• Keeping Friends

How do you tell a friend you don’t have time for her?

Published: May 24, 2014 | By | 6 Replies Continue Reading
Time is finite and the decision how to use it is yours.



I have a friend that I have known for many years. I would like to think we are best friends even as we help each other out with things and run a mini side business together—well, more like a shared hobby.

But recently, she’s been mad at me for the fifteen-hour shifts I work. The fact I hang out with my family more then her and well…I just don’t have a lot of time anymore and its been hard to get her to understand the issues I face daily.

My father is a veteran with PTSD and an injured knee so when he needs me, I’m there no matter what. I am very big into family but I also love my friends a lot.

Sadly, said friend is also stubborn, naive, and a bit self-centered. I’m not sure how to go about telling her my problems or that I might miss her birthday. I don’t want the friendship to end or be ruined just because of my family and work hours. I even thought about trying to make time for her but she goes to work when I get off work.

Side note: She is also bipolar and prone to depression.

Signed, Hayley


Hi Hayley,

Your time is finite and belongs to you; you have the right to spend it as you wish, whether it’s at work or with family and you shouldn’t feel guilty about your choices. Nonetheless, if you want to nurture or maintain friendships, they require an investment of your time, too.

Is there some way, you can communicate to your friend that your work and family are your first priorities? Can you explain that you need the income you bring in and have a responsibility to your Dad? You could also explain that over time, people’s priorities change due to life circumstances.

It might also be helpful to let her know that she is your best friend and you value your friendship but you just don’t have as much time as you once did for socializing with anyone. Can you give her some realistic sense of how often you can get together?

You shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells, worrying that your friend will get depressed or upset if you establish realistic boundaries. A hefty dose of reassurance may help her realize that it’s about you, not her.

Also, is there some way you can celebrate her birthday before or soon after the actual date? It sounds like she has far less involvement with her family than you do and this may be important to her.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: Dealing with difficult friends

Comments (6)

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  1. cykhanh says:

    where is my friend, she is now in somewhere, not on map

  2. Shannon says:

    I read this with much interest..

    I have these same issues: “[she] is stubborn, naive, and a bit self-centered”… however they are with my mother. I feel like it sounds horrible but do the same “boundary rules” apply when the people are family?

    For years I was the listening post for Mom but my priorities have changed and her issues haven’t (real or perceived) and frankly, my compassion is flagging. I’ve encouraged her to find friends and see a therapist…All things she says she wants to do but is either not making it a priority (therapist) or having difficulty (she’s too busy moving, working, and is judgmental of potential people). What are the things to say that set boundaries but are not inflammatory?

    • Alberta says:

      IN a way I think worrying about being ‘inflammatory’ can be used against you by your family in a big way. They can set up their temper to be flared, then you are fearful to communicate and you go along with ‘listening’ to them so they won’t ‘get angry. Classic manipulation trick – one of the oldest one in the book – used often by parents.

      It is not so much what you can SAY so much when setting boundaries it is what you can DO – when your mother starts in and you feel like your head is going to explode – get off the phone. “Mom, that new restaurant food is going right through me in a big way – avalanche coming – goodbye” and hang up the phone.

      If you make it about bodily functions (or religion or something that she doesn’t ‘like’ to talk about) it really throws them off plus there is a likelihood they will be embarassed to come back ‘at’ you for not ‘being there’ for them at that moment.

      “you weren’t there for me when my neighbors dog poo’ed all over the lawn, you never listen to me after all I’ve done for you and you can’t even be there for me when my lawn is sullied by fifi”

      “Mom, it was either the neighbors dog on your lawn or me on my newly washed kitchen floor – when you gotta go you gotta go thats just the way God made us”

      or whisper “my hemorhoids are acting up and I don’t want my neighbor to know – gotta go ma, goodbye”

      And if they want to get angry that you don’t want to be used as a venting post the way a dog uses a firehydrant – let them get be inflamed – because if you don’t put boundaries on this kind of behavior, then you get to be the inflamed one.

    • Alberta says:

      To add – when you first disconnect from the venting by offering an excuse about bodily functions,saying GoodBye and Hanging UP right after – it feels odd and she may be annoyed; let her.

      To release yourself from a ‘vent’ that you’ve heard a million times before, feels a little like sneaking out of a boring social studies lecture and going out into the spring sunshine – absolutely freeing 🙂

  3. Irene says:

    “If you allow her issues to guilt you into doing things you don’t want to do, your friendship probably won’t withstand the pressure long term.”

    Wise advice, Amy! Thanks!

  4. Amy F says:

    You’re very kind and patient to try to set firm, yet gentle boundaries with your friend. As she has psychiatric issues, she probably tends towards personalizing things that aren’t directed at her, which can make for a lot of unnecessary angst and drama for you. The best think you can do is be direct clear when setting boundaries. Don’t make excuses, because like Irene says, it’s your time and you get to make the priorities. Let her know when she’s pressuring you or making demands by using “I” statements. “When you get angry because I’m working a long shift, I feel frustrated that you don’t seem to understand I have professional responsibilities.” or “I feel angry when you don’t understand that helping my dad is my first priority right now. I care about our friendship, but family comes first right now. I will resent you and that will affect our friendship if I feel pressured.”
    Even though your friend has psych issues, those issues are not your responsibility. The healthiest relationships are between two equals, and if you allow her issues to guilt you into doing things you don’t want to do, your friendship probably won’t withstand the pressure long term. It would be different if she were going through a temporary crisis, but her psych issues are chronic conditions.

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