How to Fix a One-Sided Friendship

How to Fix a One-Sided Friendship
Photo: Antonio Guillem, Shutterstock

You might spend hours staring at your phone, waiting for a reply to a text. Maybe they talk over you in a group of friends or in a group chat. Or perhaps their attention seems to drift, their gaze averted, whenever you talk.

Being in a one-sided friendship can be a painful reality to face, and the pandemic has especially strained many relationships as we adapt to new forms of communication. Recognising the situation, however, is the first step to mending the relationship, or allowing yourself to the ability to move on from it entirely. Here’s some ways to recognise if a relationship suffers from one-way traffic, and some ways to address these situations directly.

They’re always late

Running a little late is understandable, especially if there’s a reasonable explanation. But making a friend wait long stretches of time can demonstrate a blatant disregard for their time and feelings, especially if it’s done consistently.

Chronic tardiness is a more complex issue than many of us realise, but on some level it can communicate a sense of self-centeredness and lack of regard for friends.

If this is a sticking point in one of your friendships, it might be a good idea to let them know why it sucks to wait, seemingly aimlessly, for someone to show up. Don’t make it about them, but about your own feelings and experience.

They never seem to listen

There’s a reason why active listening is associated with strong friendships. If your friend’s attention always seems to wander at a crucial juncture, it’s a good indication that this person can’t make time for you, perhaps when you need it most.

On the contrary, active listening — the act of making eye contact and staying engaged in conversation — is a hallmark of a great friendship that breeds mutual understanding and goodwill.

As startup founder Thomas Oppong writes in a Medium post:

People who are good at winning friends listen intelligently — they look out for the meaning behind what the other person is saying words. They ask open-ended questions like ‘what was that like for you?’ to open up the conversation further. And they also use their body language to add energy to any conversation — even if you are listening intently, you have to show people you are listening to them.

If your friend cuts you off, or seems distracted by their phone or something else, maybe ask them to focus their attention on you a little more. There’s nothing wrong with insisting that you have something important to say, if you do it in a congenial manner. Let your friend know that you’d like to be heard shows that you value you their thoughts, and that you consider their input essential.

They have a hard time saying “thank you”

Gratitude is key in maintaining any relationship. If you go the extra distance to do something nice for a friend and they don’t acknowledge your sacrifice, it can certainly breed resentment.

On the contrary, gratitude can help relationships flourish. As the psychologists Eric Pedersen and Debra Lieberman write:

A great deal of research has shown that gratitude helps us to initiate, maintain, and strengthen our relationships. Gratitude may make our romantic relationships closer and more satisfying, encourage us to feel more invested in friendships, and even cause us to be more helpful coworkers.

This one can be tricky, and might make you seem resentful if you don’t broach it diplomatically. If you feel your friend doesn’t appreciate your favours or sacrifice, you might consider writing them a non-judgmental note, again framing the issue entirely around your own feelings. You could write: “It wasn’t very easy doing that favour, and it always makes me feel good to hear that it was appreciated.”

They don’t seem to care about what’s happening in your life

In an ideal world, we cultivate relationships with people we genuinely care about. If a friend isn’t there to celebrate milestones with you, or doesn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about a professional or personal achievement, it might be a sign that they’re not really interested in your life.

As Omar Itani writes in a Medium post:

They’re interested in your troubles and difficulties to see how they could help you overcome them, and in your triumphs and successes to see how they could chime in on the celebrations.

Model the type of interest you want your friend to show in your life by making sure you take a clear interest in theirs. If you decide to have a conversation about their lack of perceived interest, use your own behaviour as a benchmark of what you’d like to see returned. And if someone doesn’t ask you about what’s going on in your life, talk about yourself anyway. If you’ve listened to someone talk about what’s happening to them, even if you weren’t particularly interested, you should be afforded the same courtesy.

They’re competitive

No friendship should feel like a competition. Comparison, which is pretty interlinked with the concept of competitive relationships, is considered a toxic concept in psychology. If you feel like your friend is trying to one-up you every time you manage to accomplish something, or immediately turns the conversation toward themselves and their own ambitions, it’s a pretty good sign that the relationship has gone sour.

This one is a little bit easier, considering that a friend’s competitive impulses might really just stem from a place of insecurity. Remind them that you’re on the same team, and that you share successes by being close friends. You could approach this one direct, perhaps with a tone of levity, saying something to the effect of: “It’s not a competition, I’m so happy that you were able to accomplish that.”

You can’t depend on them

Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes, and the best friends are always there to lend support when you need it. If you need help moving, or watering your plants when you’re on holiday, a good friend won’t think twice about carving out the time to help you. If your friend always has an excuse, or seems disinterested in helping you out, it might be a sign that they just don’t care.

If, for example, your friend opts to go to a party instead of helping you move after you previously helped them do it, you might want to sit them down and address the situation directly. You can say: “I helped you move and I just didn’t really feel I was afforded the same when I needed the help.”

No two friendships are the same, and these examples really only scrape the surfaces of the intricacies that pervade human relationships. But if you find yourself experiencing a few of these on a regular basis, be sure that you tried to address them directly. If that doesn’t work, it might be time to rethink whether this friendship is worth the emotional toll.

Log in to comment on this story!