To Warn or Not to Warn

Jay, 38 and divorced for two years, was deeply in love with Kayla who he believed had kicked her drug addictions. His best friend Kent, sensing the direction of the relationship said, “Don’t marry her, she’s trouble.” Jay ignored the warning, married her and stopped speaking to his best friend.

What should we do when someone close is hell-bent on marrying someone who seems like a one-way ticket to disaster? Is the onus on friends or family to express concerns or warn?

I have questioned a number of people about this and have received a range of answers—all reasonable. Some argue that they really can’t be certain the marriage will not work out and that warning will put the friendship at risk as it did in Jay’s case. The warning will invariably be interpreted as an insult to the beloved and there will be a reflexive impulse to defend. It can also be interpreted as an insult to the friend’s judgment. Jay’s marriage lasted close to two years before he found that his wife was back on drugs and had spent them into debt. He then went to Kent and apologized. When I asked Jay if Kent was right to warn him, he said Kent was and that a friend should put it on the line if he thought it would be protective, even if it jeopardized the friendship.

Carol and David lived together in a turbulent relationship for almost three years. They fought, broke up, got back together, fought, broke up, got back together and so on, ad nauseam. When Carol lost her temper she physically attacked David and he frequently walked out. She claimed she was provoked by his screaming and cursing at her and accusing her, incorrectly she said, of having affairs. Fighting and getting back together became a predictable cycle for them as well as the friends who witnessed it. They actually believed they loved each other and that marriage would stabilize their relationship because of the added security. When asked, they both admitted that not one friend encouraged the marriage. The advice ranged from, “What, are you nuts?’ to “Think it through.”

Nevertheless, they got married, predictably fought even more and got divorced two years later, but without getting mad at their friends.

If properly heeded the advice of friends in both cases could have helped avoid a lot of fighting and hardship. But should friends always speak up? Not necessarily. And when they do, they should speak carefully. Following a 31-year loveless marriage one of my very wealthy friends found he was still in love with an Ecuadoran woman he had not seen in over twenty years. After Googling for two years, he reconnected with her and found she was also divorced. He rhapsodized about her endlessly and couldn’t wait until they met again. As he planned the trip to visit with her, it was clear to me that he was prepared to propose on the spot. I agonized about what I should do. Like Kent, I decided a warning was in order. “Frank, I am not saying don’t get married, but I am saying that you should wait until you can know her better. There is no rush after you have been separated this long.” Of course he proposed and she accepted three hours after his plane touched down. They are both ecstatically happy now after six years of marriage—thankfully, despite my attempts to intervene.

When we see a train wreck about to occur, we are obliged to give warnings. However, we should not give our opinions about the person. Rather than make it personal, it would be better to articulate issues that should be considered instead. Note that my warning to my friend did not address the woman, rather his rush to propose. If Kent said, “Jay, have you considered that drug habits are hard to overcome?” it would not have ended that friendship, even though it almost certainly would not have prevented the marriage. Sometimes information can make blind people see but if they do get married, wish them well and shut up.