I've had the unfortunate experience of being less than psyched about my best friend's significant other. While I wanted to meet her exciting news of a new relationship with happiness and encouragement, I found myself at a crossroads: Should I tell her how I feel about her new boyfriend, or should I keep my thoughts to myself and continue to look the other way? Like all matters of the heart, the solution was far from black and white. In fact, it took me a few years to figure out the best way to handle the situation without sacrificing our friendship—a learning experience I'm still internalizing to this day.
Although more than a few harsh words and apologies were exchanged throughout the years-long disagreement, I'm proud to say that our friendship survived the rift unscathed. Their relationship ultimately did not stand the test of time, but our friendship has proven to be one for the books—one I'm thankful I did not jeopardize due to circumstances beyond my control. Because at the end of the day, that's perhaps the only universal truth in dealing with a friend's less-than-impressive significant other: You can't choose who your friends date, no matter how close of a bond you two share.
While it can be incredibly frustrating to watch a close friend sacrifice so much for a person you see as undeserving, remember that it's not your battle to fight. If you're currently trying to see eye to eye with your best friend's significant other, start by doing the following:
figure out why
It's arguably the most painful part of this process, but you first have to get real with yourself in terms of the root of your dislike. Ask yourself, Why don't I get along with this person? Is it simply a personality clash, or are you harboring some resentment toward them for personal reasons? Is it possible that you could be jealous of your friend's new relationship, or is their significant other jealous of your close friendship? "Before you decide to do anything with your distaste for [him or her], you need to find a valid reason why you are uncomfortable," explains Sherrie Campbell, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Loving Yourself.
"If you think it may be an issue with you, such as jealousy or your own sensitivity, then it may be worth trying to smooth things over with him for the sake of your friendship."
Find common ground
Pending the results of step one, it may be worth reaching out to this person. After all, if your best friend has decided to enter into a romantic relationship with them, there's a good chance you two have at least one thing in common, however insignificant. Rather than allowing your snap judgments to color your opinion of your friend's boyfriend or girlfriend right off the bat, now is the time for empathy, understanding, and a lot of small talk. Don't write them off before at least trying to get to know them; ask a lot of questions about their life, ideas, and interests in search of some common ground to stand on.
At the very least, you can learn to appreciate them for the love, support, and happiness they (hopefully) offer your best friend. Attempting to see eye to eye with this person is the first step in working through this situation with maturity instead of vitriol.
keep it cordial
If all efforts fail, pledge to keep relations cordial between you and your friend's significant other; failing to do so may be the pulled string that eventually unravels your entire friendship. This is one of those situations where it's worth gritting your teeth and putting a polite smile on your face for your friend's sake, even if you can cut the tension with a knife. "Your dislike of him [or her] is not going to … cause their [relationship] to be any different. You don’t have to be fake to overcompensate for your feelings, but you also do not have to be directly or harshly honest about something you cannot change," says Campbell.
She goes on to point out that talking poorly about your friend's significant other is a lose-lose situation: Not only do you look bad, but you could possibly ruin your friendship in the process. "Sometimes in life it is best to keep quiet, accept the circumstances and carry on."
While it may feel like salt in the wound, your friend is going to start spending more and more time with their new partner, regardless of your thoughts on their relationship. Instead of taking this as a personal slight, use this time as an opportunity to branch out and strengthen your relationships with other people in your friend group, romantic or otherwise. It's always best to diversify your friend group or professional network, and now's the perfect time to invest your resources into new endeavors.
This is also a great alternative if you have a hard time spending time around your best friend's partner—sometimes separation is the more mature decision, especially if you know when and where you're most likely to clash with him or her.
Have "the talk"
Addendum: Have "the talk" if, and only if, the situation calls for it. If you're concerned about issues of emotional or physical abuse, unfaithfulness, or drug addiction, for example, a caring and open conversation with your friend is warranted. Try to remain open and honest, allowing your genuine concern and support to anchor your discussion. The issue may also be worth bringing up if you've done absolutely everything in your power to peacefully co-exist with their significant other to no avail.
"You may need to sit down with your best friend, risk the friendship and be blatantly honest with her about your feelings," writes Campbell. "It is very difficult to remain close to your best friend while despising their spouse [or significant other]."
Have you ever been in this situation? Share your experience in the comments, and shop our favorite books on working through this challenge below: