The Friendtervention – Should You Step In When A Friend Is In Self-Destruct Mode?

We’ve all been there. You’re on your way to meet one of your mates, and *spoiler* she’s bringing her new partner for the obligatory best-friend/boyfriend first meeting. You’re nervous. Whether you’ve been best friends with this gal since primary school, or you bonded as adults through work and life experience, you’re hoping against hope that you actually get on with this new feature in your friend’s life. After all, what could be worse than having your best friend hold a one-sided (or mutual) dislike of your significant other?

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common in adult relationships. People are different, and sometimes they just don’t get on, no matter how much you will them to. But what happens when a simple disagreement over someone’s character or personality suddenly becomes an ultimatum? Ciara, 32, knows intimately the trials and tribulations of dealing with a close friend who needed a Friendtervention in their romantic relationship – and sadly, of ultimately losing the friendship in the process.

“I’d known Nicole since we were five years old, and all through primary and secondary school, we were inseparable. During our college years, we drifted apart a little but still remained good friends, and we used social media to keep in touch,” recalls Ciara of her lost friendship.

“A few years after college, we both found ourselves living in the same town again – and we loved it. We went on nights out together and frequently met up for lunch and shopping trips, just like old times. That is, until she met Paul, and everything changed.”

Ciara says that from the very first meeting, she knew that something was up – but she couldn’t put her finger on the source of her dislike for her friend’s new partner. Feigning indifference, she put on “the performance of her life,” afraid to let Nicole know her true feelings about Paul. That is, until a few weeks before the couple was to be married when Ciara found out that Paul had been unfaithful on his stag do.

“Of course, I went straight to Nicole with the information. I was gentle in breaking the news, but her hurt led to anger and denial – and, probably needing someone to blame, I was quickly cast out of her life.”

Ciara’s story is a sad one that’s all too familiar. Naturally, most would agree that telling a friend about a cheating partner is the right call, but in scenarios that are less black-and-white and more fifty shades of grey, how often, if ever, should you stage a Friendtervention?

The answer depends on a few factors. Firstly, ask yourself: is your friend acting in a way that’s detrimental to her wellbeing, health or mental state, or is her behaviour mainly an annoyance born out of immaturity?

Personally, I myself have experienced the worry of supporting a friend whose actions reflected the former. In college, I made a close friend who became addicted to drugs – and the effect that it had on her life, and mine, was almost catastrophic.

Thankfully, my friend’s story is a happier one than Ciara’s. After deciding that this was a problem I couldn’t deal with on my own, I staged a Friendtervention with the help of our college counsellor. And I’m so glad that I did. My friend recovered, and despite the fact that she was angry for a long time, we’re still friendly. But even if she had never spoken to me again, my decision to stage a Friendtervention would have remained the same. It’s a sad fact, but when someone’s health (or potentially, their life) is involved, often an intervention is the only option.

However, in cases less life-threatening and more mildly irritating, is it sometimes better to simply ignore your friend’s bad behaviour?

In his bestselling book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ Dale Carnegie famously wrote, “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.”

While this quote may read only as a harsh, if somewhat justified, criticism of the human race, I believe that we can learn a lot from Carnegie’s use of one keyword: emotion.

When it comes to our close interpersonal relationships, it’s fair to say that often we are ruled by our hearts rather than our heads. Emotions fuel the majority of our dealings with a loved one, and the closer the relationship, the greater the intensity of emotion and the capacity to get hurt.

Therefore, when dealing with a friend whose actions are becoming annoying or self-destructive, perhaps the kindest thing you can do is to simply step back from the situation altogether.

Maybe your friend is sabotaging her relationships or lashing out due to past hurts. Maybe she’s acting irresponsibly or in a way that goes against your beliefs or your moral values, as Christina, 29, can relate to. “I’m not a religious person, but I do have a strong sense of right and wrong,” Christina says of her Friendtervention experience. “So when my friend of 10 years rang one night to inform me that she was having an affair with a married man, I knew that this was something I couldn’t just let slide.”

Sadly, Christina’s intervention in her friend’s secret relationship eventually led to the friendship’s demise. As Christina tells her story, I can’t help but wonder: does she ever wish that she had kept her opinions on the matter to herself?

“I often think about what would have happened if I’d said nothing,” she admits. “We don’t speak now and I miss the bond we once had. But I know that I could never accept or support my friend’s bad behaviour, so my hands were tied, in a way.”

Christina’s experience with the dreaded Friendtervention begs the question: is there ever a ‘right’ way to intervene when your friend is going down the wrong path?

In her essay “The Five-Step Guide to the Friendtervention,” Saher Khan defines a Friendtervention as “a wakeup call. Sometimes,” she posits, “the honest words of a friend are enough to help resolve the problem.”

However, when this isn’t the case, Saher advises that it is important to be “gentle yet firm” in your friend-tervening: “Be kind and choose your words wisely, but do not end the intervention until your friend realises that she has a problem that needs to be fixed.”

Staging a Friendtervention is never easy, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil. After all, as the old saying goes, “you’ve got to be cruel to be kind.” It may be difficult and uncomfortable, but throwing a wrench into their self-destructive behaviour is probably the noblest thing you can do to help a friend you love. They may not thank you in the short-term but in the long-run? You’ll stand out as a true friend among fair-weather frenemies.

Words: Catherine Taylor