Advice

How to Deal With Friends Suffering From FOBU (Fear of Breaking Up)

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seinfeld_george_susanThe only thing worse than having a friend whose boyfriend you can’t stand, is having a friend who can’t stand her own boyfriend — and yet continues to date him. The situation is taxing for everyone — for your miserable friend, for her hapless boyfriend, but mostly, for you, because you’re the one who has to listen to her complain about the relationship not stop, egg her on, agree that, yes, his behavior is juvenile/emotionally manipulative/gross, and then slap on a happy face when she tells you that, yes, of course he’ll be attending your birthday party, wouldn’t dream of missing it, they are, after all, a couple.

As frustrating as FOBU (fear of breaking up) is when you’re experiencing it yourself, it’s even more frustrating when you’re watching a friend go through it. Because you (unlike them) have an objective view of the whole situation. FOBU is so much easier to diagnose in others than it is to diagnose in yourself, which puts you, The Friend, in the unfortunate position of recognizing it immediately, and then idly standing by as your friend’s relationship drags on (and on, and on). And while your wells of empathy for a BFF with boy/girl problems should be endless…they’re not.

“JUST BREAK UP WITH HIM!,” you want to scream, or maybe do scream, as she goes over her well-trodden litany of complaints for the 60th, 70th, 80th time. “IF YOU’RE SO UNHAPPY, JUST BREAK UP!”

“But he’s so nice!” She’ll counter. “But he’s going through a hard time right now.” “But things were so good.” But I’m too scared of cutting the cord.

So friggin annoying. Here’s how to deal.

1. Accept That You Are Powerless

Here’s the thing about FOBU: you can’t talk someone else into getting over it. Because as much as a friend claims to value your opinion and need you for insight, ultimately your opinion on the relationship isn’t what matters.

I had a friend once, and her boyfriend wouldn’t say “I love you.” Like, ever. Not after a year, not after two years, not after three. This friend was wracked with relationship insecurity, and kept asking me if I thought it was a bad sign. “That you say ‘I love you’ to him and he’s never ever said it back? Yeah, that’s a bad sign.”

And then she’d get defensive and we’d have to change the subject and she just. Kept. Dating. Him.

You can paw and cajole and shake her violently by the shoulders, but at the end of the day, a girl’s not going to break up with her boyfriend until she’s good and ready. Which, unfortunately for you, could take years.

2. Don’t Let Her Vent (As Much)

Listening to someone complain about a significant other is a basic tenant of friendship. You’re not going to get out of it entirely. But if the friend is using you to vent all her relationship frustrations, she has to realize that it’s going to affect your opinion of her boyfriend, and eventually of her.

I had a (different!) friend who complained regularly about her boyfriend — for hours. It was all we talked about on the rare occassions that we saw each other. They never broke up, and what happened instead is that I simply started hating her poor boyfriend — unfair, really, since I was no doubt getting a biased perspective of him.

It’s fine to vent a little bit every now and then, and complain after an especially harrowing fight. But it’s not fair to repeat the same arguments over and over and over, totally coloring your perception of the man she’s choosing to spend most of her life with, and then expecting you to be equally as happy on those rare occasions when she has something good to report.

The next time a friend starts to launch into a tirade about her significant other, gently and firmly tell her, “Hey. I understand that you’re feeling frustrated, but I’m not sure I’m the right person to talk to about this anymore. I don’t want to start hating your boyfriend, especially since it doesn’t seem like you’re really going to break up anytime soon!”

If she’s not going to break up with him, she should be aware of how her constant complaining is coloring your opinion.

3. Trust That Eventually, She’ll See The Light

Remember the friend whose boyfriend never said I love you? Four years later, out of nowhere, she broke up with him. She simply reached the point where the necessity of a breakup overcame the fear of breaking up, and did it — quickly, painlessly, with very little build-up or remorse. Later, she bemoaned the fact that she hadn’t just broken up sooner, but in a way, I think she broke up the second she was able to.

Because, your friend isn’t an idiot. And if she’s complaining about her boyfriend to you, it’s because she KNOWS something is not quite adding up. It’s just a question of when she comes to terms with it.

Chiara Atik (@chiaraatik) writes for The Date Report and other publications. Her first book, Modern Dating: A Field Guide, is available for pre-order now, on shelves May 1.

More on FOBU:
Introducing FOBU: The Fear of Breaking Up
The 10 Signs You Have FOBU (Fear of Breaking Up)
8 Celebrity Couples Who’ve Let Fear Run Their Relationships
Have You Experienced FOBU? 6 Readers Share Their Stories

More from Chiara:
How to Ask Someone Out on Twitter
The Complete Guide to Googling Your Date (Or Crush. Or Ex. Or Cute Barista. Or….)
Digital Turnoffs: 5 Ways to Blow It Over Email or Text
Millennial Women, Rejoice: It’s Our Hookup Culture, Too.

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