You and your friend's partner

You've known Milly for 17 years. In fact, you were in primary school together. But now she has hooked up with Robin, who has a mullet, an ex-girlfriend who claimed he abused her and he's leading the high life, despite being unemployed.

What do you do? Climb in tooth and claw and tell her she's ruining her life every time you run into her? Yes, you want your friend to be happy, but do you necessarily always know what's best for her? And don't you think it's more valuable that she gets the opportunity to realise her own mistake?

What are the ten things you should never do when it comes to friends and their love lives?

Come a little closer. Get involved with your friend's partner, and there will be one fewer name on your friend's Christmas list. Doing this wins the prize from the knife-in-your-back school of low blows. Friends are supposed to be people who can be trusted – even with attractive boyfriends and girlfriends. And just think about it – if your friend's partner was prepared to get up close and personal with you while they were involved, what makes you think it won't happen now the two of you're involved?

Becoming a messenger. If there is trouble in paradise between your friend and his/her partner, don't become the messenger. You are being used to communicate uncomfortable or unpleasant things between them, and will get caught in the crossfire. Don't do their dirty work for them. When requested to relay some information, be very straightforward and simply say, "I think you should speak to him/her yourself – I don't want to get involved." Remember that saying about killing the messenger that brings the bad news? It must have its origins in the truth, so look out.

Going on and on and on. Right. If you think that your friend's latest love interest is about as attractive as a lump of putty, and as devious as a ten-foot snake, say it once, but only once. If you harp on about this every time you see your friend, guess who's going to be avoided in future? People make choices for reasons we don't always understand. But they have the freedom to choose – even if their choices don't agree with your taste.

Doing research of your own. If it's common knowledge that the new love interest has a criminal record, stalked an ex-partner, is a gold digger, or an abuser, it's only natural to convey this to your friend. But don't get involved in looking for dirt on the new partner. Don't phone previous employers or colleagues or lovers in order that you can dish the dirt. Ask yourself why you're getting so involved? Maybe you should focus a bit on your controlling behaviour and get on with your own life?

Giving unasked-for advice. People make their own choices – very often not very wise ones, seen from your perspective, but do you really know everything there is to know about the situation? If you keep on butting in with snippets of advice or warnings, very soon you will be made out to be the villain of the piece. Be careful about giving unasked-for advice. For that matter, also be quite careful about giving asked-for advice. If they split up and you tell your friend you never liked the new partner, who's going to be off the party list when they're back in each other's arms next week?

Being rude to the partner. We can't all like everyone. And let's face it, it's quite normal for most people to feel just a little bit possessive over their friends. Not obsessive, just a bit possessive. It's difficult if you're used to going to the movies every Friday night with your friend Andy, and suddenly he's got a girlfriend and you're sitting high and dry. Being rude to her is not a solution. All it will achieve is that you'll probably continue to sit high and dry, as she's going to oppose any plans that may include you. For a good reason.

Flirting with their partner. There is a big difference between being friendly and flirting. But the dividing line could be thin, so watch your behaviour. If your friend suspects you could be making a pass at their new partner, you could, in her books, go from friend to fiend, and that in three easy steps. So, it's hands off – both figuratively and literally speaking.

Excluding the partner. This can include many things – from choosing a movie you know the partner won't like, to talking about things, such as schooldays, which do not involve the partner in conversation. Then, of course, there are those invitations that preclude the presence of the partner, such as a hiking trip when she's got a broken leg. By all means pursue the friendship you've had for many years, but include the partner in most invitations, otherwise you will ultimately be the one who gets left behind.

Being dishonest. If your friend asks you a direct question about their partner, he/she is prepared for the possibility of an unpleasant answer. Otherwise the question would not have been asked. Tread carefully here, but be honest. If you think the partner is a chancer or a freeloader, mention the fact that you find the visible lack of income problematic, but don't offload every gripe you've been harbouring for the last six months.

Rallying the friends. If you don't like your friend's partner, chances are you're not alone. But wait for someone else to voice uncertainty or dissatisfaction – don't you become the bearer of bad tidings. There will come a time when the rumours and the badmouthing will all come back to roost. Avoid being in this position, as you will get a bad name as a gossipmonger, even from people who essentially agree with you.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, June 2004)

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