something. Have every one of them tell her, in no uncertain terms, what they think about this guy. Preferably, there will be people in the audience who went through a similar experience and lived to tell. Drama is good.
  2. Dig up the exes and have them talk to your friend or write a note to her.
  3. Dig up incontrovertible evidence that he’s cheating right now, since there’s a very high probability that he’s been doing it all along. This could be a good wake-up call.
  4. This one worked for me once: Take her on a mental preview of her marriage. She wants to have kids, right? Now have her imagine the little kids going through all the pain of this guy’s cheating ways: “Mommy, why isn’t daddy home? Was that other lady that he was kissing my aunt?” And when the time of the inevitable divorce comes: “Is daddy leaving us because of something I did?” For extra impact, fast-forward to when the daughters are grown up and going through the pain of dating unfaithful men themselves: “Well, we watched you do it, Mom. That’s how we learned.”

In the meantime, if you’re worried that this guy might be dangerous, read up on The Sociopath Next Door and The Sociopath Test and see if he fits the bill. If he does, it’s a much bigger red flag than you think. In any case, if you do something instead of nothing, at the very least you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done your part.

1 Comment on “Your friend’s about to marry a toxic guy. What to do?”

  1. funmilayo

    hello Dr Ali
    I have been following your blogs and i find them quite helpful and intriguing. You re an epitome of wisdom when it comes to relationships and love advice.
    However, I need some of that counsel to get a man so i can get married. Over the past couple of years most guys that i have been coming across just want to have sex with me. If i give in they leave if i dont they end up leaving. Even when i try so hard to make them see a reason to stay with my good actions, intentions and will they still end up leaving. What do i do?

    Secondly how do i decipher a good man that is ready to settle down from one that just want funand how do i relate my past to them.