• Handling Breakups

Friendship: In sickness and in health? Not always

Published: May 18, 2013 | Last Updated: May 18, 2013 By | 4 Replies Continue Reading
Two friends bond over sickness until one regains her health. Are there magic words to end this one-sided friendship?



What an interesting blog. I’m sure many people come the way I do, looking for help, guidance, the right words to end a ‘friendship’.

I’m struggling with a neighbor we used to have. We both had illnesses that impacted on our lives in a big way and bonded over our ill health. Mine was such that I required full time care from my husband. Hers, athough permanent, still allowed her to live on her own and drive a car. In fact, although she had limitations, she still managed to live a full life with clubs, church, etc.—even though she couldn’t work.

We didn’t meet that often, only when I was well enough to get up, but we did get on. It was comforting to know someone else who had also gone through the loss of a job from ill health. Looking back, it often seemed that illness was a competition in her head. Despite my ill health, meaning that I had to be in bed for hours a day and required care, she seemed to say hers was worse. To be honest, I didn’t have the energy to fight or care who was ‘illest’, and just let her offload all her woes regarding treatment, people, and healthcare staff.

My husband and I moved and I ended up having miracle surgery that has allowed me to get better and build my health slowly. And, our friendship changed dramatically. I guess she is bitter that I got better?

Last year I had a baby who was born 8 weeks early. We both nearly lost our lives in the process, and babe spent 4 weeks in NICU before we were allowed home. I should say at this point that my neighbor was a childrens’ nurse before she had to give up work. Our baby was also admitted to the childrens’ hospital after a few weeks with breathing problems, a very worrying time for us seeing her ventilated, on a drip and with a feeding tube again (she had been on these things when she was in NICU, but we had hoped that would be the end of it!).

This friend then has been making horrible comments about how we don’t realize that we are lucky to have a healthy baby (we do, there have been hours of prayers for her!), that we made too much fuss and that’s why she was taken to hospital (she couldn’t breathe!), we don’t realize how many babies don’t make it (we do, we were in NICU – we could see them!).

I feel unable to say anything to her that doesn’t get judged really harshly. It seems that I can’t reason with her. I have had repeated texts to say she is at death’s door, whilst apparently being able to get out and about. This has escalated to lots of messages being posted on our Facebook business page, which make it look like we are treating our customers badly. I delete them, but don’t always get there quickly enough before others could see it. She has messaged me to ask why I haven’t been in contact with her. Apparently my previous explanations mean nothing. This has affected my sleeping and relationship.

The thing is, I don’t want to hurt her. But I can’t think of any way to tell her to back off that won’t. She is very sensitive. It’s not that I don’t care, but I can’t think of anything to help her. I feel like I’m taking abuse for getting well.

Do you have any magic words I could say!

Signed, Ella


Hi Ella,

While your once-friend and neighbor may well have some serious and ongoing health concerns, it sounds like she is focused primarily on herself and very demanding of attention. While you were able to handle this friendship when your own health was a core concern to you, it now has devolved to one where there is far less basis for give-and-take and the friendship doesn’t feel reciprocal.

She has been unable to be supportive of your improved health and feels as if she is in a competition with you. Telling a parent that they are too concerned about a sick infant can be done in a way that is supportive or in a way that trivializes the friend’s feelings.

Posting personal messages on your business Facebook is totally unacceptable and you need to tell her that firmly and directly.

If this friendship has reached the point that it is compromising your sleep and relationship with your husband, you definitely have to take some measures to protect and take care of yourself. You don’t seem to harbor any hostility towards this woman but you’ve become exhausted by the friendship.

It’s unlikely that anything you could say or do will change her personality. Given that, I don’t see any reason to confront her or challenge other aspects of her attention-seeking behavior. While you can’t make her back off, you can distance yourself from her. Don’t respond to every text or call. Explain nicely that you are too busy; that you have made some friends in your new neighborhood; and that you don’t have time to get together.

Why be nice? Because she was once your friend. Plan an occasional get-together with her, only if you are so inclined. My guess is that she will find someone else to lean on when you are less available.

It’s always hard to end a friendship and, unfortunately, there are no “magic words” to make it easier. But I hope that this can help you find the right words for you. The good news is now that you’ve moved, extricating yourself from the friendship should be a tad easier.

Best, Irene

A prior post on The Friendship Blog that may be of interest:

In sickness and health


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Category: How to break up

Comments (4)

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  1. Ella says:

    Thank you all for your lovely, helpful comments. I was exhausted, much more than I realized. I’ve had some time out from the friendship and have done a lot of soul searching. I managed to block her on Facebook so that stopped those comments – thank you for the suggestion, I hadn’t thought of that! She still sends texts, the latest one saying that my previous illness was just pretence which is totally untrue and she knows that. The content of some of these texts have put me off her further. I’m disappointed how things have turned out, I had hoped she had just said a few nasty things then would be nice, but this is months of nonsense from her and there doesn’t seem to be a let up. Thank you for your help.

  2. Marisa says:

    There is no such thing as being too concerned over a fragile helpless infant. I had a good friend chide me over the same thing when my baby was being worked up for cancer. I started ignoring her and phased her out and realized she had always been selfish and snippy. People who claim medical disability yet can shop and go to clubs and out and about are abusing the system and I want nothing to do with them. I’m a physician and see this abuse every day.

  3. Bronwyn says:

    First of all, congratulations on finding a cure for your illness and on the birth of your child. Yes, you are fortunate, fortunate in having had the opportunity to overcome a serious illness — not fortunate in the way some people are who simply float through life impervious to the misfortunes of others — you have first-hand experience of just how bad things can get. For anyone to begrudge you of such a dramatic change in circumstances says a great deal about her character (or lack thereof).

    Having said that, I do think Amy makes a valid point in asking, “Is it possible that you’ve lost patience for her illness, now that you’ve got other priorities in your family?” Could this be coloring your perceptions of the way you interpret her comments and the way you’ve portrayed the story? This isn’t an attempt to judge you, just something you might want to look at yourself. Sometimes, when circumstances change for one person, they become avoidant of the other as though misfortune is somehow contagious. It doesn’t have to have any logic behind it, it’s just a reality for some people. So perhaps you have some soul-searching to do about all this — or not.

    However, if her comments on your business page are potentially affecting your livelihood, that is completely unacceptable. If you are finding yourself repeatedly deleting this woman’s remarks, then it means those comments do not belong on your page. Presumably, you are very busy with the care of your child and you simply don’t have time to monitor your page for nasty grams. I’d block her immediately. If she inquires about it, you might even say that several acquaintances don’t seem to be able to make the distinction between your business and personal pages, so you’ve changed your settings about who can post on the business page. (This is actually another option in avoiding her remarks, but Facebook settings can be excruciatingly complicated to get right.)

    What you have described has caused me to wonder if there really ever was a friendship or if you were simply a captive audience.

    Given the dramatic texts about her being at death’s door, combined with the other behaviors you’ve described, cause me to speculate that the illness that cost her her job was not a physical one. This doesn’t make the illness any less valid, but it does raise concerns about continued contact given that you have the safety of your child to consider.

    Good luck and stay safe and well.

  4. Amy says:

    Sometimes friends need a break from each other in order to appreciate each others. There’s no written rule that says friends have to be close through each and every tough and triumphant times in each others lives. You each have flaws and assets, that doesn’t mean that you’re right and she’s wrong, or she’s right and you’re wrong. It could just mean that you’re in different places in your life.
    Other times, friendships have served their purpose and they are no longer viable. It’s not unusual for friendships that develop over a common interest (an illness, coworkers, neighbors, a sport) to dissolve if that common interest is no longer shared. I met wonderful friend during group therapy for incest survivors. We stayed close for years, even after she moved across country, but as we recovered in different directions and with the distance seemed further and we drifted apart. I’m sure if we were next door neighbors, we’d still be great friends and I know if we saw each other again, we’d be non-stop chatterboxes.
    I’m so happy that you’ve been able to overcome your illness and that you’ve had a baby. I wish your friend was able to be happy for you, but I can also understand why, if she’s still suffering, she might feel pangs of jealousy. I can also understand how you might be misinterpreting well meaning comments to be Unfriendly, especially if you’ve got some residual guilt that she’s not able to experience some of the joy you’ve had due to your renewed health. Is it possible that you’ve lost patience for her illness, now that you’ve got other priorities in your family?
    You’ve got to set appropriate boundaries with her, and be assertive. You can’t be responsible for how she reacts if you’ve been compassionate and firm in setting those limitations. If you don’t, your frustration with her will mount and will probably come out passive-aggressively or end in a blow-up. It sounds like you really need a break, at the very least. You can honestly say, with an infant who has health problems, that you don’t have the time or energy for anything else, and that it’s not a reflection on how you feel about her. You haver every right to insist she not post on your professional FB page and I assume that like personal FB pages, you can block her if she doesn’t respect your boundaries (though you don’t have to tell her you’re blocking her, that probably wouldn’t end well).
    As long as you know your heart is in the right place, your head should be clear of guilt. You DO NOT need the drama. Good luck.

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