How to Deal With a Persnickety Friend

Do you have a friend who’s got you walking on eggshells — someone who makes you feel like you’re not a good person, let alone a good friend?

Friendship on Probation

I have a friend like this. Everything I do feels like it’s never quite right, or quite enough.

Each piece of positive feedback, every supportive email, all the small accommodations I cheerfully make around  her personal preferences — it’s like these are thrown down a well. They don’t seem to make a dent in her opinion of me as a friend, and I never see them again.

Can you relate? I hope so. I can’t be the only one!

So how do we deal with friends like this?

While it may be extremely tempting to simply end the friendship, I have another idea. It’s based on the wisdom, “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” Every relationship, insignificant or epic, is an opportunity for personal growth.

My idea is based on a story I heard recently from a ballroom dance enthusiast.

Hold Your Own Space

A woman in a beginning tango class was told repeatedly by a sequence of partners that she was doing things wrong, not following well, etc. But she couldn’t get a handle on why this was.

The last man she danced with was the teacher, who told her what he’d observed.

He said that each of  her partners, who were also beginners, had been crowding her space. This kept her from holding her own axis — her position in space. If she focused on maintaining her axis, all would be well (and if it wasn’t, it would be her partner’s fault, since he was leading).

Maintaining your own axis, or holding your own space, seems like a great thing to think about when dealing with difficult people.

In the case of my friend, her disappointment in me is not just about her; we’ve created it together. We BOTH tend to focus on how I can meet her needs better. I’m playing a part in this unpleasant dynamic by focusing on propping her up instead of standing up straight myself.

What might it look like to hold your own space? Here are a few ideas, and you can add some of your own:

  • Pay attention to your own experience from moment to moment; how are things going for you?
  • Refuse to make any attempts at mind-reading
  • When she expresses disappointment in your behavior, ask her what she would like you to do instead
  • Express disappointment in her when she behaves badly

It’s possible that these behaviors will hasten the end of the friendship. But the reality is that most female friendships don’t last a lifetime anyway. Especially one-sided ones.

Holding one’s own space is a useful exercise in itself. And it just might help attract a different sort of friend in the future.

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