Our friendship exhausts me now

Our agony aunt Mary Fenwick offers a new perspective on your challenges and problems


Our friendship exhausts me now

My friend had a messy divorce nine years ago. Our daughters are similar ages and my husband died eight years ago, so we have helped each other through issues and remained in touch even when I moved 300 miles away for a new relationship. She has been demoted, which is hurting her financially, her daughter leans on her a lot, and her dad is elderly and very ill. I have paid for her to come on holidays with me over the last few years, plus spa breaks, and each year, she invites herself to visit. I guess I went along with it because I felt sorry for her. But she is a difficult person; she has dietary issues, is a fussy sleeper, obsessive about planning and also pessimistic, and I find it exhausting to be in her company. On our last break, I told her that the holidays have to stop as I am supporting my son through university, and I hope to buy a new house. What can I do? I offer her advice if she asks and support her with treats, but the present situation is getting me down – I just see her getting worse in the future. Penny 

At the moment, this is not a friendship. It might have been once, and it might be again, but right now it does not have many of the qualities of friendship, such as having fun together, feeling like ‘it’s you and me against the world’, or even basically liking each other. Having said that, I’m sure many people will recognise your experience, and we might all have to admit that we’ve been on both sides of it at different times.

One theory that may be relevant is known as the Karpman Drama Triangle. This says that we adopt unconscious roles of being the victim, the rescuer and the persecutor (the person who starts handing out blame).

Your description would definitely seem to fit with you being the rescuer (let me help you with that) and your friend being the victim (I’m so helpless). The next stage would be for one of you to get fed up with your role, and start blaming the other person.

I am saying this with the hope that it is thought-provoking, not pasting a label on your forehead. To escape from the theory, some more human questions might be: are you truly helping your friend by feeling sorry for her, and giving her advice? When did she last have the opportunity to give something back to you? How might she feel if there is nothing at all that she can give to you? If you stick to the role of the giver, she can only take, and that doesn’t sound good for either of you.

Please don’t think I’m being unsympathetic – I am sure that there have been times in my chequered career when I have played both the drainer, and the martyr role, and we all know how tempting it is to blame other people when things go wrong. One technique I tried with a friend who was sucking my energy was to start talking about my own worries, without waiting for her to ask. She rose to the occasion and we are back on track.

It is possible that by ceasing to support your friend quite so much at the moment, she will begin to take action herself. It is also possible that you didn’t ever fundamentally like her much, and you are seeing that more clearly now that the circumstances which brought you together have changed.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line

More inspiration:

Read The Relationship Triangle

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