She’s your BFF and you tell each other everything, but is your friendship as solid as your think? Keeping secrets, jealousy and even a new love are all threats to even the strongest of friendships, discovers Christine Fieldhouse
She’s your rock. Whether you’ve known her since you were at school, or have recently become buddies through work, or because you both moved abroad at the same time, you can count on her to always be there for you: a true friend, right?
Wrong. While most of us analyse every moment of our marriages, nurture our relationships with our children, and constantly worry about how we’re getting on with our boss, we often take our friendships for granted, simply expecting them to survive.
But ignore them at your peril. ‘We see our friendships as steady and reliable,’ says counselling psychologist, Rachael Alexander, author of How To Be A Courage Queen. ‘Yet even the strongest friendship will come under fire from time to time, and it’s shocking when something you once considered robust is suddenly shaky.’
Luckily, most friendships will survive everyday stresses and strains and some will even emerge stronger. But a few will fall by the wayside. Here are the problems that every friendship will face – and whether you can save it or not…
1. She’s too busy to hang out with you
You ping pong texts to each other to try and find a night to meet up, but your friend is too busy to squeeze you in.
Dr Tara Wyne, a clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Centre for Wellbeing in Dubai, says: ‘Whether it’s due to a job, studies, family life or new relationships, our roles can eat up what little free time we have.
‘We often view friendships as without obligation, but these friendships may be the first things we forgo when our commitments grow.’
Whatever your friend’s reasons, it’s always hard to take a back seat, especially if you’re used to seeing her all the time.
Rachael Alexander says: ‘We often go through different things at different times. For example, our friends may have children before we do, so appreciate these life stage differences, then allow time for you to catch each other up or reconnect at another stage of your life.
2. She’s not there for you
In times of trouble, we learn who our real friends are, but feeling let-down by someone we considered a close ally can be crushing.
‘No relationship is perfect and friends may not be there in times of need because of their own commitments or limited resources,’ says Tara. ‘This is more acceptable than when a friend simply ignores your distress.
‘But sometimes our friends don’t realise the significance of issues or events for us. They may think we’re self-sufficient and able to cope on our own. Afterwards, guilt could keep them away.’
Rachael says we should tell our friend how we feel.
‘Tell her you feel disappointed she wasn’t there for you when your mum was in hospital and you were sad she couldn’t help you,’ she says. ‘But remember to ask your buddies for what you want. They aren’t mind readers.
3. She’s in love
You hear from your friend every day and see her most weekends, then as soon as she has a new man in her life, you’re dropped.
‘Because of the very nature of a romantic relationship, your friend is preoccupied establishing a connection with someone new and she’s been swept away,’ says Tara.
‘This can leave us feeling as if we’ve been replaced, and the friend who’s in the romantic relationship might feel she can’t please everyone.’
Rachael suggests we set some boundaries so our friends know they can’t pick us up only at their convenience.
‘If you used to go out together every Friday night, and now she’s out with her man all weekend, ask her to commit to one Friday a month,’ she says.
4. She’s bitched about you behind your back
It can be shocking when we hear one of our closest friends has been gossiping about us.
‘This can feel like a tremendous betrayal and we may lose trust,’ says Tara. ‘This can trigger anger, resentment, sadness and confusion.
‘But this happens when friends aren’t communicating adequately. We use bitching to express to others what we’re thinking and feeling, but can’t say openly to our friend. We vent it as a way of canvassing support for our position and get some validation.’
Tara says we have to talk to each other to deal with the breach of trust.
‘These conversations take courage and both friends may feel vulnerable,’ she says. ‘This may work to repair things as it allows friends to be authentic with each other again.
‘However, it may be the friendship can’t recover but at least the friends will know they tried to repair it and this may give them closure if they decide to part ways.’
5. You’re jealous of each other
When good things happen for our friends – a new job, a fantastic holiday, a windfall – we’re supposed to be happy for them, but what if instead we have a stab of jealousy?
‘It usually presents itself when friends are insensitive to each other’s themes,’ says Tara. ‘For example, a person who likes to travel but can’t because she’s strapped for cash will suffer jealousy when her friend announces she’s going on an amazing holiday.’
That doesn’t mean that you’ve turned into a frenemy.
Rachael suggest writing down our feelings in a journal rather than telling all to our friend.
‘Write a list starting with: “I felt very jealous when ….” she says: ‘Then ask yourself why you were jealous – maybe it’s that you would like more money and your friend has just been promoted. For every statement, ask yourself why until eventually you’ll get to the root of the jealousy and hopefully you’ll have something to work with. It might be you don’t feel good enough and you need to work on your self-image or get a new job yourself!’
6. You’re both keeping secrets
When you’re used to telling your friend everything, and then one of you becomes secretive, things can get awkward.
‘We all want to feel included,’ explains Rachael. ‘When we’re excluded, we feel vulnerable.’
But we must remember we all have different boundaries when it comes to confiding. ‘When friends keep secrets, it can feel like they don’t trust each other or they don’t value their friends enough to guard such information,’ says Tara. ‘Some friends may measure their closeness by what is said and unsaid.’
‘But some people are just protecting themselves,’ she says. ‘Secretive people may have had experience of being let down or their confidences betrayed.
‘Try and raise it non-judgementally and let your friend know you’d like to bridge the gap. Don’t demand and don’t accuse. Treading carefully is the key to inviting more closeness and confidence.’
7. You’ve drifted apart
We have different friends at different times of our lives, and while some are buddies for keeps, others – like the pals we made at our antenatal classes or in the apartment block where we used to live -– may drift away.
‘This happens very commonly and it can reflect that friends are on divergent paths, have different priorities or even that their values have shifted or changed,’ explains Tara.
‘Sometimes we’re not aware we’re doing this, but when we’re moving on, we might not include someone in our plans, or we might not turn to them when we’re struggling or celebrating.’
Rachael urges us to ask ourselves what our friends contribute to our lives. ‘They might be great fun or inspirational and supportive, but if you feel you don’t have enough in common to maintain a connection, it’s time to let go,’ she says.