A good friendship is a wonderful and powerful force in your life. But even close, lifelong relationships need to be nurtured so that the ties stay strong. If you feel distance growing between you and a friend, it may be because you are unintentionally pushing him/her away.
Here are six ways you may be driving a wedge between yourself and friends…
You overdo it on social media. You can unintentionally turn people off with too many posts, tweets or photos. When you post nonstop about your thrill-a-minute European vacation, it can be perceived as a brag—even if your intention was just to share good news. Social media inherently puts people in comparison mode and makes them feel “less than.” Before you post, ask yourself, Am I doing this to genuinely spread happiness?
You also may appear out of touch and insensitive if you are constantly posting “good times” photos during times of stress for others. Consider saving some news and photos for a smaller group text.
You try to fix a friend’s problems instead of simply listening. When a friend turns to you in difficult times, he generally is seeking emotional support more than an actual solution to his problems. But it’s often easier for people—particularly men—to offer practical support. Problem: When you jump in too quickly with advice, you are missing the opportunity to hear what your friend is trying to tell you. For instance, if a friend tells you that his son lost his job just after his daughter-in-law had their first child, what he’s saying is that he’s sad and concerned, and he needs help processing his emotions. He’s not asking you to help his son find a job or for you to deliver casseroles. So don’t jump in with advice or offers of assistance. Instead, listen carefully…be curious about your friend’s feelings…and acknowledge—frequently—that he’s going through a challenging time. Once you’ve offered emotional support, it’s fine to ask how you can help.
You’re “too busy.” In our culture, being busy is a sign of significance. Society makes us feel as though we should always be doing something productive. And as we get older, we cling to that “busyness” to feel important. Problem: Giving friends the “busy signal” doesn’t help you maintain your friendships. In fact, the message it sends to the people in your life is that they’re your lowest priority.
What to do: Keep your “friend dates” in place. Consider scheduling a regular standing date. At the end of a hectic week, you may be seriously tempted to cancel that Friday night dinner. But don’t. Friendships sometimes call for sacrifice. No matter how comfy your sofa is, it doesn’t have the restorative power of a night laughing and commiserating with a good friend. If you absolutely must cancel, be sure to reschedule on the spot so that your friend doesn’t feel dismissed.
You don’t offer any new stimulation. In other words, you’re a little boring. Problem: If you don’t have enough going on in your own life, it’s easy to fall into the trap of living through other people. Example: You might find yourself talking only about your kids or grandkids—which is likely more interesting to you than it is to your friends.
Important: Your friends want to hear about your life. They are friends with you because they are interested in your thoughts on current events, your funny stories, your opinions on books and your recent experiences. Continue to do the things that interest you—whether it’s attending a concert or a lecture—and you will remain interesting to others.
You make presumptions about your friend’s feelings. Sometimes, you think you know how a friend is feeling when you really don’t. Example: If you have a newly divorced or widowed friend, keep inviting him to events even if he’ll be the only one flying solo in a group of couples. Don’t assume that he won’t want to be there (even if you imagine you wouldn’t if you were in his shoes). Better yet, if it’s a close friend, ask him ahead of time whether the situation would be comfortable or uncomfortable. It’s not for you to decide.
And similarly, if you’re the newly single friend, keep showing up. Don’t presume that others will feel weird around you now that you’re on your own. Instead, be honest with your friends—“Thank you so much for including me. A lot of people think I’m going to feel awkward, so they don’t ask me to join them. But it’s more important for me to stay a part of things.”
You don’t show up when a friend is sick. When our friends have health problems, it can be not only sad but also terrifying, because it inevitably leads to our own fears for ourselves and our families. Problem: If you are silent or removed from your friend during this critical time, you are inadvertently telling him that you can’t handle the situation. You may be perceived as being self-centered and pushing him away.
Helpful: Process your own anxiety on your own time and put your feelings aside. Instead, tell your friend, “This is really scary. I’m not even sure how to help, but I want to.” And then bring over a meal or a deck of cards to play a game—it can be that simple. There’s no need to overdo it. In fact, you might push a friend away if you go in too hard and fast, asking lots of questions, looking for technical details, even doing your own research and sharing the findings. As I said above, unless your friend asks for that kind of assistance, don’t give unsolicited advice. Stick with emotional support and then offer practical help.
Here’s something else to keep in mind: As we get older, we forget to gush about our long-term friendships. But to have had a friend for 20 years or longer—that’s a special thing. It’s worthy of consistent recognition and appreciation. Tell people how you feel. Shower them with heartfelt affection. It goes a long way!