A problem shared: Is this friendship over?

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Something troubling you? Share it with your new BFs, Jo Davison and Molly Lynch

I have known my friend Gill for 16 years. We met when we started a new job at the same time.

She is a few years older than me but we gelled straight away. She can, however, be a little unusual. The friendship has always been made more complicated by Gill’s daughter, who is very bright but opinionated, precocious and therefore unpopular with her peers. This means she spends a lot of time with Gill and her husband. Over the years, countless phone calls to Gill have been interrupted and ended as her daughter has demanded attention. We don’t meet very often, but on occasions, Gill has brought her daughter along without mentioning it to me first and again, she dominates - even though she’s no longer a child. Other mutual friends feel as I do; that she needs to be firmer with her daughter - let her know what is and isn’t acceptable.

Over the last 2-3 years, Gill just seems to attract problems. There have been numerous serious issues with job after job, plus her daughter has put her through some appalling situations. She’s had some misfortune but I feel some of it is of her making. For the last few months I haven’t been enjoying the friendship. I feel anxious when she texts or rings. Often it’s very early in the morning and I wonder what crisis we’re going to have to discuss now. I feel dishonest; I want to tell her how I really feel about why she lurches from one catastrophe to another. Should I do it and end the friendship, or stay quiet?

Jo says:

Your friendship has lasted a long time - heck, 16 years is more than most marriages survive these days.

Your relationship with Gill has weathered many a crisis - mainly hers, by the sounds of it. But only now is the friendship itself in jeopardy. What has changed? Not Gill’s circumstances. Not the attention-seeking behaviour of her daughter. From what you say, all that is just as it’s always been.

The change is in you. After all this time, you have decided you’ve had enough of listening to your friend’s problems and trying to help her sort her life out - being her agony aunt, in fact. Want a job?!

Perhaps she has just worn you out - used up all your patience and failed to follow your advice so many times you now feel there’s no point in being there for her any more.

Well, here’s one vital point to think about; she needs you, the woman who is supposed to be her close, dependable, capable friend.

Let me remind you of something else; friendship runs deeper than companionship, shared interests and enjoying good times. It’s also about being there for someone you care about and identify with.

You probably feel you are getting nothing back from this relationship, but it can’t always be a reciprocal thing. Life deals everyone different hands at different times and we can’t all be strong, happy optimists.

I wonder what Gill was like when you first met her? Was she fun? Did she help you out of a few scrapes with wise words and a hug? If so, then is that same woman still in there, trapped beneath a ten-tonne weight of stress and angst?

If you believe she is, then I think you should hang on in there for her. Because it sounds to me like Gill is depressed, stressed - and badly needs her friends, the people she thinks she can trust and off-load to.

If you also think she’s depressed, then don’t walk out on her. Persuade her to see a doctor, or get counselling. Talk to her about the effect you think her daughter has on her. A fundamental element of friendship is honesty and I find it odd that you have never spoken your mind about her daughter. You must have had many chances over the years.

I guess you’re going to say you didn’t want to hurt her feelings. But she must have known you and others found her child a nuisance - and felt torn in two by that as she tried to compensate for her daughter’s social inadequacies by involving her in her own social circle. It’s time you DID have the conversation that is preying on your mind. But not to end the relationship, rather to strengthen it by getting your old friend to realise she needs professional support - along with yours.

Molly says:

Enough is enough.

Can you even remember why the two of you are friends anymore?

Friendships aren’t all that different to relationships really, in that there are good ones and bad ones, some blossom where others sour, and sometimes you just have to know when it’s time to call it a day.

It sounds to me like that day has arrived.

Friendships should be rewarding and comfortable. If they’re going to go the distance, you have to invest time in one another, have mutual respect and a healthy dose of give-and-take. Unfortunately, it sounds like Gill has been take, take, take for far too long and you, my dear, sound exhausted by the effort.

We all go through tough times, and nobody minds being a shoulder to cry on, but when was the last time she returned the favour? Do you think she would?

If you genuinely feel you have outgrown one another, don’t feel guilty about backing away and creating some distance. No friendship should be such hard work and, certainly, you shouldn’t be ‘dreading her calls and texts.’ That being said 16 years is a long time and, despite your frustrations, your wish may be to try and repair this relationship, rather than cut and run.

I think - in a situation like this, where you’re so close to calling it quits anyway - my approach would be ‘tell the truth.’ What have you got to lose? It sounds like things have already disintegrated into unbearable so it can’t hurt and - who knows - it might help.

Sit down with Gill and tell her how you feel. Make it clear you’re not attacking her relationship with her daughter, but that you need more from your friendship than to be her constant sounding board for her troubles. Remind her of fun times you have spent together and tell her you’d like more.

If she agrees, proceed with caution. Don’t answer every call or accept every invitation. It sounds like you and Gill have mutual friends so, when you do meet up, make sure they come along. That way if she does bring her daughter, there’s enough of you to subtly steer the conversation away if she starts to dominate it.

If things still don’t improve, at least you can walk away knowing you tried.

Deborah Somerset-Malia, child and adult safeguarding trainer at DSM Training advises:

Friendships are meant to energise, refresh and be beneficial to us. Both parties are supposed to give as well as take. It’s vital that there is respect and HONESTY; anything less and you have to question if the friendship is genuine and worth it. What positives does this person add to your life? All I hear are negatives and pressure for you. It`s time to let go and stop dealing with your friends weaknesses and misfortunes. Gently explain. Write a letter if it’s easier.