• Resolving Problems

Unbalanced friendships: Why does this happen?

Published: April 1, 2016 | By | 12 Replies Continue Reading
A woman laments that her friendships are unbalanced because she is always the initiator.



I have had a few friends for many years but these relationships have been unbalanced. I always took more of the initiative in the relationships most of the time, not them. It makes me think that they don’t value my friendship. Got any advice?

Signed, Carly


Hi Carly,

Your complaint is a common one. Although it’s nice when friendships are balanced, and both people make an effort to get together and make plans, this isn’t always the case.

Here are a few possible reasons why this isn’t always the case:

  • Some people are more eager to spend time with friends than others; they may be more outgoing and social while others are more comfortable spending time alone.
  • Some people may have more discretionary time for friendships while others may have greater work and/or school responsibilities.
  • Some people may have a larger number of friends than others so they initiate contact with each friend less frequently.
  • Some people tend to be planners while others tend to be more passive; when this occurs often, it can be self-perpetuating.
  • I’m not sure what is going on in your case. If your friends are responding positively to your invites and you have a good time together, you can let them know that you hope that they would initiate get-togethers, too.

If one or more friends are always turning you down, it might suggest that they really aren’t as invested in these friendships as you are. In those instances, you might want to pull back a bit, too, and look for friendships that are more reciprocal.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Comments (12)

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  1. Paige says:

    I sill struggle with this with my closest girlfriend. We’re in our early 40’s and early 50’s and just clicked 10 years ago. Couple years ago we were doing something every weekend despite both of us being married, me having kids and both of us having busy lives. Got to the point where honestly people found it a little odd that we spent that much time together especially since we aren’t exactly unmarried 20 somethings. But I have realized that as outgoing as she comes off to most, she really likes her privacy as she’s always told me.. and as much as I think I have put her on a pedestal as the perfect friend, she lies a lot. At times I felt special thinking that she was confiding in me about other issues, people, etc bc she said I was the only one she could share. Don’t know why it’s taken me so long to realize that I’m sure she lies a lot to me. Unless there’s something she wants to do, she has every excuse in the world why she can’t do x, y, z… again unless it’s something she wants to do. I have other close friends and have expanded my circle even more. I don’t think she’s changed her stance other than not initiating as much bc she is spending more time with others. But it’s just hard accepting the change in our relationship from my perspective although she would likely say nothing has changed — life is just busy and she just can’t commit to doing all the one on one stuff we did a couple of years ago. I know I’m more expressive than her and she is such a caring person, but I absolutely can’t talk to her about this. I tried once and she said she doesn’t need to see even her closest friends all the time. Maybe several years it was just a period of time where the friendship was still new and exciting for her and now she feels she has a friend in me for life and I’ll just be there when she’s available. Just makes me sad about old times. I know I either back away some ore just accept her for what she can give. It’s just tough.

  2. Ryan says:

    I disagree with a good majority of these comments. The main reason being is you will never know someone better than they know themselves. That being said, to assume that someone doesn’t value you simply based off of their actions is to place your knowledge in the realm of absolute. It’s okay to back Ioff on ibeing the initiator, but to simply not call someone to see if they’ll call you back is a petty test and often leaves you disappointed because the test taker didn’t know they were a participant to your test. You need to have an adult conversation about your grievances and how they make you feel so that nothing is left to misinterpretation (mainly yours.). The majority of the time, these people feel secure in their friendship with you because it helps relationship has been established and then they will feel like you no longer value them because you stopped initiating. Now inversely, if you go and actually address your greivances and why your doing said action, you’re more likely to be met with a positive result. You can’t just assume you know why a persons actions are being made. And by cutting off a relationship via not talking anymore, simply to see if they will, appears selfish. They could help you with your problem if you handle it correctly and responsibly like an adult. If your response is “they should care enough to initiate, then you have made the assumption that they know that that’s what needs to be done. Therefore you have a great deal of assumptions and no real solution.

    • Ben says:

      Your post supposes that this issue comes down to misunderstanding. Even Dr. Phil says often that “past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.” In the end we are all responsible for own thinking, our own behavior and our own happiness. I can’t speak for anyone else but as for me I found a definite pattern of too much energy going out without much coming back which led to my own unhappiness. I have been practicing that behavior most of my life. Is this new way of reacting to life a “silver bullet?” No. It has it’s own set of realizations. One positive benefit for me has been an increased sense of “self worth.” Mark Twain coined the phrase “Denial just ain’t a river in Egypt.” The truth will set you free but first it’s gonna piss you off. In this new way of interacting with the world some core relationships still maintain themselves. I still have a few people that I regularly communicate with. Some I initiate and they respond but there is a good solid sense of reciprocity. That leads to good feelings of having good connections. I don’t think in life there are many black and white answers. I took ethics in college and learned that even in big moral issues there are two sides to every issue. I don’t ever want to go back self delusion and if this way becomes problematic I will learn a new way. I am grateful to how life has taught me more about me and “if it weren’t for sorrow, how could I know joy??” 🙂

  3. Judge Judy says:

    I think that if you are always the initiator then it probably means that you are wanting more from them than they want to give you.

    I could see being on the other side of that and annoyed that so-and-so was bugging me and refused to take a hint and back off.

    If you don’t have the social life that you want, why not join some meetup groups, community education classes, and so on. That way you win right away from having social activities doing things you like. And you will also begin to form new friendships. There are so many new people out there to meet, who will want to call you, too. Good luck.

  4. Arlene says:

    I think the thing about women and the subject friendships, whether you initiate or not, and I discovered this once the dating started, you will be always be DISAPPOINTED. For a female her priority is her love interest, her children, her career, her parents, PTA, couple friends and then her friends. So no matter what you put on the table, you are last on the totem pole and first dumped.

    I have initiated many outings even with women complaining their husbands are too busy, and get the can’t go last minute call because the husband decided to stay home, the kids need a ride, she has an office project or the parents are coming over. Men seem to put friends closer to the top and I envy that about them and the happier they seem. Friendship with women seems at its best before romance hits and sometimes down the road when they retire if they aren’t grandchildren obsessed. I have friends who will not leave the house in case the grandchild call.

    And the silly part of all this is that women claim they are lonely and want friends. Well women have to move women up the list and not just call them like the fire department when your life is on fire, and then gone again when your women friends help put the fire out.

    I had a friend like that who said that her Divorce taught her so much about true friendship and she would not put the good friends on the back burner for any man. I took her calls of despair at 2 in the a.m. and any other time disappeared when my daughter almost died and Grandson died. She was too busy with her new boyfriend to even read the email explaining my life fire or to make a phone call to see how I was doing. We are not friends any longer.

    • Soujanya says:

      You nailed it!!

    • Dee says:

      You know what, you are so right. I also find that if a woman is in a relationship or has a family, she is more apt to want to befriend other women who is in a stable relationship, married or has children. Not all are like this, but I find that those women still make it all about that when they are together, constantly discussing husbands, boyfriends, children and their family focus. It’s not really about “girl time”.

    • Agnus says:

      Yes I agree, and its totally frustrating the way some women behave as though they have no control over their lives- i.e. they can only relate to the ‘nurturing’ part of their personalities! Its like they just want to be everyone’s slave -husband’s, parent’s, children’s, grandchildren’s etc.( As soon as one of them makes a demand, off they go – and you as a friend can just go to hell basically!)I think it relates to many women having a poor sense of self, or something similar – take away their ‘being needed’ and they have nothing, don’t know how to assert or enjoy themselves. Stupid and boring, and uninspiring I reckon! (More women should aspire to Pats and Eddie from Ab Fab!) – be more selfish, naughty and irresponsible in their old age, and value their gal pals just as much or more than family members!

  5. Amy F says:

    Since you’ve noticed s pattern, there are likely things you can do to shift to having different types of relationships.

    If you’re more of a leader and initiator, you probably take that role in friendships. Is this satisfying? Are you choosing followers rather than fellow leaders, people who are more likely to wait for the call?
    Are you choosing people who are less interested in the relationship than you? Are you able to read social cues to tell if you’re accurately picking up on nonverbal cues of interest or ambivalence? Change happens when we look at ourselves and make alterations.

    Therapy is often helpful in changing lifelong unsatisfactory patterns, because thoughts and behaviors need to be unlearned and learned along with deeper insight.

  6. Ben says:

    I know exactly what you are going through because it has been the same way for me. About a year ago I got fed up with it and decided to not call people who did not call me first. It was very painful but yielded some great results. As I went through the pain of realizing that my friendships were one sided my sense of well-being and happiness with me went up. I am involved in support groups and other things related so I am engaged in my community. I am also now off Facebook because Facebook increased those feelings of loneliness because as I looked at those other people with their relationships and connections it made me feel more lonely. Sometimes also on Facebook I would send a message to someone and it would not be returned. I do have a few people who have called and I call them back. I am not saying it’s wrong not call someone on your own but if there is a pattern making it frustrating for you (which I gather by your post) the only way things are going to change for you is if you make a change. In my mind I am responsible for my thinking, behavior and happiness. While going through a long bout of Major Depression I attended a transition program from a hospital stay and the facilitator had a great saying, “What I learn I practice. What I practice I become. What I become has consequences.” We have all learned and practiced ineffective coping and relating skills. If we can make changes toward more effective interpersonal skills our happiness and contentment increases. It has for me. My hope for you is you find the strength to make changes to get what your looking for. The changes I have made are working for me. Sadly I have known some people in my life who get stuck forever in ineffective coping and relating dynamics who will not change and see the world as hostile because changing doesn’t seem to be the solution. The only thing sure in life is change…… All the best!!!

    • Lalasisi says:

      Thank you – I love it! Especially the saying at the end. I too have stopped getting in touch with those that wait to be contacted. I have moved aside from people who are needy, to people who know who they are. no more drama, much easier. If I feel an emotion now and its not healthy I choose to ignore it and let it go. I did learn to distance myself for me to decide who is a goof friend and who I like. I have some very strong friends now and they all don’t have to be included in everything like the needy ones do. Its tough going through it but when one door closes a much better one opens!

      • Dee says:

        I am the same, and Ben I also had to get off Facebook for that exact same reason. I know I’m not a planner, but I think if there is always a back and forth with me and my friends I will step up first to bring up an outing.

        When I would see my friends on facebook constantly updating about things they were doing on their own, never inviting me, it’s obvious they want to be alone and I am not in their thoughts to want to hang out with.

        I don’t expect to be invited to everything, but to have a friend that never thinks about including me in anything, I mean what’s the point? Me calling them first says a lot about how they think of me.

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