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When a Major Conflict With a Friend Is Unresolvable

What to do when a friend betrays your ideas of fairness and reciprocity.

Key points

  • When someone violates your views of fairness and reciprocity, it’s justifiable to terminate the relationship.
  • The prerequisite of “share and share alike” may be the essence of what allows a friendship to be trustworthy.
  • If a friend hurts and disappoints you, it’s best to speak up diplomatically and check out their reaction.
  • If you feel duped by your (supposed) friend, your self-image and self-respect are likely to be compromised.
Shutterstock, with permission
Same, yet different in ways that make them finally incompatible.
Source: Shutterstock, with permission

A Friendship Bargain You Couldn’t Refuse—But Should Have

Let’s say you had a friend who invited you to join them in investing in a real estate property they perceived as seriously undervalued. They needed your assistance because they lacked adequate funds to make the down payment and knew you had sufficient cash reserves to finance the balance.

They therefore convinced you that, with little effort on your part, this was a rare opportunity to turn a substantial profit. The only problem was that although they wanted you to put up half the mortgage costs, they also felt that once it sold you should receive only 35 percent of the proceeds. Their thinking was that because they’d put in substantial research time to locate the property, as well as determine market values in the area, it was only fair that the potential profit not be split equally.

You finally agreed to the deal but with some reluctance. Though you could understand your friend’s reasoning, it nonetheless felt exploitative, treating you less as a friend than a business partner with fewer rights than they offered themselves.

After the property was purchased, economic conditions fortuitously changed disastrously to this joint investment. And in the home’s neighborhood—seen as in a location significantly less desirable than those surrounding it—the market value decreased disproportionately.

After waiting over two years for the house to return to at least its value when the two of you bought it, your friend, worried that its worth could go down even further, unilaterally decided to sell it. And when it finally sold at this much lower price, you were compensated at the 35 percent rate that (as a gentleman’s agreement) you had acquiesced to earlier.

You couldn’t help but protest that the loss really should be split 50/50, but they adamantly refused your appeal, saying they were very sorry but proclaiming your agreement didn’t permit this option.

The Money, the Principle, or Both?

In such an instance, this irreconcilable discord alone could signal the end of your friendship. And maybe it should. After all, besides the possible illegality of their (most people would agree) self-serving decision, from your perspective your friend violated a central dictum of friendship—as in (whether positively or negatively) “share and share alike.” Your notions of reciprocity hardly felt validated by such a one-sided arrangement.

There’s probably only one way this thorny situation could be resolved. Namely, for you to diplomatically—without angrily hurling harsh criticisms at them—share your underlying feelings of disappointment and hurt. You’d viewed your relationship as defined primarily as a friendship, so you couldn’t help but feel sorely betrayed by their egocentrically minimizing their loss by maximizing your own.

True, you’d already begun to harbor nebulous feelings about inequality and being used. Still, you suppressed these adversarial feelings by maintaining the perspective that your friend was generous enough to offer you an opportunity to share (equally or not) an extraordinary profit-making venture.

Now, however, you can’t resist questioning whether this friendship is (or maybe, ever was) authentic and well-meaning.

Moreover, with a rudimentary knowledge of psychopathology, you’ve started to wonder whether, indeed, your friend possessed distinctly narcissistic traits, or might actually exemplify a full-blown narcissistic personality disorder. Willing, if need be, to forfeit the relationship entirely, you decide to confront them—though as considerately as possible.

The popular expression “It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing” seems apt here. It is, in one sense, the money—that’s undeniable. But the violation you’re feeling really does have more to do with essential principles of friendship, with ideals you’ve always held dear. And in this sense, you’re more than willing to abandon the relationship than succumb to the other person’s self-interested values that unquestionably denigrate your own.

You may not succeed in getting your friend to sympathetically grasp your ethical stance and experience genuine compassion for your hurt. And if so, you certainly have every right to ask yourself whether, practically, it makes any sense to stay in the relationship. For if you remain in it, despite your serious reservations, it likely will put you in the category of (one-down) codependency.

You’ll be placing your friend’s priorities (financial and otherwise) ahead of your own—that is, subordinating your wants and needs to theirs. This can wind up as very damaging to your self-image. You can almost count on your sense of inner security and self-respect being compromised.

The Paramount Value of a Friend’s Trustworthiness

The above example may sound extreme. But if I’m exaggerating, it’s to make a point.

A friend worth making—and keeping—is one you can comfortably trust. You have to sincerely matter to them. When you get an irrefutable indication that they’re exploiting the relationship for their own selfish ends and that this, in general, accurately depicts who, deep down, they essentially are, it’s wise to head for the nearest exit.

If, for any number of reasons, simply disappearing from the relationship isn’t viable (the person’s a business associate, close relative, or neighbor), minimize your contact with them. And be wary of entering into any (potentially abusive) agreements with them as well.

Ultimately, there’s nothing more important than maintaining your personal integrity. Why make yourself vulnerable to unprincipled assaults on it?

© 2024 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

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