If we act like we’re content with the state of our friendship when the relationship actually feels out of balance, then we’re showing the other person an inaccurate view of what we want and expect.
This can be pretty common among those of us who tend toward people-pleasing. We try to make sure the other person is happy with us and feels good about our friendship so they’ll keep us around.
If we feel insecure about our place in a friendship or uncertain about how much we mean to the other person, we might fear losing the friendship if we do anything to upset or burden our friend. This can lead us to take on more than our share of the responsibility for keeping the relationship running smoothly. We might fail to express what we want and need or downplay things that are bothering us.
In doing so, we imply that we’re ok with the way things are. While this may work to keep our relationship intact, it doesn’t help us grow a friendship that is truly connecting and satisfying.
The thing is, when we try to show someone how we want to be treated we may actually be communicating something different from what we expect or intend.
Let’s look at an example.
Let’s say you have a friend you’d like to hang out with regularly. You coordinate a time to get together. You have fun and your friend seems to as well. Then you sit back and wait for them to initiate the next thing…which is not forthcoming.
After a while you initiate another encounter, hoping your friend will realize you want to spend time with them and will take the hint that reaching out to spend time together is part of what being friends means to you. As time goes on, the more you try to set an example of reaching out, the less responsibility your friend takes for planning time together.
You may start to wonder if that person actually wants to spend time with you at all and worry that the friendship will just fade away if you stopped putting so much effort into it.
I don’t know how your friend really feels about you any more than I know about their schedule, priorities, or relationship skills. I do believe that you are worthy and capable of growing satisfying friendships.
It is worth considering whether what we think we’re communicating matches the message our friend is receiving. In this example, an alternate message they might be interpreting from our actions is that we are glad to take responsibility for all the planning so they don’t have to.
When a friend doesn’t show up for us in the way we hope they will or it feels like they take more from the relationship than they give, it can be easy to conclude that they don’t really care about us or what we want…at least not as much as we care about them. Of course, it’s possible that this is true.
It is also possible, however, that they are unaware of what makes us feel seen and loved. Many of us worry about seeming needy or demanding or more trouble than we are worth so we hold back on asking for what we want . We might also fall into the trap of believing that if the other person really cared about us they would just know.
We can’t read minds, and yet, how often do we try to guess what someone else is thinking or expect them to know what we want? What if we could just ask? What might happen if we requested what we want and asked our friends what they want?
We actually put a burden on our friends when we neglect to ask for what we want and then resent them for not giving it to us. Is it that they don’t care…or do they just not know?
Try this: Think about something that would make you feel cared for in your friendship. Maybe it’s something that would make you feel celebrated at your next accomplishment or special occasion. Maybe it’s a detail that would make your regular interactions feel extra special. Maybe it’s clarity around how often you’ll get together.
Is it clear to your friend what you want? Are you sure?
Are there any ways you’ve tried to show your friend how you want to be treated by treating them that way and hoping they’ll follow your example? Are there any other ways they could interpret your actions?
Where have you sacrificed what you want to give them what you think they want? How might you communicate what you want and need in a more clear, straightforward manner?
As an experiment, initiate a conversation where you share some of the things that help you feel particularly cared for and ask them to share some of theirs. After all, do you know for sure that the things you’re doing to show your friend you care are the things that help them feel most loved?