What Makes a Real Friendship?

Posted on: April 9th, 2019 by Pat Mesiti No Comments

Have you had the experience that you meet someone, they are great fun, you have heaps of laughs together, quality talks and then over time the relationship changes and spending time with the person becomes hard work? Often it is when your friend hits a rough patch, and rather than being a joy to be around becomes a misery guts. That is okay. You support your friend and eventually they get out of the doldrums and the good times return. Alas that does not always happen. So when should you call it quits on a friendship?

It’s more mutual exploitation than friendship

At work and in business it is easy to strike up a friendship with someone who is useful. They can tell you how the company runs, teach you new skills, introduce you to helpful contacts but when you change jobs and later catch up you struggle to find topics to talk about. You realise this was a work relationship rather than a friendship.

You can choose to see less of this person and eventually they might disappear from your life, but if it was a happy work-based relationship and you are comfortable in each other’s company you could try to re-invent the relationship around a shared hobby. Why not start golfing or bowling together or even do a cooking class? Suggest a fun activity. It is okay to be friends with people we don’t have a huge amount in common with. Sometimes we gravitate towards people we have nothing in common with. We just like being around them! Have courage and commitment and make this friendship come alive again!

You are being exploited

Sadly some people are born users. You think you are friends but over time you realise you are doing all the giving. You are the one who cooks, you make all the plans and you are always the one who phones. You might have a good time when you do get together but you are doing all the running. 

You have two choices – ditch the friend or just accept that they are a bit of a user. Set boundaries, don’t let them constantly use you up but see them on your terms. Spend time together but hold them at bay. It is okay to have a friendship with a taker, provided you don’t become bitter or hostile. Enjoy their good qualities but don’t allow them to use you up.

They are bad for you

I talked before about reinvigorating a friendship by taking up a healthy hobby together. Unfortunately some friendships are built around unhealthy habits like drug-taking, gambling, drinking or gossiping. If you have a friend who is encouraging you to behave badly you need to have a sincere discussion and you need to explain that either the friendship changes or you go separate ways. Give them and the friendship a chance to change.

Life priorities change

Sadly people move away, get married, change jobs or just stop caring. This is tragic, but friends can fall out of love with you and sometimes you just have to suck it up and look for new friends. Yes, it is heart-breaking but we are all on our own journey and sometimes people take different directions and disappear from our lives.

Your friend doesn’t respect you

This is another sad one but sometimes we find ourselves in a relationship with someone who undermines us or makes us feel inadequate. You cannot stay in a friendship if you need to hide yourself, whether it’s because they’ve judged you in the past, they’re in control or are subtly bullying you. This cannot go on.  If you have fun with someone but end up feeling compromised or disrespected you have to face those feelings and examine the relationship. You need to tell your friend how they are making you feel and ask them to change their behaviour. This is not an easy conversation to have, but real friends are honest and open with each other. You may have to prompt your friend more than once to change or moderate their behaviour. Old habits die hard. If they are unable to change, you need to see less of this friend and also tell them why you are spending less time with them. Again this is hard, but it’s what friends do for friends.

Your friend is self-destructing

The hardest friendship to stay in is one with a person who is self-destructing. They may have developed an addiction or entered into an unhealthy romantic relationship or your friend is experiencing depression. The truth is you have to balance trying to help the person with preserving yourself. You cannot cause yourself real harm trying to rescue someone who doesn’t want to be rescued. It is incredibly hard to know when to persevere with someone and when to give up. 

First you are going to have to accept that this will be difficult. Your friends may not realise they have a problem or want to change, or they may be very embarrassed. Do not nag or criticise or lecture. State that you care and are concerned. Do not be confrontational and angry, this will only make the situation worse. Be loving and supportive. Listen to your friend. Also remember that people with addictions only change once they are faced with the consequences of their addiction. This means don’t try to save them from themselves. If your friend has gambled all their money away don’t give them more money. It is better that their phone is cut off. That is incentive to change!

Seek help for yourself if dealing with a troubled friend, even counselling and reach out to support services relevant to your friend’s problem. Call AA and tell them you have a friend with a drinking problem. 

As they say the best mirror is an old friend. Sometimes with friends we just have to tell it as it is so they have the chance to truly see themselves and change. If that is not possible you might have to shut the friendship down, but take heart. I’ve had distance from friends for a year or two then the friend has returned to my life and the relationship is the better for the break.


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Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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