You’ve probably heard the saying “You can choose your friends, but not your family.” Well, it’s true! But what the sentiment misses is that in adult life, oftentimes, our friends become our families. This fact may explain why it’s common for us to stay in friendships even when they’ve clearly stopped working… or to make excuses for friends and let their bad behavior slide.
Yet if we want to maintain healthy relationships that grow with time (even if they ebb and flow in frequency of contact!), with individuals who merit our trust and can trust us in return, it’s important to know how to handle the uncomfortable situations that arise. We also need to make sure that we do handle them before the friendship (or our self-respect) is completely lost.
Still, when you feel as if a friend has done you wrong, it can be tough to tell how to react and what to say – or if you should even say anything at all. The following guidelines can help you assess your relationship and approach things with respect – for your friend and for yourself.
Sin: Taking advantage
Sure, most of the time you’re happy to share what’s yours with your friends, whether it’s time, material things or a shoulder to cry on. But there is such a thing as taking things too far. If you feel like you’ve given an inch and your friend’s taken a mile (for instance, you’ve offered your couch for a weekend and they’ve been there for a month…), there are two things you can do. First, you can suffer in silence and watch resentment grow – which will probably lead to the friendship’s end sooner rather than later. Or, you can speak up! Of course the second is the better option as it clears the air and allows for the possibility of a continued relationship. But before you go voicing your grievances (in a non-threatening tone), be sure to assess your desired outcome.
This may include considering a few factors. For starters, is this a repeat offense? If your friend seems to always ask too much or push your limits, then it’s worth considering whether you want to continue the relationship at all. That said, whether you want a continued relationship or not, be sure to start the conversation with yourself. In other words, tell them how you feel as a result of something they’ve said or done as opposed to starting off with what they’ve done “wrong.” Leaving judgment aside and speaking openly (and fearlessly) about your emotions in relation to their behavior eliminates the possibility that they’ll feel attacked. And if they feel attacked anyway, that’s not your problem.
Lastly, even if you have decided you’re done being their doormat, remember that things can always change. If you find that your friend really wasn’t aware they were pushing your limits, then you may want to give them another chance. A genuine apology goes a long way.
Sin: Creating a one way street
Sure, it’s vital to be there for your friends when they need you. But if you need them and they’re never there to return the favor, then what are you getting from the relationship? There is a push and pull implicit in every relationship – platonic or otherwise. If you find yourself feeling resentful at the hands of a less than reciprocal situation, then there’s probably a reason. Whether or not you’re part of the reason, you’ll only learn by… you guessed it… addressing the situation.
Now this may seem like taking advantage – and the two sins do have a lot in common (as do their solutions). But a one-way street friendship is a lot subtler and can be harder to notice (or easier to make excuses for). In other words, your friend doesn’t have to be draining your bank account, overstaying their welcome or calling you every time they need something for the association to be unbalanced. Of course, once you bring up the situation (which you should do, as soon as possible, and in the non-accusatory fashion discussed above), you may find that you’re expecting too much or that they’re more than willing to offer what you need. You just needed to ask for it. Whatever the case, if you don’t express the need for a more mutually-beneficial relationship (with specific examples), you’re not going to get one. A few words, combined with the willingness to accept responsibility for your own part in creating the situation, and you might find that a new lane opens.
Sin: Betrayal of trust
Unlike the previous two sins, which can fall into grey areas, being betrayed by a friend is usually easier to spot. That said, severity of offense is the real key in approaching a breach of trust. Was it an off-handed comment behind your back or a revealing of your deepest darkest secrets… to someone you consider an enemy (or worse, an ex!)?
As with most things, there are levels here. And those levels should help you decide whether or not your friend’s mistake is forgivable. No matter how minor, however, if you find yourself betrayed by a friend it’s natural to feel hurt. And (surprise, surprise) vital to express it. Again, keep in mind your objective outcome (whether it’s to end the friendship or end the behavior and resolve things), but don’t let it fester. You owe it to yourself to demand respect. And your friends owe it to you to give it… or to get going. Repeat offenses here are a real indicator that it’s time to cut the cord.
Lastly, no matter what sin(s) you feel your friend may have committed, how it’s made you feel or your own part in it, do yourself (and your friend) a favor. Address it in person or at least by phone. A detailed email may seem tempting (it’s natural to want to avoid these discussions and the confrontation that may ensue), but nothing can replace an actual, real-time exchange. If your friend is unwilling to address it on the phone, well, they’re not a friend!
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