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When it feels like the friendships in your life are lacking, it’s easy to place blame on your pals. But before you do, it might be worth looking in the mirror first. Sometimes it’s actually us, not them, that’s the problem.
That said, we all go through challenging periods — dealing with job loss, a family crisis or a mental health issue, for instance — when we’re not acting like the top-notch friend we aspire to be under normal circumstances. But when this inconsiderate or toxic behaviour toward friends becomes part of a long-term pattern, it needs to be examined and worked on. Otherwise, you risk losing those relationships.
Wondering if your friendship skills are up to snuff? We asked experts to share the signs that might indicate you’re not being a good friend and offer advice on how to be a better one.
1. You always manage to steer the conversation back to yourself
When your friend starts to open up about their promotion at work or the new person they’re dating, you never fail to find a way to steer the discussion back to you.
“No conversation is perfectly balanced in who talks more, nor should it be. And in some friendships, one person always tends to talk more ― and that can be OK,” psychologist Andrea Bonior, author of “Detox Your Thoughts,” told HuffPost. “But if your friends are trying to confide or discuss something about their lives, and you consistently hijack it back to you, it stings and destroys the sense of reciprocity that is so important in friendship.”
The fix: Sharpen your mindful listening skills. When your friend is talking, practice maintaining eye contact and using open, supportive body language, Bonior suggested. It shows you’re paying attention and genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say.
“Pause before you share something about yourself by asking if it can be seen as interrupting the narrative the other person is telling,” she said.
2. You commit to plans, already knowing you’re going to back out
Life happens, things come up and plans get canceled — that’s understandable. But if you have a habit of saying “yes” to that wine tasting trip or to helping them move, when you actually mean “no,” it’s inconsiderate. It’s better to be upfront than flake out at the last minute.
“There’s a subset of folks who are afraid of the discomfort of saying ‘no’ in the first place, so they say ‘yes’ to avoid that discomfort,” Bonior said. “But it only causes more disappointment later. That’s not fair to friends and erodes trust over time.”
The fix: Resist the urge to respond immediately. If you’re not sure if you can swing it, it’s OK to give it some thought and get back to them later, said psychologist and friendship expert Irene S. Levine.
“And bear in mind that you don’t have to acquiesce to everything a friend asks,” Levine said. “If you need to turn them down, do so at the onset, not at the last minute when they are depending on you. Only make commitments you are able to keep.”
3. You’re good at making friends, but not keeping them
“You are outgoing, friendly and well-liked, able to easily make friends but not able to make the friendship last or go deeper,” Levine said.
Of course, not all relationships are built to last and that’s OK. But if you have a string of short-lived friendships — and they didn’t end on your terms — there could be a reason.
The fix: Take time to consider why these bonds tend to crash and burn or just fade away. Maybe an old pal gave you some constructive criticism in the past that could offer a clue? Or is there another person in your life who may be able to lend some insight?
“If this is a pattern and you can’t get past it, you may want to speak to a life coach or mental health therapist who can help you determine what’s happening and give you tools to help keep your friendships,” Levine said.
4. You’re never the one to initiate plans or check in first
In friendships, it’s not unusual for some people to be the planners, while others tend to just go with the flow. But if the amount of effort being put in is completely lopsided ― they’re consistently the one to invite you to do things and call you to see how you’re doing — it could breed resentment.
The fix: “Enduring friendships need to be reciprocal. If one person is always the one doing the initiating, your friends may take your passivity as a lack of interest in the friendship,” Levine said. “Sharing your interests with your friends — like asking to simultaneously watch a TV series that you choose during the pandemic, or inviting them to social distance with you in your backyard — enriches the friendship.”
Basically, your friend needs to be reminded that you’re just as invested in the relationship as they are, Levine added.
5. You constantly lean on your friends for emotional support, but they don’t turn to you
When you’re going through a hard time, your closest friends will be by your side to support you. But if you treat every hiccup or minor setback in your life like a crisis, you can’t keep demanding so much of your friends’ time, attention and emotional energy without offering anything in return.
“It can be hard to find a balance between how much support you need and how much your friend can give,” said marriage and family therapist Amanda Baquero. “Your friend may also find it hard to reach out to you to talk about their problems because they don’t want to overwhelm you since you seem to always have a lot going on.”
The fix: To restore balance in the friendship, make a point to call your friends to check in on them and ask how they’re doing, Baquero said. No ulterior motives — make the conversation about them.
“Also, make sure that when you want to talk about what’s going on with you, try to bring in the positive stuff too,” she added.
Instead of leaning heavily on just one person, try to widen your support network by reaching out to other friends and family, too, “to make sure that you aren’t taking advantage of a giving friend,” Levine said.
And don’t forget to say “thank you” when your friends show up for you and return the favour when they need it.
“If she’s extended herself, make it up to her by inviting her to dinner or finding a way to make her life easier,” Levine said. “Of course, also express your appreciation verbally.”
6. You don’t respect your friends’ boundaries
Setting boundaries is a crucial part of any healthy relationship. So if, for example, your pal tells you they can’t afford to take a weekend trip right now or they’re not ready to talk about a touchy subject yet and you keep pushing them to get your way, it’s not a good sign, Baquero said.
“If your friends are trying to confide or discuss something about their lives, and you consistently hijack it back to you, it stings and destroys the sense of reciprocity that is so important in friendship.”
“It’s important to listen to them and respect their needs,” Baquero said. “Just as you can feel frustrated by having your boundaries pushed, it’s important to acknowledge the same for your friends.”
The fix: Go out of your way to let your friends know that you hear them and understand them when they set a boundary of any kind. Practice taking “no” for an answer. If you’re unsure where they stand on something, ask questions to confirm you’re both on the same page.
“Next time you want to initiate a hangout or talk about something potentially triggering, ask them what they would like to do or reassure them that it’s OK if they don’t want to talk about that with you,” Baquero said.
7. You resent your friends’ happiness and success
As humans, it’s normal to get jealous from time to time — and those pangs can actually help us uncover things we want to change in our own lives.
But when you begrudge a friend’s new job, house or relationship, so much that it becomes impossible to celebrate their success, that’s another story. Maybe you find yourself competing with your friends or trying to one-up them. Maybe you’re secretly pleased when things don’t work out for them.
The fix: First, don’t beat yourself up over what you’re feeling — give yourself some grace. Instead of trying to suppress the jealousy and hope it disappears (it won’t), acknowledge it and listen to what it might be telling you. And remember that just because it seems like a friend’s life is charmed, doesn’t mean it’s actually perfect. They may be struggling in other ways.
If it feels appropriate, you might even consider telling the friend about how you’re feeling.
“Hearing that someone is envious of us can feel particularly awkward or uncomfortable, regardless of whether it’s something we have control over,” psychologist Miriam Kirmayer wrote in a blog post for Psychology Today. “But saying something like: ‘I know I’ve been a little distant lately and I wanted you to know that it’s because I’ve been struggling with...’ or ‘I want you to know that I’m really happy for you. It’s just hard for me because...’ can be the starting point for a meaningful conversation that will ultimately strengthen your friendship.”
Blissed Connections is an editorial series on HuffPost US that explores practical ways to strengthen and deepen the relationships you have — or want to have — with the people in your life.