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Question 

My best friend seems to have a knack for attracting super needy people in her life. She is so kind and thoughtful and just can’t seem to set boundaries.

One friend in particular has been making her life extremely hard for the past five years. It’s almost as if she needs my friend at her side every second and, if she’s not there, she flips out. Although she can at moments be a very good, kind, thoughtful friend, she is extremely manipulative. My friend bends over backwards to give this girl what she wants 95 percent of the time, but it’s never enough. And, when things don’t go her way, this girl becomes upset, inconsolable, and often threatens suicide. My friend is about to get engaged and, of course, this girl isn’t happy about it. I know my friend just wants to step back from a relationship that is sucking all of the joy out of this time in her life, but at the same time is honestly afraid this girl might commit suicide.

What does one do in this situation? She’s tried to get the girl to go to counseling but she refuses.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I just hate to stand by and watch all the pain and stress this girl puts my friend through.

Answer 

Threatening suicide is a serious thing that should be taken seriously. This doesn’t mean that your friend needs to turn into a therapist and resolve this other lady’s mental health problems. It means that your friend has a responsibility to reach out for help from this lady’s family, friends, and, if necessary, even emergency medical personnel. Keeping this threat between the two of them is a really bad idea.

If she’s actually suicidal, outside support is exactly what she needs. If, on the other hand, it’s a cry for help, the unwanted attention she’ll get from her threats will hopefully address the deeper reason she’s making these kinds of statements. Either way, she’s not on stable ground and needs way more help then your friend can give her. Being a better friend to her will not resolve this situation.

When suicidal threats are thrown out as a way keep someone close in a relationship, the relationship crosses into a new dimension that cannot be ignored. It’s manipulative to say to someone, “if you don’t give me what I want, I’ll kill myself.” Most people feel paralyzed by this and give in. This is not a friendship. It’s taking someone emotionally hostage.

Your friend needs to be reassured that whatever this lady does in response to the distance is not her fault. Even though there may have been things she could have done things differently earlier in the relationship to prevent this escalation, she always has permission to change the nature of the relationship. No amount of explaining her reasons to this other lady will make a difference. She needs to decide how and if this other lady will fit into her life, and then stick to her decision.

Your friend will need help and support to break off this relationship. Counseling for your friend is a great idea. Make sure she has your ongoing support as well. Healthy connection from friends can show her what supportive friendships look like.

Your friend has faulty beliefs about her roles and responsibilities in relationships. Unless she challenges those beliefs and develops healthier ways to relate to others, this will be a recurring theme with her husband, her future children, and other people in her life. She needs to learn that she is not a powerless victim of this other woman’s neediness.

I recommend she do some reading on this topic. There are excellent resources that can help her learn how to set healthy boundaries with others. Here are a few of my favorites:

Pungent Boundaries by Nancy Landrum
Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better by Gary and Joy Lundberg

http://www.boundariesbooks.com/videos/ (free videos on how to set healthy boundaries)

I also recommend she attend an LDS Addiction Recovery Family Support group (arp.lds.org) to learn and practice principles of relating to others in healthy ways.

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT