I’m the type of person you can tell anything. If you tell me your business, it doesn’t end up “in the street.”  You can tell me things you think I should know without “clap back.” But sometimes people still struggle with whether or not to tell me something, or if they decide to tell me, they struggle with how to say it. This is especially true in the area of relationships.

The counterpart to “no snitching” is “if you see something, say something.” Law enforcement has struggled to get it to catch on. It’s even harder to get people to do when it comes to someone’s relationship. Some people will speak up, but they do so in ways that put the other person off, or they do it so often they become the friend who cried “break up with him/her.” Others “what if” themselves out of saying anything: What if I’m wrong? What if the person already knows? What if the person blames me for telling them instead of the person they are in a relationship with? What if that’s just how they roll? I’m closer to the other person in the relationship, so should I say anything? I don’t know them well enough to say anything to them. The list goes on and on like Erykah Badu’s debut single.

I’ve had instances where someone I wouldn’t call a friend had to approach me with some sensitive relationship information. It’s not a situation I’d ever want to be in, but through the experience, I have first hand proof it can be done. My boss at the time saw something she felt she had to bring to my attention. We were NOT friends and she didn’t know much about me outside of work, but she decided to speak up anyway. She prefaced the discussion by saying she didn’t know my relationship or if I already knew about what she was sharing, but if it was her, she would want someone to let her know. She handled the situation delicately, and I was grateful for how she handled it.

Unlike reality TV style drama, when someone comes to you expressing real concerns and misgivings, it can be a life saver. It can save you time, energy, money, heartbreak, heartache, and sanity. It can keep you from making bitter #wastehistime2017 memes or letting your inner Petty Boop out in other ways all over social media.

As someone who has had to be the friend who spoke up as well as the recipient of the relationship penalty flag, I’ve noticed these things work best when sharing sensitive info about someone’s “boo”:

  1. Consider how you would like someone to share this information with you, especially if you don’t know them well. Also, consider the person in question. What sort of approach would they appreciate?
  2. Do it privately. Don’t put anyone’s business out on front street. You’re being “messy” and trying to embarrass them when you do it in public. No one wants to hear anything from Petty Patti.
  3. State the facts, not your opinion. If you stick to what you actually witnessed or experienced, and not your feelings or thoughts on it, you give the person the chance to think it through and draw their own conclusions. You also lessen the chance they will go on the offensive and spend more time defending their partner than hearing what you’re saying.
  4. Encourage the person to discuss things with their partner. They need to handle the issue in-house. Don’t turn it into a bashing session. Redirect them to the person they are in a relationship with to clarify things. Perhaps they don’t have the same understanding of their relationship status as their partner. Either way, they need to talk it out.
  5. Avoid telling  people what they need to do. More often than not, this just pushes the person into defense mode. Asking questions and offering support is a much more effective tactic.
  6. What they do with the information is their business. If they decide to stay in the relationship or end it, it’s their decision. If they regret it later or express the sentiment they should have listened to you, don’t beat them up about it.

Telling people after the relationship has broken up is rarely helpful. Most people do this because they wanted to spare the person’s feelings or didn’t know how to tell the person, but as with discipline, when you spare the information, you spoil the child. Who knows how much heartache and wasted time could have been avoided if you spoke up? No one. But there’s a whole lot of petty gossipping and bashing that can be avoided when you don’t start saying what you should have said when it happened.

It’s not always easy to decide when to speak up and when to keep something to yourself, especially about someone’s relationship, but hopefully the things I listed will give you something to think about and help you decide when to be someone’s wise counsel or listening ear.