How to deal with an unbalanced friendship

I think I’m pretty much an expert on this topic. I am extremely lucky to be able to count my long-term, close friends on two hands. I’ve known some of my oldest friends since before I could talk. Some of my newer friendships, still with considerable longevity, started at university.

And then there are the many that fell by the wayside, that either ended in an explosion of angry fireworks or fizzled sadly, and inexplicably, into oblivion.

The ones that have ended, whether badly or quietly, have always run their course for the same reason. There was a fundamental imbalance in the friendship that ended up causing quiet, or not so quiet resentment. So what are the types of unbalanced friendships? And when can you salvage the situation or how do you know when it’s really over?

They stop responding

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One day you’re besties, chatting every day and counting on each other for everything, the next they’ve gone silent on you. Replies to your messages, if any at all, are curt and abrupt. Suddenly rather than asking how you are they send you a conversation-ending “hope you’re well”. Because nobody wants to answer a question that wasn’t asked. Once or twice and you can assume they’re just busy, but when it becomes a frequent pattern you have to start asking yourself the tough questions. Was it something you said? Something you did? Or worse, and most dreaded, something you are?

Whether or not you can fix it is dependent on whether this is based on a short-term cause of offence, or something that’s happening in their lives, or whether it’s something more.

The first course of action is to check in that your friend is OK. “I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit quiet lately, is everything alright?” If, after a decent amount of time there is no response, the second question is “have I said or done something to upset you? You mean a lot to me and I hope we can talk.” If there’s no response to this, I’m afraid you have your answer, but with no closure.

For whatever reason, the likelihood is your friend was trying to quietly phase you out without the awkwardness of having to do so explicitly.

This isn’t necessarily about you so please don’t be hard on yourself – sometimes you’re just in different places, your lives have moved at different paces and you don’t have as much in common any more. Unless circumstances come to light that you weren’t aware of, it’s probably time to move on. Remind yourself of all the friends that do love you for who you are and don’t take it as a slight on your character.

You’re their shoulder to cry on, but they disappear when you’re in distress

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When they have a problem, you’re all ears. You’ve taken midnight sobbing phone calls, dropped everything to help them out, but when you’re going through a difficult time they are suddenly and mysteriously busy. If you do manage to catch up with them their reaction is awkward. Confusing, given the intimate friendship you share when they need it.

Some people just aren’t equipped to deal with the emotional needs of others. The fact that they lean on you so often is probably indicative that all is not well with them. It can feel very rejecting and lead to resentment when you’ve invested your heart into someone who can’t invest it back, but instead of getting angry, just wish them love and let go of the idea that you share the reciprocal bond you thought you did. Lower your expectations and decide on whether or not you are happy to be more therapist than friend, or if you need to quietly back off.

Your friend blows hot and cold

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One minute you’re flavour of the month, the next they’re seemingly excluding you from their plans. Then, without warning, they’re back again as if nothing happened. It’s important not to take this personally, people have busy lives, people go through things. I’m sure when I’ve been going through difficulties, some of my friends have thought I ditched them.

However, if this happens on a regular basis, it’s important to question whether or not they’re a fairweather friend. Is it something you feel comfortable enough to talk about with your friend? The likelihood is they aren’t aware that you feel left out or hurt when they become more aloof and are probably just busy flitting between groups being social butterflies and completely unaware that you’re upset at all. Don’t be accusatory when you approach them, the likelihood is that their “ignoring” you is just that it didn’t occur to them you’d want to be a part of their plans.

The bankrupting friend

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I’m sure we all have at least one friend who expects you to whip out your wallet for every hang out. Maybe you offered to pay the first time and they didn’t realise the offer expired, or maybe they’re not too plush themselves and think that you’re the wealthier party.

In any case, a couple of subtle hints ought to do the trick here. Next time your friend suggests hanging out, say that you’d love to but you’re a bit strapped for cash. Either they will offer to pay their own way (or, by some miracle, for both of you) or they will stop expecting you to act like a walking cash point.

How to cope when a friendship ends

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Sadly, not all friendships are meant to last forever. Some friends are around for a few months, some for a few years, and some you can go months without talking and still know that they love you and will be there for you if you need them – and that nothing will have changed. Sometimes the universe just sends you a friend at the right time and for a short time.

A true friendship doesn’t breed insecurity or resentment, it’s as comfortable and familiar as a fifty year marriage. Don’t be heartbroken if someone you care about isn’t in it for the long term, if you look at it without negative thoughts clouding your vision, you’ll realise that plenty of people are – focus on them and forget the rest.

4 Comments on How to deal with an unbalanced friendship

  1. Laura
    June 10, 2014 at 3:56 pm (3 years ago)

    Hi- I’m experiencing a difficult transition with someone who I’ve been close with for two years now.

    We dated for a few weeks in the beginning- the became friends- really good frirnds. The kind that understand one another and care deeply. At one point last summer I recognized and was honest with him and I about my feelings.

    We went on a trip to Greece together – came back and explored and deepened our friendship/relationship-

    And it became strained. It started as an open relationship- after 4 months I wanted to continue exclusively- he did not.

    We separated and went back and forth- talked a lot- cried a lot.

    We took some time apart- and then got closer- now he’s dating someone new.

    Whenever he meets someone new- he stops talking with me and initiating contact- that’s been the core issue.

    I know he’s not a good partner for me- but we were really good friends once- we had a lot of fun together-

    Now – I sense a lot of withdrawal and he doesnt seem to mind if we stay good friends or not.

    I feel very sad- because I’ve been a consistant friend through good times- his fathers illness- breakups- etc… And I feel disposable.

    I don’t want to take three months off-

    All I really want is for him to tell me and show me that the friendship is valuable- meaningful- and that if we take a break- he wants to be there and be friends at the end. The ambivalence is torture- and I don’t understand it.

    Do you have recommendations? I feel stuck. I do have supportive friends and a good therapist.

    Reply
    • Sara - Darling Lovely Life editor
      June 12, 2014 at 8:05 am (3 years ago)

      Hi Laura, I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. I think every woman at some point or another has had a friend like this – the one that picks you up and dumps you when it suits them, especially when there are romantic feelings involved. I’m not a therapist so I’d hate to give rotten advice, but the only thing I can say that helped me in the past is that maybe you need to let yourself feel the sadness. I’m not saying you should wallow in it or make a concerted effort to be sad, but perhaps you’re hanging on to this friendship because you are afraid of how you will feel when it ends. If you face the sadness head on and decide not to be afraid of it, maybe letting go will become a possibility. I don’t know the ins and outs of your situation, but it sounds to me like you want more from him than he’s willing to give. He may never be able to give you the validation and care that you deserve, so perhaps it is time to put yourself first and if he really values the friendship, he will follow. Huge hugs, so glad you have a supportive network around you xxx

      Reply
  2. Gillian
    September 10, 2014 at 9:30 am (3 years ago)

    I had two friends one was in my class at School the other was her friend, I met both of them in 1983 things have changed, my friend Jacqui lost her mum so I helped through this, but when I lost my own mother, she turned ice cold and said to me, well that’s life, I was in pain with grief, it’s not words you want to hear,

    my friend from school I have tried to phone but doesn’t return my calls she lost her dad a year ago so I said I am here if you want to talk

    I thought my friendship with these two girls would last forever forever, but I was so wrong, I was told by my friends mum to keep in touch but it’s only me doing this I have had enough now and stopped what’s the point if she is now sharing the phone calls

    I had good times with them but come to terms with all good things come to and end and we must move on my career in my job is moving on but it’s the company of people I miss and have lost confidence in trying to make friends socially I feel so hurt and lost

    I am a cheerful and charismatic person at work but is trying to make new friends outside that I feel hardest to find I have tried voluntary work, but can’t now because of having to be flexible in my job

    I live with my dad who is wonderful I can’t afford to get a flat as I am part time I am a youngest 53 year old life is passing me by

    I am not a sad person but this gets me down some times

    Reply
  3. Gillian
    January 19, 2015 at 5:40 pm (2 years ago)

    Got a card from Theresa from my birthday which said to a special friend, i sent her Christmas card before Christmas guess when I got hers well try the 27th December,

    I am sorry but I don’t know what kind of friendship she wants, but I am sticking to my guns and not phoning

    I don’t mind helping people friends, family but hate getting taken for granted like I am going to be around when she wants a best friend

    I feel I have wasted half my life worrying about people who won’t make the same effort

    it’s a good job I don’t rely on her my job keeps me busy

    I am sticking to my guns and not phoning her

    Reply

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