what do you think?

I have this friend… This is a friend that I truly care about. Every so often, I get the silent treatment from her, usually after I have said something that doesn’t entirely agree with her.

You know how you have friends who you just agree with no matter what they say? I think of them as fairly casual friends and they are people that if you don’t just agree with them, an argument ensues. Your role in the friendship is to take “their side.” I am okay with that but I don’t consider them to be close friends. It’s not that I don’t care about them, it’s just that my role doesn’t feel very genuine. Plus, I rarely discuss my own concerns with them. The fact is, most times this type of friend will respond to your issues with their own opinion, with which you are expected to agree.

Come to think of it, why do I consider those people friends? Well, we probably have other things in common or something.

But then there are friends that you really care about, that you think are worth more than a pat agreement. These are the friends that you are willing to say, usually in a gentle way, “have you considered this other perspective?” And sometimes, you’re even more direct and say something like, “Don’t you think maybe you’re over-reacting?” Not because you want to start an argument or insist that they agree with you, but because you care enough to give them that other perspective. Maybe you’re wrong but maybe it’s worth thinking about.

This is a friend that I care about. She’s going through some difficult things but from my perspective, she tends to react very predictably to the situation. I try to be supportive but I am also willing to say once in a while, “What about if you look at it like this?” Sometimes she agrees, sometimes she thinks I’m funny, sometimes I get the silent treatment.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I should always agree. is that more supportive? It’s just that that feels so phony. I appreciate it when my friends call me on my bullshit. It’s not like they are that direct, but they point out when I’m feeling sorry for myself or I’m stuck in seeing something from one direction. Not everyone wants that, I get that. But it feels very all or nothing. A not very genuine constant agreement or risking losing the friendship by being seen as not supportive.

But maybe I should move this friend into that “always agree” category. It’s hard to know. So far, eventually she returns and we never mention whatever was going on. I have tried a couple times and asked whether I said something that upset her. No, she always says, she was just busy. Maybe she was but it feels like a pattern to me. I would very much prefer that she just tell me if I say something stupid, if she feels something I’ve said is hurtful or whatever. I don’t intentionally hurt people and if something I’m doing or saying is causing her pain, I’d rather not do it.

Is there something in between? Can you not say something that disagrees with your friend’s perspective without feeling like you are just constantly patting them on the back? Would it be better to just ignore those things? Not say anything at all? It seems that being a good friend is harder than I thought. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong.

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18 thoughts on “what do you think?”

  1. Such a meaty post, full of complex questions and “ponderings.” And it gives me a much-needed chance to think about how I treat my friends, and near-friends. So here’s what I think (at least I think it’s what I think).

    Personally, I hate being told I’m overreacting. Generally I know when I’m doing it and I can’t stop myself. Sometimes it just feels good to bitch and moan sort of irrationally, and I guess what I want from a friend who is forced to listen to me is a pat on the back. Just an “oh I’m so sorry you’re feeling so miserable” kind of remark.

    If a close friend asks me to be totally honest with her I will. But not always. If I suspect that she’s made up her mind and just wants my blessing, I try to give her that. Exceptions would obviously include situations where she might need to be guided away from her decision b/c she was going to make, in my opinion, a dreadful mistake. Problems involving health for example, or problems where I believed that she really was missing a crucial point.

    I’ve been on the listening end of many conversations about work problems and in these situations I believe it’s almost always best to just listen and agree. Mostly b/c none of us can ever understand the truth of someone else’s working conditions. Problems with family are generally similar: if I don’t know the other family members well then I really don’t feel qualified to offer an “on the other hand” perspective. I might think it but I won’t say it b/c family problems are often the touchiest.

    So re-reading what I’ve just written I guess what I’m saying is that I choose to be “phony” if I think being honest will hurt the other person. Is that cowardly? Maybe. Probably. I tell myself that the most important thing is to listen, let the other person talk as much as possible b/c maybe by talking she will come to see other sides of the problem.

    And one more thing: I suspect that most of us, when complaining to others, aren’t asking for advice or another perspective. We just want to air our grievances. But if a friend starts the conversation by saying something like “I don’t know what to do about x, y, or z” then I take that as an invitation to offer advice.

    Friendship is hard stuff! Good luck with your friend. It’s a good sign that she keeps coming back.

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  2. I agree with Pam–I couldn’t have said it better myself. I hate being told I’m overreacting because, even though I am, I HAVE TO VENT. 🙂 I think most people prefer to hear what they want to, so I always try to avoid giving advice or if I do, I give a whole bunch of alternatives. My husband’s family(which I’m now mostly estranged from) never talked about any elephants in the room, whether they were problems, issues, concerns, etc. ; it’s always driven me utterly nuts. I don’t know how anything can ever get resolved under those conditions; it’s a relief not to have to deal with them anymore.

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  3. And this is why I value you ladies. Let me say first, I’ve never actually said something as direct as “you’re over-reacting.” But you’re right, most people just want you to listen. And I’m trained in reflective listening. So why do I feel a need to point out a different perspective? And it’s only with people I really care about.

    Even in shrink school, I felt like reflective listening was minimizing and phony in certain situations. Yet, I have taught it to people, especially couples, hundreds of times. People want to know that you’re hearing them and sometimes, that’s all they want. Maybe even most of the time that’s all they want.

    I sometimes feel a lot like Hannah’s video. Just listening and not trying to fix it when they have a nail sticking out of their head is hard. But I think you all may be right. And perhaps I should apologize to my friend. And I need to practice listening.

    Thank you for listening to me. 🙂

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    1. It really does depend on the person and the relationship. I prefer people to be honest with me and communicate what is really going on, but I’m always hesitant to make the same assumptions about others. I’m sure you’re a great listener; don’t take all of the responsibility on yourself. A friend relationship should include honesty(although not necessarily of the brutal variety) and you should feel comfortable about sharing your own feelings and opinions about what the friend is discussing. You’re not the therapist in the friendship after all!! xoxo

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      1. Actually, as we’ve been discussing this it dawned on me that that may be the problem. My shrink hat has a tendency to jump on my head whether I intend it to or not. When you’re a therapist, it can be hard to separate the two. But you don’t want to play therapist to a friend – though this friend is aware that I sometimes wear that hat. Usually, I identify when it when I see myself doing it and add a disclaimer since I’m not really there and I don’t know all the people in the situation. But sometimes, it sneaks out when I’m not paying attention.

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  4. Hey Sweets I know this next comment is very over used but probably a recognized archetype of Jung’s theories on personality, that being if this friend is truly your friend and if your intentions are from your heart you will never lose her friendship. Life is not a smooth sail as gales appear once in awhile and maybe a typhoon or two but when they pass your friend will be with you on the smooth sailing that follows. Our common friend is like that with all her physical problems that manifest themselves in despair and depression and I have trusted in our friendship to the point that I am willing to say things to her that piss her off, yet in the long run she realizes that I only say them because I truly care about her and we always head back to calm waters. She is going for her ninth knee (same knee) operation this coming Friday and there is going to be a lot of weeping and wailing, despair and depression and I will be by her side emotionally and she knows that and will make her way through it and be better again. It sounds like you have a really good friend and if there are quiet moments between you she is probably digesting life much like you and most people do and I would not worry about it if I were you but then I am not as sweet as you are Sweets!

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  5. Hey Sweets I should have read all of what you wrote before I posted. I don’t believe you need to apologize and even think it might do more harm than good. One of my mother’s dearest friends railed at her about her alcoholism and how she was making a fool of herself in front of her other friends and because that dear lady was willing to put her friendship on the line with my mother, my mother stopped drinking and was sober for the last 15 years of her life. I have always been thankful for that friend as I got to keep my mother around much longer, I believe, than if she had continued to drink. And that friend didn’t apologize and had no reason to say she was sorry for telling the truth. Be well Sweets.

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  6. I agree with Thomas. yes sometimes people do want to vent and there needs to be a time and a space for that however I do think a true friend doesn’t always agree. the “truth” though it might be hard for a person to hear can sometimes be the only thing that helps save a friend or help them heal. Please don’t deny them that just to make it easier for you. Unfortunately, the painful truth of that is that sometimes you lose friends or have to redefine the friendship you have. So I think it is more a question of timing and circumstances rather than doing it one way or the other. It is very hard and it is about give and take which needs to be on both sides. Also it is not just about the friend but about you also and being true to yourself and what you believe.

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  7. Oh, I agree with you two, too. There are times that brutal honesty is the right path. This situation probably falls much more in the need to listen category, though. I think it can be hard to know the difference and jacquie, you’re right – timing and circumstances are the key. I hope that I step up when it’s important enough to confront a friend, but I also hope I can shut up and listen when that’s the right thing to do.

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  8. I agree with Jacquie only would go a step further and say that if what you say to a friend is said with a pure heart and well intentioned and you lose that friend then they probably weren’t the really good friend you thought they were. Or as Jacquie noted you have to redefine the friendship which I am not sure you can do once you have reached that point where you try to make right what was unintentionally made wrong. Be well Sweets.

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    1. Oh yes, I agree. But only in situations where confrontation is warranted. Maybe. I think a real friend will also understand when you overstep boundaries and give advice where it isn’t wanted. But what I wish is that those friends would say that to me and not leave me guessing.

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        1. Mmm. Maybe. But if I’m not told what, if anything, upset them – then I’m still guessing. I can’t change what I don’t know. All of this post is a guess. Could be she’s just been busy and she’s not upset at all. I hate guessing.

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  9. BTY Sweets tell your program not to be so rude when a person accidentally types in an incorrect email address if you would please.

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    1. I gave it a stern talking to! What does it do anyway? Usually it just sticks comments in a queue and I have to go in and approve it. I’m curious what the contact page does, too, since I can’t get it to not recognize me. I worry that someone is sending me personal messages that I’m not getting.

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  10. A long time ago my grandfather said,a good friend will say something that upsets you occasionally,tell you when you look lousy too.Not always agree with you and argue with you.Not say everything you do is wonderful.Feel sad with you when you are hurting.Laugh with you when life is funny,because the friend cares about you.

    Be careful when people always smile and agree with you.

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    1. Yup. I think, like jacquie said, timing and circumstances are the key. It’s hard to know when to just listen and when to say the thing that might be upsetting. But a good friends doesn’t always just smile and agree.

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