My friend’s self-destructive behavior—specifically, sleeping with married men—is making me lose respect for her. What can I do to save our friendship, and most importantly, my lost friend?
Friends can bring us so much joy and, sometimes, pain, and everything in between. It warms my heart that you care for your friendship so much that you were inspired to seek a path toward saving it. I can offer you suggestions on how to work through this challenging situation using the traditions of mindfulness and non-violent communication.
It is clear that there is a call from your own heart for you to get honest and truthful with your friend. It will be important to do this from a place of empathy, compassion, and authenticity. You can connect to these qualities by taking space to remember what nearly all humans are seeking: To be loved, held with kindness, and accepted.
We all want to believe that deep within the heart, all beings are inherently good. It will be key for you to both honor how you are feeling in the relationship, and be open to the possibility that your friend—through her behavior—is seeking these deeply human needs. You may be able to access empathy for her by taking a bit of time to reflect on what might be happening at the root of her behavior.
An essential action in this process will be for you to lend a listening ear to her. Perhaps this deep listening will allow her to develop her own insights. Your feedback, if requested, may also help her to understand the impact of her actions. To move her toward insight will take intentional communication. This is where I think we can learn from the work of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC), which can be broken down into the following three steps.
1. Spare her your judgement.
Do your best to embody a nonjudgmental approach with your friend. Maintaining an open-mind when you feel strongly about her behavior may be tricky. In light of this challenge, you will have to hold the intention to set aside feelings of disapproval or disappointment that may arise so that you can listen clearly.
2. Name specific observed behaviors.
When it feels like the right moment, try to offer her precise and objective descriptions of her behaviors that are challenging you. (It sounds like sleeping with married men is the big ticket item.) After sharing your observations with her, it is your turn to listen with deep empathy. Aim to understand her experience. It may open up an opportunity for you to offer her nourishment and sustenance in a way that you have not previously. Remember to maintain a stance of openness and curiosity in the conversation. You may benefit from planning a bit and rehearsing your words with someone else to pick up on any implicit biases that you may not be able to see yourself. This process may also reveal a hidden desire you may have to blame and bestow punishment upon her. Do your best to steer clear of these traps.
3. Make requests, not demands.
The last step is to tell your friend what you need from her. Do you need her verbal feedback? Do you need to know what she is feeling? Is there a call to action? Read more about this step here.
The NVC tradition emphasizes that the change we hope to inspire must come willingly from the other. It must not stem from them feeling pressured or threatened by you. This process fundamentally requires compassionate engagement between you and your friend. I also recommend preparing yourself for the reality that there are no guaranteed outcomes. You can do everything “by the book”, but she may still be unwilling to change. You must be OK with that and know when to let go. Try to stay open and fight the urge to argue. In my view, it is better to end a conversation gone sour than battle it out.
Mindfulness practice is a good way to ground yourself and be prepared for whatever outcome. Specifically, mindfulness can help you uncover what your needs, values, wishes, wants and desires are. You need this knowledge to communicate them to her. Mindfulness can also help you stay steady and composed in the face of adversity.
The practice does not have to be epic. It can be simple: Take a few minutes to breath deeply, feel your feet rooted to the ground, place your hands on your heart and ask yourself to remain open. Let your heart be the source of your words. For more support with this, I invite you to try the accompanying audio meditation (feature video). It is designed to help you connect to your heart and stay open to compassion in the presence of intensity. It is always advisable to spend time journaling after a contemplative practice.
Remember, no one knows what is in your heart better than you. Trust that your heart has all of the wisdom needed to move forward. I wish the best for you, your friend, and your friendship.
By John Rettger