Friendship Give-and-Take

26 Jul

Letterbalm Two Women in Tug of WarDear LetterBalm: My best friend has a habit that drives me up a wall. She talks endlessly about her aches, pains and allergies, but when I am sick, she dismisses my pain and suffering (“Oh, it’s just a cold, nothing serious.” “Yes, well, let me tell you about my latest thing. The doctor says I need more tests …”). She glides right over my explanations and moves on to other topics. She’ll say things like, “You’ll be well enough for dinner on Saturday, won’t you?” Or, “Will you be able to drive me to the mall this week?” When I say no or that I’m not well enough, she gets angry or pouts or won’t speak to me until I call her. How can I get through to her that her behavior is selfish?

–The Doormat

How to get through to her? Don’t enable her self-centered behavior. Stop being the first to call. Stop pushing down your feelings to enable hers. End your phone call or get-together politely but firmly (“Something’s come up” or “I’m not feeling well” or “I must leave now”) as soon as she launches into one of her thoughtless asides. Ms. L.B. suggests you don’t confront her, but kill her with kind, purposeful responses. If you can outlast her and she gives in and calls you after one of her pouts, act cheerful and matter-of-fact. It also would be a good idea to pursue new friendships and activities (Book club? Gym? Lecture series?) so you’re not waiting on her and have other things to talk about. If you feel you must talk with her, consider this statement:

Elizabeth, you have noticed that I no longer tolerate it when you refuse to accept that I am not well and can’t be at your beck and call. You’ve been angry and you’ve stopped speaking to me. I’m sad you feel that way, but this is how it is. Quite simply, you are my friend, and I expect the same empathy and courtesy I give you when you are unwell or anxious and need to talk. It’s part of the give-and-take of friendship. We’ve been friends for decades, and I want to stay friends – just a more fair and equitable relationship. I hope you can accept that.

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