Adventures in Dating

A savvy guide to courtship and communication.

Dislike of a Friend’s Romantic Partner

Do you tell your friend? Research highlights why, why not, & friendship effects

A difficult situation that we will all undoubtedly face in life is one wherein we dislike the person our friend is dating. Such a situation presents conflicting feelings: on the one hand, you’re happy for your friend because he/she has found someone, while simultaneously you are concerned and frustrated. These feelings become even more annoying because often you’re subjected to spending time with the person you dislike.

Such an experience is unfortunately common. This potentially explains why it has been the subject of television shows, both scripted and “reality.” Consider the following: Chandler and Janice, Kelly and Jeff (but not Zack), Ronnie and Sam, Gretchen and Slade…and you get the idea (but never Cory and Topanga).

A natural question for many, then, becomes whether or not to disclose the dislike of your friend’s romantic partner to your friend. A study by Zhang and Merolla highlights the reasons for (non)disclosure, as well as the effects on the friendship.

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In their study, 59% of participants reported that they expressed dislike of their friend’s romantic partner to their close friend. The researchers then explored the reasons why individuals expressed or withheld dislike of friend’s romantic partners.

Five general categories of reasons were identified driving disclosure of dislike: “protection of my friend’s well-being (57%) and obligation for honesty in friendship (26%). Illustrating the first category, a respondent said, ‘I told because I want to protect her from being hurt.’ A participant who said, ‘I had to be honest and tell him because he is my friend,’ exemplifies the second category; ‘it is my duty to make sure he is happy.’ The third category, friend being asked (15%), references a friend’s opinion being requested. The fourth category, better perspective (5%), reflects the notion that friends can better see problems than relationship participants. A few respondents (3%) said that a fear that their friendship was in jeopardy motivated them.” As the statistics indicate, most participants’ reasons comprised one of first two categories.

Recall that roughly 40% of participants withheld dislike of friends’ romantic partners. Five categories of reasons described their motives for non-disclosure: "worries of upsetting the friend (54%), represents concern the disclosure would create awkwardness in the friendship, and included comments such as, ‘I won’t tell him because I do not want him to feel uncomfortable.’ The second category, friend not bothered (48%), was comprised of statements like, ‘If he’s happy, then it is a minor problem.’ The third category, conflict avoidance (23%), reflects participants’ concern that conflict will transpire from their disclosure. The fourth category, none of my business (14%), refers to the belief that negative comments about romantic relationships are ‘off limits.’ As one respondent said, ‘I may not like her, but it’s not my place to interfere.’ The fifth category (12%), telling will not have an effect, represents individuals’ feeling their friends were ‘too caught up’ in their relationship for disclosure to be of consequence. An example is the response: ‘I don’t like him at all, but she wouldn’t drop him at this point even if I did tell her.”

For those individuals who feel the urge to tell their friends that they do not like their romantic partners, please pay careful attention to the next set of analyses. Following disclosure of romantic partner dislike to friends, participants reported feeling less satisfied in their friendships, not as close to their friends, and were less likely to continue the friendship. These results clearly implicate that disclosing dislike of a friend’s romantic partner to a friend tarnishes the friendship.

Although it may be an annoying experience to have your close friend date someone you dislike, take comfort in the fact that their dating relationship is, most likely, temporary. Remember that most relationships are doomed to fail – if that was not the case, most people would marry the first person that they dated. Thus, your friend’s relationship will not likely endure. Recall that similarity is attractive, and consequently, we are similar to our friends. Therefore, it is probable that your friend, whom is similar to you, will also eventually become annoyed with his/her romantic partner.

In conclusion, this is a difficult situation and one should tread carefully. When debating whether or not to disclose the dislike of your friend’s romantic partner to your close friend, be mindful of the Zhang and Merolla study. Ultimately, disclosures of romantic partner dislike will likely damage your friendship…the romantic relationship is probably short-lived, but your friendship should endure. In the meantime, I invite you to read the Zhang and Merolla study as only some of their results are reported here.

Follow me on Twitter @therealdrsean for relationship commentary/links, complaints about mass transit, and support for WVU Athletics. Continue to follow this blog for future entries about deception, online dating, using affection to lie, workplace romance, and other issues that make obtaining and retaining a mate oh so interesting.   

Zhang, S. & Merolla, A. J. (2006). Communicating dislike of close friends’ romantic partners. Communication Research Reports, 3, 179-186. doi: 10.1080/08824090600796393

Sean M. Horan, Ph.D. is a faculty member in the College of Communication at DePaul University who researches the communication that occurs in dating relationships.

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