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Dating Maze #262 - Friendly Intervention
Dating Advice 262

Dating Maze #262 - Friendly Intervention

She's concerned that her engaged friend is headed for a troubled marriage. Should she try to stop it?


Dear Rosie & Sherry,

Your recently gave me advice and -- guess what -- I became engaged! This time, I'm asking for advice about how to help a friend of mine. She, too, recently became engaged, but I'm really concerned about what is going on between her and the man she plans to marry.

I see that he doesn't treat her right, doesn't show affection, and puts her down in public. My sense is that she is in an abusive relationship. I'm not the only person who feels this way. A few of her best friends have been worried about her since they began to date a couple of years ago.

They're getting married in eight weeks. As a dear friend who feels she deserves the best, what should I do? Is there a point where I should interfere, or is it too late (because perhaps she won't listen because she's in denial)? How can we stand by when we're so worried about her?


Dear Pauline,

You're right. It's difficult to know what to do when someone you care about is involved in a relationship that you don't believe is healthy… and which you think may be emotionally abusive. Does your friend really need your insight in order to be able to see her situation clearly? If so, should you intervene, rather than allow your friend to blindly enter into a marriage that may be or may become abusive, or may simply be ill-advised? Or is your friend's relationship none of your business? If you speak up, will she listen to you? Is it possible that she'll become angry at you and end the friendship?

Does it make a difference if you simply don't believe she is being treated as well as she should be, or if her fiancé is clearly acting in a way that you consider to be abusive? Do you even have the right to raise concerns when a couple is already engaged? Or do you even have the right to remain silent?

When close friends feel something is amiss, they're usually right.

From the perspective of our own decades of experience in interpersonal relationships and family law, we will say this: When more than one or two close friends or relatives feel uncomfortable about the way a couple is interacting, it's usually an indication that something is amiss. It doesn't necessarily mean that the relationship is an abusive one, but it does mean that there's a problem that should be addressed.

It sounds like what you and your friends have observed does indicate the presence of emotional abuse, or a way of interacting that will become emotionally abusive in the near future… or physically abusive as well. It could be a sign that your friend's fiancé doesn't respect her, or that there's another serious defect in the foundation of their relationship that will become a significant challenge to their future marriage.

It can also indicate that your friend's fiancé is sorely lacking in relationship skills because he never learned how to treat a woman properly, and might greatly benefit from counseling.

We can understand your not wanting your friend to get married under any of these circumstances. If there is a chance that she will listen to your concerns and do something about them, we would encourage you, as a group, to approach her on this. But you'll have to use a great deal of planning, sensitivity and diplomacy.

We suggest that the group of concerned friends get together to discuss what each of you has observed between the couple, and why it concerns you. Make a list of what you've observed and why each incident worries you. Stick to the facts, and be aware of when the conversation is digressing from its constructive purpose, to lascivious gossip. Because Jewish law forbids us to engage in gossip, during your meeting you'll need to be mindful that your sole purpose is to clarify the issues that you will present to your friend.

Next, discuss a strategy for how to approach your friend. We recommend planning to meet with her, as a group of no more than three, in one of your homes. It may be a good idea for at least one of those friends to be married or engaged herself. Keep in mind how sensitive you have to be, because no matter how delicately you speak, you'll be criticizing the man she cares about, and challenging the decision she made to marry him. You don't want to put her on the defensive (such as by suggesting or insisting that she break her engagement), as she will likely put up a wall and refuse to listen.

One possible way to introduce the discussion is as follows:

We came over tonight because we love you and care about you. We see how caught up you are with the wedding plans, and we want you to have a happy marriage. But each of us has seen a few things that we're concerned about. We wanted to talk to you about them now, before wedding plans get even crazier, so that you can consider what we have to say and perhaps do something about it.

You can explain that she doesn't owe you an explanation for anything, and she doesn't need to defend her fiancé to you or rationalize what's happened. All you want her to do is think about your concerns, and decide for herself if she wants to do talk about them with you or someone else, or get to some help in deciding how to deal with them. It may be helpful to give her information about resources she can turn to, such as a particular counselor or rabbi who helps people grapple with relationship questions.

You could suggest that she and her fiancé attend one of the workshops run by the Shalom Task Force or by Prepare and Enrich, which are both designed to help engaged couples learn healthy ways to relate to each other and build a good marriage.

Once you have decided on a plan, but before you implement it, we suggest that you speak with a knowledgeable rabbi. There are some issues of Jewish law that relate to intervening when a couple is already engaged. The rabbi will want to know what you and your friends have observed, and whether you think the future bride will listen to your concerns. He may also have helpful suggestions for you, and may want to speak to the couple himself.

She cried with relief when others voiced the concerns she'd been too afraid to confront.

Sometimes, these "interventions" are very helpful. One group of friends confided their worries to the bride-to-be's parents before all of them sat down to speak with the young woman. She cried with relief when she heard others voice the very concerns she had been too afraid to articulate… and then admitted that her fiancé had been hitting her. That evening, she was able to summon the courage to end the engagement.

In another case, a prospective bride admitted to her friends that her fiancé meant well, but never had the right role models to learn from. He actually wanted to learn "how to be a good husband," and the couple began counseling that continued well into their first year of marriage.

And sometimes, the intervention doesn't work. Your friend is an adult who is free to make her own choices. She may thank you for your concerns, and then continue on into the marriage without addressing these issues. She may refuse to listen to you or deny there is anything wrong. You may also lose her friendship.

Intervening in a friend's personal life comes with certain risks. Your group may decide that you are willing to take that risk, because there is a good chance that it will help.

Mazel tov on your own engagement, and we wish you success in helping your friend navigate the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry

July 26, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Anonymous, July 29, 2008 9:49 PM

Someone I know told me that her husband yelled at her and put her down while they were dating. She admitted that it was a warning sign that she ignored. If only someone had intervened...

I think Rosie and Sherry are 100% right on this one. If you think someone may be in a bad situation, you must do something. "Better" a broken engagement than a broken marriage. It may also be that the couple needs counseling, but can have a happy marriage. Either way, do something, but do it sensitively.

(3) DaJoy, July 28, 2008 9:03 AM

speak to her ASAP

with the deadline of the wedding it is important to do it quickly, and giving her specific phone#'s to call is also crucial. That way she has less excuse to put off pre counseling (something many people do regardless of race/religion) and hopefully less chances of HIM stalling, which if he does so is a VERY bad indication unto its self. If they've been together so long, its hard to see some of these as major things. Its difficult to take a step back. good luck

(2) CS, July 28, 2008 8:55 AM

Pauline should have finger pointed her concerns prior to her friend's engagement.

It may not be too late for her friend to cancel the engagement but I could imagine the aggravation and the grief that may ensue when a wedding is called off in such short notice, even if it may be for the sake of sparing one from future marital heartaches and calamities which may often conclude to a divorce.This particular scenario is a reminiscent to an engagement party of a friend I attended way back when. At the party, I wasn't too comfortable with her fiance's sordid demeanor and way way he interacted with his friends.Having only met her chosson for the first time, I didn't feel I was in the position to warn her. Needless to say, she proceeded on with her wedding plans only to be divorced shortly after when her ex's true colors began to surface after their marriage. My heart ached for her upon hearing the tragic news and the abuse she was subjected to but I wasn't all that shocked. All concerns about any tenuous or insalubrious relationships our friends may unsuspectingly be ensnared in must be addressed to their attention immediately. You must be able to disclose the charateristics that disturb you about this person to your friend. Sometimes there is no way of knowing until much later on but assuming that you met your friend's boyfriend several times before they became engaged, you should have intervened and let her know the cues you observed in his behavior that may manifest signs of her possibly being in a abusive relationship that she may not be aware of.

Hatzlacha Rabah!

(1) Anonymous, July 27, 2008 7:14 PM

Great Suggestion

I just read your comments of advice and you have really done a great job in putting forth the issues that need to be addressed. Unlike a profesion that you spend years in college in training for, marriage is something you have no education in. What might be right for someone may not be right for another person. Without proper training and sometimes counsueling to build a lasting marriage, one may not be aware that they are doing something wrong or right untill it is too late. But don't be so quick to judge someone, and always make certain that you are actually fully aware of the circumstances before you react, as you may in fact be breaking up something that is actually great and everlasting.

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