Foolproof Solutions to Common Friendship Struggles
By: Kate McCallum
As you grow up, your friendships will ebb and flow. As you develop a sense of personal identity, determine your core values and set long-term goals for the future, you will find that friends will come and go. While few friendships are ever lasting, this does not take away from the importance of temporary friendships. Whether it is purely situational or a lifelong bond, every friendship undergoes challenging periods. It requires effort to maintain healthy and mutually beneficial relationships, but the most issues can be resolved through open communication, and the following strategies.
Addressing Toxic Competitiveness:
Whether it is overt or unspoken, an underlying sense of competition between friends can be extremely taxing on your well-being. Competitiveness between friends regarding accomplishments, appearances and popularity is particularly common during adolescence, when tweens are managing insecurity and struggling to solidify their sense of identity. If you notice a silent competition between you and a friend, your best approach is to acknowledge this toxic pattern, and commit to celebrating each others’ achievements, without eroding your own confidence. This step in your friendship takes work from both ends, demanding you to build self-esteem distinct from the success of others. While this may be a challenging shift in mindset, it will breed a more supportive relationship, and allow you to establish more constructive source of confidence. See my previous blog that outlines helpful strategies to building self-esteem.
Recognizing Transactional Friendships
A transactional friendship occurs when one or both people in a friendship have decided to pursue the relationship in order to receive a personal benefit in return. This may look like pursuing a friendship in order to gain popularity through their other friends or gain access to new opportunities or experiences that would not have been available without making this friend. This type of friendship is ingenuine and should be avoided at all costs. Transactional friends will not have your best interest at heart and will instead view the friendship as an opportunity for personal gains. If you have an instinct that your friend may be expecting something superficial in return for their company, I suggest you be more attentive to their behavior patterns. Do they only ask to hang out when you are with your other friends, or in order to join a club that you are part of? Do they provide supportive advice, or prefer to spend time with you to join you on a weekend getaway? While it can be harmful to assume a friendship is transactional in nature when it is truly sincere, I urge you to trust your gut and distance yourself from friends who are in it for the wrong reasons.
Resolving Complex Friend Group Dynamics
A unanimous struggle as a teenager is managing the nuances and complexities of individual friendships within a larger friend group. While a healthy friendship can cultivate fond memories and a sense of belonging, they may also breed insecurity in individual friendships. Often, one friend may feel uncertain of their relationship with their best friend, if they feel that other friends are developing a stronger friendship with that person. Although it is normal to feel protective over valuable friendships, it can breed unfounded resentment towards others in the group. In this scenario, it is helpful to remember the unique and incomparable nature of all friendships. The bond between two of your friends does not deduct from your own relationship with these friends and should not feel threatening. If you feel this protectiveness consuming you, I suggest you take a step back and reassess why you are feeling this way. If it stems from insecurity in some of your relationships, try spending more one-on-one time with these friends. Remind yourself that there are no limits on the quantity and quality of friends that one can have, and that you will not lose a friendship to another person, so long as you continue to spend quality time together.
You may find yourself in the uncomfortable situation where one of your friends is speaking negatively to you about another friend, and you feel unable to agree nor disagree with their comments. Gossip can be suffocating and exact a toll on your overall mood. My suggestion is to pivot away from destructive conversations by changing the topic or speaking out against this slander if you feel confident to do so. If you notice a specific friend engaging in a pattern of gossiping, you may choose to spend less time with this person. On the other hand, if you feel strongly about preserving this friendship, communicate your discomfort with their constant negative talk. It is likely that this friend is gossiping as an outlet for their internal self-esteem struggles and may in fact benefit from you inquiring into their mental wellness. As a good friend, you should acknowledge when conversations cross the gossip threshold, and bring your dialogue back to constructive topics. As tricky as these conversations may be, avoiding gossip will become easier with practice, and will ultimately strengthen your relationship.