How to Let a Friend or Partner Know They Let You Down

Here are tips to help you handle conflicts in otherwise healthy relationships.

Posted Aug 16, 2019

There are many different reasons that some of us have a hard time letting go of friendships that no longer support us. Some people have no trouble letting go of friendships–they are able to clearly assess whether or not the relationship has value for them, and if not, they can let it go. Others of us feel that once we get ourselves invested into a friendship, that we “owe” the friend loyalty and we need to stick it out, no matter what.

Some of us believe that we will be able to change people–boyfriends, friends, whatever–and so we hang on to our toxic friend in the hopes that we can somehow convince our friend to change. It seldom works for long. Then we may begin making excuses for a friend’s poor behavior and enabling her to avoid change.

When a relationship fails, some women feel it’s their fault and they feel guilty for not being “better” friends. They also may be hesitant to end a friendship if they feel the friend doesn’t have many other friends and they feel sorry for the friend.

Some of us might have such low self-esteem or self-worth that we have decided that any friend is better than no friend. We may put up with poor behavior because we feel that this is all we deserve to expect.

Many women recognize the deep value that social relationships hold in life, so they may feel that hurting a friend’s feelings by ending a relationship is the ultimate insult.

Some friends may actually be "frenemies,” people we actually need in our lives for some reason, but who are unable to be the kind of friend and supportive person that we might like them to be. There are also “friends of convenience” who take your kids to soccer practice with theirs or have their place in Zumba beside you each week and so on. These friends provide more instrumental support than emotional support and we keep them around for the service, not the warm support, they provide.

"Mean Girls" and "Bullies" Don't Always Change When They "Grow Up"

Another unfortunate fact is that the friends who have the power to be mean are often those who wield more social power than others in their social circles. Even though their actions are reprehensible, they maintain a place high at the top of the social strata in their environment. Sometimes our own need for status will outweigh our assessment of the other friendship qualities that we would normally appreciate.

It can be difficult for some of us to get up the courage to confront a relationship issue, so it is important for these individuals to remember that friendships are relationships of choice–unlike family relationships that are relationships by blood or law. For most of us, this implies an expectation of some level of reciprocity in the relationship, and when you feel like you are being consistently shortchanged, remind yourself that it’s okay to share your feelings with your friend.

What to Do When It's Time for a Difficult Discussion

When you decide that it is time to address the friendship, some basic rules of communication and conflict mediation should be in place:

  • Let your friend know that you would like to have a discussion about the relationship. No one likes having this kind of conversation sprung on them, so give your friend some advance notice.
  • Choose a time and place that is agreeable for both of you and be sure to choose as neutral a place as you can. You might feel awkward sitting on her couch and drinking her wine when you are trying to address feelings that she isn’t as invested in the relationship as you feel you are, for instance.
  • If you choose a more public place, like a park or restaurant or coffee shop, it’s also likely to keep the conversation more genial and less likely to result in strong emotional responses.
  • Use “I statements,” always use “I statements.” It’s important that you focus on how you are feeling ("I feel like...") or what you are thinking in response to her behavior.
  • And an important reminder: Throughout the course of a friendship, always own your feelings! If it’s not okay that she always cancels on plans after you’ve already picked up the babysitter, don’t spend months seething inside while telling her, “It’s okay, I understand. Maybe next time will work.” If you save up all your frustration over time, it’s likely to get the best of you once you finally get the courage to share your feelings!
  • Listen to what your friend has to say once you’ve opened up your own concerns. She may not have realized the effect she was having on the relationship.
  • Work towards a compromise. Unfortunately, some people believe that a compromise means a lose/lose situation because each person has to concede something. Every healthy relationship usually involves compromise and adjusting to others’ needs or wants. Friendships are no different: For a relationship to thrive, it really takes two to make it work. Be willing to “give a little” in order to allow your friend to “get a little.”
  • If your friend is not buying into your perspective, you may want to take a step back and see if your own assessment is as objective as it should be. If you reach a stalemate, you will need to decide if the friendship’s value is high enough to accept the relationship’s limitations.
  • Remember, too, that there are always going to be multiple realities at play—what you see and believe is your reality, but the same is true for your friend.

It's Up to You to Decide When It's Time to Draw the Line

If the “real issue” is a problem behavior—she drinks too much, parties too hard, always asks to borrow money, or some other challenging behavior—and she has no interest in changing, you may need to recognize that changing her yourself is not going to happen. Not everyone wants to be what others want them to be, and you may have to decide when it’s time to draw the line.