On Again, Off Again

On Again, Off Again

Q: I feel bad even writing this, and I would never say it to my friend, Sheila, but I cannot deal with hearing anymore about her ‘on-again/off-again’ relationship. I love Sheila so much and we will always be friends, but I find myself actively putting space between us and spending more time with other friends because I am so sick of hearing about her up and down relationship with her boyfriend. One minute he’s a total asshole and the next she can’t live without him. When they are ‘off,’ he’s an asshole, and she’s really appreciative of my advice to just MOVE ON! When they are ‘on,’ I’m the asshole for being apprehensive in supporting the relationship. Any advice on how to deal with this rollercoaster without losing my friend, or my sanity?

She: What I know, is that your frustration comes from a place of love. We have all had that friend that is with someone that we know is not right for them, or is continuing in a relationship that is a constant rollercoaster. Of course, I too have experienced this, both as a friend and a therapist. Being a friend means that you are exposed to the highs and the lows on a regular basis (not just one time a week). You have to be around the boyfriend, which you probably can’t stand (even though it’s most likely as much his fault as it is hers). You are forced to ride the emotional rollercoaster with your friend.

As a therapist, I get the same automatic feelings of sadness and frustration with my clients who get swept away by relationships that seem destructive, or just wrong. Unfortunately, the heart is a powerful thing, and too often the attachment between two people can be addicting enough to ignore the glaring evidence that they may just be a bad match (see article below, “But I Love Him”).

Beyond trying to have empathy for your friend, the best advice I can give you is don’t give advice, and have healthy boundaries to preserve the friendship. If continuing to hear about the ins and outs of the relationship is going to ruin your friendship then have a talk with Sheila, letting her know that you love her but you can’t talk about her relationship anymore. It’s important that she understands that you just want her to be happy and it stresses you out to vicariously experience her heartbreak without being able to change anything. In the end, she will figure this out (If anyone caught the finale of RHWOC, you know that dogs like Brooks are always revealed), and the only way you can make sure that you have a friendship at that time is to give it space, to be honest, and to do it with love.

He: I hear this dilemma a lot, and it always surprises me that people allow themselves to be a sounding board for the same conversations. I’m not going to blame Sheila for her on again-off again relationship- we all have made unsound decisions when it comes to relationships and break ups (Jen explains the physiology and psychology of this phenomenon below). Instead, I am blaming you for allowing this to define your relationship with her. My guess is that you have not effectively communicated to her that this is straining your relationship.

So now you need to figure out if, A: Does Sheila not realize that you are done with these conversations? OR B: Does she not care? It sounds like Sheila is a friend that you value, so she deserves an opportunity to show that she does care.

Most people with adequately tuned social-skills, or adequate emotional regulation, will recognize the signs of an unreceptive audience. This could be a yawn, an attempt to switch topics, or subtle, joking comment about the frequency of the topic. Even with intact social skills, she may not be responding to your subtle cues, because she is likely emotionally charged during these conversations, or she may not be able to read them well because of the way the conversations typically happen. For instance, if you typically speak on the phone, in a loud bar, or while walking together, it would be hard for Sheila to pick up on some of the more subtle cues.

You need to be need more overt. This does not mean that you have to be cruel or humorless about it. Even a simple, joking “Oh my god, I’m not talking about that with you anymore” comment should go a long way. If Sheila continues, even something playful, such as sticking your fingers in your ears and singing will get the point across while keeping the mood light, and not appearing too annoyed.

Give Sheila a few chances, to respond to your more overt measures. If there is no change, she is a friend who is willing to continue to put her feelings above yours, and therefore you shouldn’t care much about leaving her behind while you focus on friends who don’t.


Dr. Jen Semmes and Andy Wilson have been (mostly) happily married for ten years (currently happily). They are the owners of Coastal Counseling therapy center in Carlsbad, California. Jen holds a license in clinical social work and a doctorate in psychology, and is a therapist at Coastal Counseling. Andy just tries to hold it together.

If you, or anyone you know, has a question for ‘He said, She said’ please send a private message to Coastal Counseling on Facebook or email the question to coastalcounseling1@gmail.com. Check us out online at www.coastalcounselinggroup.com.

Disclaimer: This blog and the information herein are for educational and informational purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional psychological or therapeutic services.  The self-help information provided by this blog are solely the opinion of the bloggers and should not be considered as a form of therapy, advice, direction, diagnosis, or treatment of any kind. Instead, the information is designed to be used in conjunction with ongoing treatment provided by a mental health professional. Use the information in this blog at your own risk. All of the information is provided “as-is,” with no warranties of any kind, express or implied.






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