Fearful For My Friend

  • August 03, 2021

Dear Advy,

I was catching up with an old friend the other day - we met many years ago in law school but still speak regularly. He started talking a bit about his marriage and shared that his wife has developed real anger issues and sometimes even throws things at him when she’s “really fired up.” I was shocked but didn’t really process until a bit later that he may have been disclosing the situation of current or developing domestic abuse. Generally speaking, I like to mind my own business and have no interest in interfering with another guy’s marriage.  Still, I feel like I should be doing something here - should I just encourage him to keep talking to me? Send him resources?

Fearful For My Friend

Dear Fearful For My Friend,

I’m going to stick to the two questions you have asked me:

1. Should I just encourage him to keep talking to me?

Yes, to everything except for the “just”. Encourage him to keep talking to you, yes. You should ask some key questions, though:

  • Did you mean to tell me something about how things are at home for you?
  • Do you want my help?
  • How do you want me to help?

I know those sound like you’re asking incredibly obvious questions, but they’re not. You’re doing what every good lawyer does, which is to test assumptions – both your own and someone else’s. Maybe your friend didn’t mean to tell you anything. Perhaps he doesn’t want anything more than a sympathetic ear. It could be a cry for help, or it could also be none of those things. The only thing you know is that you don’t know.

If you’re baffled by how to respond, remember that your local Lawyers Assistance Program has people who can help coach you through having difficult conversations like this. Calling your LAP isn’t just for dealing with crises. It can also just be a way to line up some expert help with things like this.

2. Send him resources?

Yup. The good news is there’s no shortage of resources available here. Start by offering the number for your local Lawyers Assistance Program. You can also find local domestic violence resources here through Canada Public Health.

Don’t make a drive-by diagnosis of your friend. You’re not fobbing him off on someone else by giving him the resources he needs to make good decisions. You’re offering the best help available.

Your friend can access expert help with the underlying problem – assuming there is one – and you can do what you do best in this relationship:  being a friend. Suppose you know your friend has the wherewithal to get needed help. In that case, you can focus on just being a good listener and giving the kind of positive support you are already good at, without having to worry about whether you are interfering.

Be well!

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