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Group Therapy is a relationship advice column to which readers contribute their wisdom.

A reader writes: I have a work friend I've known for three years who I have lunch with. Five years ago her husband left her for one of her friends and she refuses to move past the victim role. She dwells on the past and spends most of her time away from work in bed, neglecting her three teenagers when they're in her care. I left my own husband, not because of infidelity, but because we grew apart. I am now in a good relationship and am finding my friendship with this woman difficult. How can I move on without adding to her depressive state?"

It's her problem

Your friend's depressive state is not your responsibility. If you feel she is toxic to your life, spend less time with her, but when you are planning to get together, be positive, and stay that way. Her mood need not affect yours – don't let it.

Anne Boulton, Sudbury, Ont.

Suggest she get help

Your co-worker is still grieving the loss of both her husband and her friend, and has not yet recovered from the trauma of the betrayal. She exhibits many symptoms of clinical depression, which requires treatment. She doesn't "refuse" to move on; she can't. Suggest that she see her physician to be assessed. But you don't have to listen to her go on and on – be empathetic, and then change the subject.

Dianne Bradshaw, Hudson Heights, Que.

Get some distance

It sounds as though you suspect that there is some level of neglect in her care of her children. You have a legal obligation to alert social services if you suspect that their needs are not being met. Second, staying in a relationship out of fear that your departure may make things worse is not helping either of you. You need to find diplomatic ways to put some distance between you while still preserving the workplace dynamic.

Kevin Sullivan, Halifax


You may not realize this, but your being a casual work friend as opposed to the kind of soul sister who'd move in and start baking casseroles at the first sign of trouble, makes you particularly well-positioned to give your troubled lunch companion just the tonic she needs: a verbal smack upside the head.

Next time you're having lunch and your friend commences wallowing in her pool of suffering, cut her off with these words: "It seems to me like you're having a lot of trouble getting past this. I really think you need to talk to a professional about it."

She'll slow down only long enough to nod somberly at your words, then continue wallowing. Say again: "I really think you need to talk to a professional about it." Repeat as needed.

After the third or so repetition, she'll feel self-conscious. She'll realize you're not permitting her to wallow any deeper in her cozy, womb-like pool – every time she's about to dive down for those nuggets of betrayal and heartbreak, you yank her back to the surface. She'll feel a bit hurt, because "You need to talk to a professional" comes with a clear "You need to stop talking to me" subtext. But believe me, this is the biggest favour you can do for your friend. We've all been where she has been, and we've all, eventually, arrived at that breaking point of self-disgust, noticing how fetid and murky the once warm, caressing waters of our suffering-pool have become –until at last we understand it's time to towel off and get on with our lives.

Lynn Coady's latest novel is The Antagonist.

Next week's question

After 28 years of marriage, my wife told me a year ago she no longer loved me and wanted me to leave. After months of trying to get her into counselling (she suffers from intermittent explosive disorder), and tired of years of being assaulted and belittled in front of our three daughters, I finally left. I was a hard-working and loving husband, with no issues with substance abuse or anything that would provoke such outbursts. Now I am starting a new life in a new relationship. When I mentioned this to one of my daughters, I was accused of moving on too soon. All three of my daughters, who grew up witnessing my wife's treatment of me and have begun to emulate it, now refuse to speak to me. How can I find closure?

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