Why Do I Keep Losing Friends?

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Reader’s Question

I am a successful woman who has a good career and a long, happy marriage. I also have two beautiful daughters — I am truly blessed. But I can’t seem to keep my girl friends. I’ve lost two of my best friends, whom I love and adore. I don’t know why or what happened. They both got upset with me for different reasons. But mainly it’s because I don’t meet or do what they want of me. I guess I don’t have boundaries with them, and don’t expect anything from them but love. But they expect a lot of me. I’m a very loyal and caring friend, always there for them. So, I am not sure what it is that I do wrong with these women to lose them. They always end the friendship first.

Psychologist’s Reply

It must be frustrating and painful not to know what happened to these relationships that have been so important to you. Friendships can sometimes be more complicated than romantic relationships when the endings are unclear. In addition, we seem to have fewer scripts in our culture for breaking up with a non-romantic friend than with a romantic partner.

Sometimes friendships just drift apart when individuals find themselves in different roles (such as becoming a spouse or parent, or changing to a different career). In these instances, it is different life circumstances that change the amount of time friends spend with one another and, thus, the closeness of the friendship. As the years progress and roles shift again, these friendships may return. If they don’t return, then perhaps the friendship has run its course and can be remembered fondly. When these friendships have waned (either temporarily or permanently) it can be a great opportunity to explore friendships with other people who we encounter in these new roles.

What you have described, however, sounds different. These friendships seem to have ended abruptly for you, and your friends’ reactions appear to have taken you by surprise. Having the courage to ask how you might be contributing to this pattern is a step in the right direction to making positive changes in your friendships.

There are three elements you mention that may be interfering with experiencing satisfying friendships:

  1. not having boundaries,
  2. expecting nothing but love,
  3. always (being) there for them.

Boundaries are important in all of our relationships. If your career, marriage, and parenting relationships have been successful, chances are you have some idea of how to set appropriate boundaries in those roles. While friendships operate differently, ones that do not have a fair amount of give-and-take can be unsatisfying for one or both parties. Giving all of yourself with the expectation of receiving unconditional love in return is unrealistic in adult friendships. Like you, your friends also have other relationships and obligations, and dropping everything for a friend is not always possible. Expecting constant support may be getting in the way of the relationships you and these women have had with one another. In the same vein, sometimes we continue looking for the same friendship patterns, and that can be unhealthy for us. Perhaps you continue to seek friends who drain your energy and don’t provide much in return. Examining that further might also be helpful for you as you explore ways to have more rewarding friendships.

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One of the best ways to get honest feedback about how others experience you in relationships is by joining a therapeutic process group. The advantage to attending a process group is the absence of existing relationships with the individuals who also attend the group. Another important component of these groups includes refraining from forming friendships with group members outside the group, so that it can be a therapeutic experience. In these groups, a well-trained therapist facilitates the interactions that emerge, and provides constructive feedback to help individuals make changes that could improve their relationships in everyday life.

To find a qualified psychologist near you in the US, you might want to try the Find a Psychologist site or the American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator. In the UK, the British Psychological Society provides a similar directory. (And we have two sister sites which list counselors and psychotherapists as well as accredited CBT therapists.)

For further reading about boundaries and healthy relationships, see Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] by Anne Katherine. If a Christian belief system and biblical references fit for you, see Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

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