The Friendship Doctor

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Feeling Smothered by a Friend

A change in circumstances is the most common reason why friendships fall apart.

It's uncomfortable for both friends when one wants to spend more time together than the other. It can make one feel smothered and the other feel rejected.

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

It seems my divorce has killed my friendship with a good friend -- simply because my life has changed.

My friend was never a true fan of my husband when I was married. My life was a perfect scenario for her: She loved how available I was simply because I didn't spend a lot of time with my husband. He was always traveling and I needed time off from being a mother when he finally came home. To be frank, I just didn't want to hang out with him. Needless to say, that marriage is over.

Now, a year and a half later, the BF that was supportive during the tough times when I was married has gone selfish on me. The first sign was she didn't offer to help pack when I was moving (although she admitted feeling guilty months later). Then she felt threatened about where I had chosen to move to (closer to family but still only 15 minutes away from her by car). And finally, once I found a man who cares about me I began to receive subtle comments and guilt trips that she never sees me anymore, we don't hang out on weekends, etc..

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During the marriage, my BF and I had a lot of great talks, went shopping, drank wine and watched movies on weekends. The friendship was great for both of us but has deteriorated. I'm a single mother with a career, a new relationship, and I'm trying to rebuild my relationship with my immediate family. All of this takes up my time.

It's hard to hear her cry and her husband tells me she simply misses me. What can I do? I feel smothered, judged, and controlled and I'm truly trying to do my best for everyone in my life.

However, I find it ridiculous to feel so obligated to this friend. I have had friends for years whom I don't see and with whom it's super easy to reconnect. And there are others I see every couple of months and they have no qualms about it. This friendship has grown apart and it's very sad because we had a lot of fun in the past. Should I say something?

Signed,

Laura

 

ANSWER

Hi Laura,

A change in circumstances is the most common reason why friendships fall apart. It may be that one friend goes to college, one friend gets married, one friend is infertile, one friend is unemployed --or one friend gets divorced. Of course, this doesn't have to be the case, but any major life change or transition has the potential to upset the delicate equilibrium of a friendship.

It sounds like you've gotten out of a bad marriage at the same time as you've moved and become a single mother. Clearly, you have a lot on your plate right now. In addition, you've gotten involved in a new romance, which can be  consuming of time and emotions.

You seem to be fond of your friend but there's been a recent mismatch between the two of you -- in terms of how much time she wants to spend with you and how much time you have to give. You must speak to her and explain how you're feeling just as you did in this note to me and set some reasonable boundaries. Having a long talk together will help you understand her point of view and will show her you still care about the friendship. Hopefully, she will understand. At the same time, you need to understand how big a change this has been for her.

A big caveat: It's a mistake to shrug off a good friend simply because you've fallen in love. Perhaps, you can set a regular time when you see each other that feels comfortable for you, even if it is only once every few weeks for coffee or such. Or, perhaps you can go marketing with your friend on Saturday mornings to catch up at the same time as you get some chores done.

Friends don't substitute for lovers and vice versa. Your life will be so much richer if you make some time for friendship, too.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene

 

Other posts on The Friendship Blog about dealing with smothering friends:

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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