Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m having trouble knowing how to deal with a friend of mine who is unhappy and who I feel is blaming me. We’ve been friends for many years, and I’ve been very supportive of her over the last 6 or 7 years, as she was going through a traumatic divorce.
The problem is that she is becoming more and more negative, and unwilling to reach out. She depends on me to include her in all my activities but her negativity makes it hard to be around her. Also, I resent the fact that she seems to think that I should do this for her when I don’t see her doing much to help herself, or to contribute to our friendship. Still, I can’t help but feel guilty if she feels left out and she is certainly quick to blame me.
I’m tired of always being the one to reach out to make things right between us – but I also don’t feel right about letting the friendship go (after nearly 20 years). I don’t know how to make things better without doing what I’ve always done – reaching out and taking care of her. I’m becoming more and more resentful of this role. I don’t know what to do to make things feel better.
Dr. Norquist responds:
Over time, most of us become embroiled in certain ways of responding to others needs and feel helpless to respond differently. Recognize that this relationship pattern is as much yours as it is hers. You each have played your role predictably over the past 20 years, leading up to your current dilemma. You cannot change her behavior, but if you change your part in this dance you do together, she is left doing the old dance alone, and is more likely to make some sort of a change in her behavior.
There is something in you that attracts or binds you to this type of relationship; otherwise you would not be in it for so long. This is cause for contemplation. What is it that drives you to feel responsible for her? You don’t expect her to be an equal player in the friendship. Why is this? Why do you short-change yourself in this way? She hooks you, and pulls you in through encouraging your guilt. She encourages a belief you seem to hold, that her happiness and well being is your responsibility, not hers.
You say you don’t know what to do to make things feel better. Perhaps it would be more useful for you to tolerate the current uncomfortable feeling between the two of you without immediately reaching out to “fix” the situation. This gives your friend the space and time to learn a new dance step, as it were. Given this opportunity, she may be able to take on more responsibility in the relationship rather than just wait while you reach out to “fix” things.
When a relationship leaves us feeling stuck, stymied and disempowered, it’s a sign that this relationship has the potential to stimulate much growth on our part. Perhaps an earlier significant relationship in your life primed you to take this response and the current friendship dilemma can be used to pry yourself free of relationship patterns that no longer serve you well. If you view your current dilemma from this angle, you can use it for your own upliftment.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns.Ó 2017 Chaitanya Counseling Services