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How to Fix a Friendship

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Illustrations by Caroline Hwang

She recently got divorced, and she's morphed into a different person. She used to be involved in her tweens' lives but now she asks you to babysit all the time and picks them up hours late. You're shocked by her lack of responsibility.

Try putting yourself in her shoes—maybe she's going through a postdivorce crisis and needs extra leeway and understanding. At the same time, you've got to address your feelings of resentment, says Katherine Yost, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist based in Bellevue, Washington. "Just don't launch into the problem right away," she advises. "Inquire about her life first and give her time to vent and pour her heart out. After you've paid your listening dues, you can gently raise the issue and try to come up with ways to share the load more evenly." Your other option: Back away and be less available, at least for a while. Keep the channels of communication open with an occasional phone call or e-mail, and you may be able to reunite once her life is back on track.

Your friend won't stop bragging about how well her teen son is doing at school—advanced placement classes, honors, awards and the like. Meanwhile, your boy is struggling and needs regular tutoring. Her insensitivity is creating a lot of tension.

Even with good friends, it's all too easy to get competitive about your kids' achievements. "We identify deeply with our kids, so hearing about another child's success creates tension, especially if yours is having a hard time," says Newman. It helps to remember that a braggart who otherwise treats you decently is most likely just being insensitive. "They're either boasting because they're insecure or they're just feeling proud and want to share their happiness with someone they care about," says Ward. To make yourself feel better, remember any given mom can brag at any given moment—there's always something to be proud of, like how hard your daughter worked on her paper or how sweet your son is with his little brother. If a friend repeatedly has to one-up you, try saying, "I'm not sure you're understanding what a tough time I'm going through with my son. I was hoping we could talk a little about that." If you're both motivated to maintain the relationship, that almost always helps to clear the air, says Ward.

Are You Really That Into Her?

We all know that some friendships, no matter how strong, don't last forever. A recent study found that most of us change half our good buddies every seven years. But that doesn't make breaking up any easier. "We tend to cling to friendships long after they're worth keeping, partly out of habit and because we feel guilty about ending them," says Irene Levine. There are, however, some red flags signaling that it's time to cut the cord:

  • You get edgy and uncomfortable when you think about her or talk with her.
  • Conversations all revolve around her life, and she wants to socialize only on her terms.
  • You dread getting together and feel emotionally drained afterward.
  • You don't feel safe confiding in her.

Speaking Up

Not every slight requires a heart-to-heart chat. But if you score 3 or above on the emotional scale below, it's time to schedule a friendship summit.

  1. You know she didn't mean it and didn't intend to hurt you.
  2. You're annoyed but philosophical—everyone screws up sometimes.
  3. Every time you see her you get angry because of things you've left unsaid.
  4. Simmering with resentment, you keep talking about the situation with your husband, other friends and anyone who'll listen.
  5. It's keeping you up at night.

Originally published in the November 1, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.