Friendship Balance

Dear Emily,
My friend is going through some very intensely stressful life changes and I’m being as supportive as I can. How do I balance being a friend for her while also making sure I’m taking care of myself while helping her?

Before I get into my advice, I want you to take a deep breath and know that you are one of the good ones. A gem of a person, I tell ya! Pat yourself on the back, friend.

Helping one another out in hard times is what friendship is about, and there’s usually a natural push and pull to this. You give a little, I take a little, and vice versa. Sometimes friends need extra help, and that’s okay, we just need to make sure that 1. we’re setting proper boundaries and 2. we’re taking care of ourselves.

Boundaries, you ask? Yes dear reader, boundaries. If this is a new term for you let me give you a little boundaries 101. We all have limitations to what we will and will not tolerate in relationships. Sometimes those are hard and fast rules for friendship, and sometimes we have more flexible boundaries. For example, I worked as a server in restaurants for a long time. One coworker, a woman my age who had gone through some hard times in life (she was always talking about her shitty boyfriend, her shitty parents, her shitty siblings, her shitty apartment… you get the picture), asked me to give her a ride to work. It was out of the way, but we had the same clock in time and I wanted to be nice. I was happy to help. Cut to three weeks later, I had given her a ride to work for every shift, even if I didn’t work with her. I was 20 and thought that to be a good friend I had to say yes to anything someone asked me to do, even if it was inconvenient to me. Eventually this became a huge issue, and I told her I couldn’t give her rides anymore. She apologized and asked if there was any way she could make it up to me. I said that I needed a shift that coming week covered, and she happily took it off my hands. Great. Well, she never showed up for the shift and told the managers that she never agreed to take it. However, she had done the same thing to a few other people and the managers weren’t really keen on her being a jerk. So, she was fired.

tl;dr, if I had told my coworker “I can give you a ride sometimes but your apartment is out of the way, so it can’t be a regular thing” from the get go, then maybe I would have saved myself some headaches. Sure, if she wasn’t an asshole (she was such an asshole), none of this would have happened. Either way, I could have nipped it in the bud.

I don’t think your friend is being an asshole, at all. My point is that sometimes the give and take in friendships is one sided, or becomes one sided for a while. To offset that, and to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves, we have to be firm in how we set boundaries. If you tell your friend, “I love you and I want you to be happy, safe, and healthy. Right now, I need to make sure that I’m taking care of myself so that I can help you the best I can. If you text or call me and I can’t answer right away, I’m not ignoring you, I’m just away from my phone or need a little break”, hopefully she will understand. If she gets upset or feels like you are abandoning her, remind her that you love and care about her, and that you can’t help if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

How are you going to take care of yourself? Well, what do you do to relax? Read a book, take a bath, watch your favorite tv show, go for a walk, spend time with your friends or family, go grab a drink with a friend, go to the movies and leave your phone at home. Whatever rejuvenates you. While you’re doing these things, tell your friend that you’re going to be away from your phone but that you will check in when you get back. If you are friends with other friends with hers, try to tag team the situation. When you are taking a break for a day or two, other friends can step in and make sure she’s alright.

An important thing to remember is that you are allowed to take some time to breathe. Reset yourself and then see if your friend needs you.

If you want a little more reading on boundaries, this may help!

With a big high five and also a cookie,


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