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When everybody hates your rotten boyfriend. . .

'SPEIDI' may have redeemed themselves slightly with Celebrity Big Brother, yet Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag still remain a couple you love to hate. Remember during their Hills-era glory days, when Spencer was the reality villain we couldn't stand? We witnessed first hand the perils of being enraptured by a guy that no one loves but you.

AFTER Spencer alienated everyone within a 100-mile radius (including his own family), poor Heidi had to put up with the awkwardness, the inconvenience ... the sheer torture of having a roundly unpopular boyfriend.

Her loyalty to The Pratt cost her many a girly friendship, and more than once she found herself as peacemaker, endlessly caught in the middle between paramour and pal.

Fruitless

Now, this all makes for spectacular and supremely watchable reality TV, but in real life it's a nightmare scenario.

Faced with our own Spencer Pratt, my group of friends hit rocky terrain some years ago.

One disastrous date after another, and my friend Maria's self-esteem was plummeting as quickly as her resolve to find a decent boyfriend was rising. After years of fruitless searching, she finally found The One.

The bad news is that he was The One We Were All Desperate To See The Back Of.

In the beginning, it was easy for Maria to compartmentalise her friends and her boyfriend. When we complained that we never saw her any more on account of his possessiveness, we were informed that nothing would come in the way of her cherished girly friendships.

Yet as the relationship got stronger, this proclamation became ever more hollow. Pretty soon, we friends were 'squeezed in' occasionally for random nights out. And even then, Maria would keep a keen eye – and whitened knuckles – on her phone.

Before long, Maria's relationship took its toll on most of her female friendships. If you buy into the theory that wittering on about boyfriends is the cornerstone of any healthy female friendship, we really were in trouble.

On the contrary, we'd all stiffen if her boyfriend's name was mentioned; pretty soon, Maria knew better than to even bring him up.

After going through so much down the years together, it was sad that we weren't sharing this 'happy' life chapter with her.

At first, I chastised myself for wanting this guy to disappear whence he came, and sharpish. Though I was happy for her, I wasn't sure if I was envious that her search for a relationship was over, or that a new boyfriend would disrupt the equilibrium and delicate dynamic of our girly group.

There's also that age-old adage that no man is ever seemingly good enough for your friend. Putting a new male recruit through his paces is fairly standard practice; girls are prone to becoming overly protective of their pal, ensuring that he's fully deserving of the new relationship.

Psychotherapist Teresa Bergin (www. mindandbodyworks.com) says: "Sometimes it can be difficult for a boyfriend, because women tend to form very close friendships.

"It's natural in the first few weeks of a relationship for two people to focus on each other a lot and friends can feel a bit put out. But it's definitely best to allow her the freedom to enjoy the beginnings of this relationship."

Now, not every guy in the universe is a born charmer in social situations, and there's a small chance that, while he may be Prince Charming to your friend, she has yet to pick up on the cues that others find your man opinionated, ignorant or rude.

Challenging

"Coming into an arena he doesn't know can be challenging," counters Teresa. "It's important for friends to spend time with the couple, in order to get to know him a little bit more."

But what happens when this new paramour is obviously a bad lad? After all, love isn't just blind ... it can make people stupid, too. And if someone is caught up in the heady fug of pheromones and endorphins of a new romance, there really is no talking to them. And of course it's hurtful when a pal chooses a man she's just met over mates she has known for whole decades.

"If we are in the first flush of a relationship, we may not be open to hearing about any negativity," notes Teresa. "In fact, people are vulnerable in that state of mind."

On reflection, our collective cold front can't have been much fun for Maria. When you are in love, there is nothing worse than cynics raining on your parade.

If ever her two worlds collided, things were awkward and unpleasant.

So how best to avoid an awkward moment between your pals and your boyfriend? Firstly, keep the 'early stages' fretting – the missed calls, the ambiguous texts – to yourself. It's all too easy for friends to conjure up an unfair picture of your partner. Once you're ready to bring your boyfriend into your social circle, ask yourself an important question: do you know him enough to know that he's worth getting to know better?

"If you are the girl in the middle, be aware that there can be friction there, and don't force them into situations together," suggests Teresa. "Spend time with your friends outside this relationship."

Yet what happens if, after this shaky period of adjustment, friends have made their minds up properly and the mere mention of said boyfriend makes your friends' faces fall?

In order to give your friends the benefit of the doubt, listen to their concerns or issues while keeping a handle on your reactions. Perhaps they know something you don't? Are their issues legitimate ones? Is it something he's doing, or something you're doing while you're around him?

Of course, not rubbing along with your mate's moody and socially awkward fella is one thing; quite another is watching helplessly from the sidelines as your friend gets entangled in an abusive relationship.

It's not as rare as you might think, according to statistics provided by Women's Aid. Of the 12,612 incidents of domestic violence disclosed to the Women's Aid Helpline in 2011, there were 8,399 incidents of emotional abuse, 2,337 incidents of physical abuse and 1,399 incidents of financial abuse disclosed. Says Margaret Martin, director of Women's Aid: "You could meet your friend's new boyfriend and you don't warm to that character. This shouldn't be a problem if you can see the relationship is good, he treats her well, and she's happy.

Handle

"You do have a problem if you can see him belittling her, putting her down or insulting her in a group situation. This is more subtle than physical abuse and more difficult to detect ... but can be quite corrosive."

Yet raising the thorny issue with your friend is a high-wire act; overdo it and you run the risk of pushing her away for good.

"The best way to handle it is to meet her, and simply say, 'You don't seem in good form. I'm here if you ever want to talk'," notes Margaret. "You can't say, 'I think he's being abusive'. Don't assume she's interpreting events the same way. If your friend becomes isolated from her social circle, it's okay to say 'I don't see as much of you these days'. If her boyfriend is trying to isolate her, what you can do as a friend is rebuild contact.

Ultimately, the decision to leave an unhealthy relationship rests with your friend. No amount of advice/interference will move her there until she makes her own mind up.

"If she's at a point where she hasn't made a decision to leave, he may be so much in her ear she'll have distorted perspective," suggests Margaret.

"Create a space where she can say something and move at her own pace. Eventually, something will click.

"In fact, many women wonder afterwards why they didn't see what everyone else did for so long."

Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 (10am to 10pm, seven days a week). www.womensaid.ie


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