• Keeping Friends

Resolving Tension Between Friends

Published: May 27, 2022 | Last Updated: May 27, 2022 By | Reply Continue Reading
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How do you handle tension between friends? This reader has reached a boiling point and asks what to do.

QUESTION

Dear Friendship Doctor,

I have been experiencing tension with a friend for some time now, but my frustration has recently reached a boiling point.

I am an international person, with an international outlook and background. I have lived in eight countries due to my studies and career trajectory. My closest friend where I currently live, in the south of Brazil, is very provincial. She always wants to do the same things, and stay within her cultural and linguistic comfort zone. If I suggest going out to a restaurant with a different cuisine (ex: Peruvian), she will not openly say no, but rather make excuses as to why she cannot go. 

She has zero interest in other cultures, countries, and faith traditions, which is one of my most important values: curiosity and a desire to learn about other cultures and ways of life. Initially, I accepted her provincialism, despite her living in a capital city since she came here to study as a young adult. 

Increasingly, however, I find that it is limiting our friendship. I agree to the outings/activities she suggests, even if they might not be things I am particularly interested in (ex: opera or watching a football match), because I believe it is important to try and do things outside of one’s comfort zone and range of interests.

However, this is not reciprocated on her side. I would love to travel, for example, to visit some nearby cities in our state. But once again, while never explicitly saying no, she says that would need to “organize herself” for a day or weekend trip, and never manages somehow to do so. 

While intellectually, I keep telling myself I need to accept her limitations, the sad reality is that she is my only friend here: All my other contacts are acquaintances. If I had other alternatives to this friendship, and a more international (in outlook) group of friends, I don’t think I would feel so frustrated. 

Inside, I am growing increasingly resentful and am having second thoughts about the sustainability of our friendship. I have realized that I want and need friends who are curious about the world, love to travel (at least within their own state and country!), and are open-minded. 

I recently pointed out to her that she never asked me, not once, about what it was like for me living/working in other countries. “Do you have any questions for me?,” I asked.  She struggled to ask me a question and ended up asking me something not related to living in another country at all. So I feel I have tried to stimulate some dialogue/curiosity, with no success.

What would you advise in this situation?

Signed, Lila

ANSWER

Hi Lila,

While imperfect, It sounds like this friendship is still one that you value and don’t want to lose completely. 

Because people are so unique, no relationship is ever perfect. And it is extremely unlikely that any one individual, even a spouse or romantic partner, can fulfill all of another person’s needs. 

While you probably share many things in common with this friend (including the convenience of being in the same place geographically), you are expressing a void in the relationship that may be related to a number of factors—perhaps, your both having had different upbringing, different past experiences, and/or, simply have different personalities. 

I wouldn’t see these differences as a limitation of your friend, per se, but rather as a limitation of this friendship.

You’ve already taken a first step by identifying what’s bothering you. You need to now take some action to ease the tensions between you and help preserve the parts of the friendship you treasure.

I would suggest a few different but equally important approaches to help maintain and improve the viability of this friendship:

Broaden your circle of acquaintances by finding kindred spirits 

  • Is there a meetup group you can join focusing on different dining experiences or another of your many interests? 
  • An ex-pat group to talk about some of the challenges and advantages of living in different cultural settings? 
  • A faith community?
  • A class to improve your Portuguese (assuming it is not your native tongue)?
  • Can you plan a trip traveling solo as part of a small group (this can be a great way to meet other people)? 

Allow yourself some distance from the friendship, at least for the time being.

  • If you are at the “boiling point,” you need to step away a bit. Even though she hasn’t said so, I suspect your friend must sense your upset, frustration and disappointment.
  • Can you see your friend less frequently?
  • See each other for shorter periods of time?
  • Spend more time pursuing your interests independently or with others?

Make an effort to be more explicit about your needs

  • Can you propose an activity and let your friend know that it is important to you, even if it isn’t something she would typically opt to do? 
  • While you can’t expect your friend to be curious if she isn’t, you can expect her to compromise to meet your needs from time to time. All friendship require give-and-take.

Hope this helps!

My best,

Irene

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS

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