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I have a female friend who is going through a divorce, and she will talk to me at times for emotional support. My girlfriend is not happy with this.

My friend has very few people to turn to and I do not want her to feel abandoned. Similarly, I do not have many friends and wouldn't want to lose her either.

My girlfriend, though, deserves my primary emotional attention and I shouldn't let someone else take that away. Furthermore, she feels that this sort of interaction is inappropriate and is concerned about the possibility of romantic interest arising from this, or that there already may be some on the other end. I tend to be want to help people but I don't want to be in a situation where I feel trapped by the emotional needs of someone however distressed they may be, especially at the expense of my relationship.

So, I would like to find a way to set some appropriate emotional boundaries and distance, and ideally I would like my friend to still feel supported and able to cope. Right now we do not talk too often, maybe once every week or two, but my girlfriend and I wouldn't want this to foster any dependency or grow bigger in any way.

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    How frequently does your friend reach out to you for support, and what does that support entail? It's one thing if your friend calls you once a month for an hour or so, and something else if she calls you every other day for 4-hour marathon conversations. – Upper_Case May 22 '18 at 3:06
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One suggestion on where to start would be to function as one "unit" with your girlfriend, and focus the emotional support coming from the "you + your girlfriend" team (kinda like when you give a gift to someone and it's from you AND someone else). Have lunch with your friend to catch up, but bring your girlfriend along, for example. Emails can be group emails where it's you, your girlfriend, and your friend in the address list.

Now, I do understand that this may limit how much your friend may open up to you. However, the plus side of that is what I believe you're asking for: the distance provided by the feedback that the presence of your girlfriend would provide, but at the same time knowing you're providing even some support to your friend.

An additional possibility to this, depending on how your friend and girlfriend vibe, is that they may even start to have conversations one-on-one without you present, which may support the goals you indicated.

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I feel there are 2 issues here:

  • you don’t want to feel weighed down too much by providing a lot of emotional support
  • your girlfriend doesn’t trust you enough to care for a friend in need

The first point is fair indeed. I have been this go-to guy too for someone for a while and it can be extremely tiring. Especially if it’s not a temporary situation but something long-term like depression. The desire to help people shouldn’t come at the cost of your own life (too much)

The second point is more tricky. Do you want to be the person that cannot give support to a friend going through a bad time, just because your girlfriend is jealous? Does a relationship where someone don’t quite trust the other to be alone with a friend of the opposite gender not require some work?

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The way to go is to convey you are not interested in her.

Sustain a coherent and constant signal.
You have many options, you can do more than one of these:

  • Bring your girlfriend to your meetings, so if she needs some minutes of privacy your girlfriend is just around the corner, this will also help you set boundaries about time spent talking with her.
  • Introduce new men to your friend, be sure to keep your girlfriend posted so she knows you are not romantically interested in your female friend and taking steps for her to get with some other person.
  • Recommend a dating site.
  • Recommend professional therapy.
  • If both are ok with it, girlfriend and female friend can become friends.
  • Avoid being alone together, if she wants to talk, meet at public spaces.

If your girlfriend needs you to stop seeing her, you said you don't want to loose this friend, so keep in touch by phone, not text, because that is too impersonal. Send her a care package and explain your girlfriend concerns, she should understand.

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    Public spaces aren't really the place you'd go to seek emotional support. Recommending professional therapy may be both excessive and overstepping a boundary. A dating site is very situational; who says they're already looking for a new partner? (the same applies to introducing new men). Most answer you provide are not actually proving emotional support, but rather covering OP's ass to create a paper trail of evidence as to why OP's not interested in her, should the girlfriend ever make a bold accusation. – Flater May 22 '18 at 12:07
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I think emotional boundaries start with what YOU can not accept. Saying no is powerful and often it pushes the other person to find solutions in a way that's not dependent on you. It's heathy both ways.

You have as much right to your emotional/relationship wellbeing as your friend. And you should trust your friend in that she is capable like any other capable adults of taking care of her own emotional wellbeing, with or without you in it.

On the other hand, it's your responsibility to set expectations with her. You own it to her to clearly communicate what you could and could not handle when supporting her. It will only strengthen your friendship and trust in the long run. If she's a good friend and genuinely cares about you, she probably wouldn't want to burden you any ways.

Being open about it helps achieve both of your goals - give her the support she needs in the way that you can and strengthen the friendship.

I don't think anybody else could answer this for you. One way to figure it out is to feel your emotions as they are pretty good signals, e.g. What your female friend does that would make you feel stressed, tired, concerned, or angry, etc.

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