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Friend can't quit bad relationship with married man

DEAR CAROLYN: My very best friend has had very little luck in the romance department. She has been on and off for the past five years with a married man who has three kids under 6. His wife found proof of him cheating on her and blocked my friend's number and all her social media. My friend was desperate to get back in touch with him and found some loophole through an account that wasn't blocked. Once he realized she was blocked, he unblocked her and the saga began again. The affair persisted through him giving her an STD — because of course he has multiple partners — and his wife getting pregnant two times while they were together. She has dated some other guys but constantly compares them to this guy, the "love of her life." She has incredibly high standards and knows this guy will never leave his wife and even if he did, he would constantly be cheating on her because that's just how he is. She has been cheated on before and knows how much it hurts. She knows how much I disapprove, too, and I never bring it up; the topic only comes up if she brings it up. She is now "dating" a new guy she isn't really into. The guy is really into her. If he knew she was still sleeping with this married man he would be crushed. I am really worried about her and the bad karma she is racking up, and that she won't choose herself over some jerk. Is this really not my place, or is there something I can do to help her?

Conflicted BFF

CONFLICTED BFF: I would call those incredibly low standards. Wow.

And calling it "luck" is the kind of thing I walk off during my lunch break.

There has always been an emergency or illness exception to the "not my place" rules, and your friend's behavior qualifies. It's not one stupid fling, it's years of self- and other-destruction. Emotionally, she needs professional care.

The details of who saw what, when, through what attempts to block, and after infecting whoever with whatever, are just so many symptoms — again, not of romantic anguish. They are symptoms of deep problems in her ability to function emotionally.

They may soon manifest as physical symptoms in the poor benighted new guy, too, if your friend's casual disregard for the new guy continues, and the married guy's disregard of everyone but himself continues, and her disregard for his disregard continues. "Bad karma" would seem quaint here even if it all weren't so offensive, and, if there's knowing infection, possibly even a crime.

Your friend's emotional dysfunction is not something you can fix for her. You can help, however: Stop using language that minimizes and downplays her destructive choices and treats them as if they're just on the bad end of the romance-as-usual scale.

Instead, speak unequivocally in health terms only. "I am worried about you. You're hurting others and getting hurt. If you felt this bad physically, then you'd see a doctor. Feeling this bad emotionally is what therapy is for." Say it once in full, then repeat a condensed version whenever the topic comes up. "This is not OK. Please get help." No guarantees, but there's power in truth + concern.

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