If you’re the kind of person who generally tries to see the best in people, or excuses not-so-great behaviour a lot, then it's likely that you have a few friendships that are a little off-balance. Say, the old mate who rarely WhatsApps you back, but does expect that you drop everything if she has a problem, or the school pal who relies on you to bolster their self-esteem, but rarely has anything nice to say, to you.
But while there are major red flags out there, it can be tricky to determine whether a friendship is lopsided, and there are some more subtle signs your bond may not be the healthiest. That’s why WH tapped therapists to spill exactly what to look for—and how to handle the sitch. Read on for their expert advice.
The signs of a one-sided friendship
'If a friendship is off-balance, one person takes up too much space and the other person takes up too little,' says Kaitlin Kindman, LCSW, practice director and co-founder of Kindman & Co. in Los Angeles. 'The person taking too little space rarely, if ever, gets what they’re needing from the friendship, and one or both parties aren’t able to truly be themselves.'
Of course, some out-of-sync friendships are more dysfunctional than others, and all friendships experience periods of time when the focus might be on one person more than the other. If your friendship fits the bill for one or more of the following signs, though, you're likely dealing with more than just the regular ebb-and-flow of a relationship.
1. They put you down
Friendships are all about having each other’s backs, so when you feel like someone doesn’t have yours, it can be a good indicator something isn’t right. In a situation where someone is actively taking a jab at you, Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in New York City, suggests you alert them of the impact of their actions. 'Individuals who engage in one-sided friendships tend to relate to others as objects, instead of multidimensional human beings,' Romanoff says. You'll need to tell them how you feel in order for them to see the effects of their behavior.
2. They always call the shots
'This is the person who always decides which restaurant you go to, what movie to see, and likely pouts if she doesn’t get her way,' says Kindman. These relationships become one-sided because you may have given up on trying to reach a compromise. It may be hard to say 'no' to these kinds of friends, even as you grow increasingly resentful that things always seem to go according to their whims and desires.
3. Your friend only responds when it’s convenient
Feeling like you’re the only one who makes the effort to reach out can be exhausting AF...and a clue that this friendship isn’t going both ways.
If your texts always go unanswered, it may be time to speak up. 'Let them know how you feel by using "I" statements to show them how you’re impacted by their behavior instead of ‘you’ statements to avoid defensive armoring,' says Romanoff.
For instance, try, 'When I reach out to check in how your work drama is going and I hear back a week later, it hurts my feelings. I realise you may be in the throes of a tough chapter with your boss, but even a simple "hey, it’s been a bad day for me, can we find a time to chat next week?" makes me feel like you’re working to stay connected and even if it’s a bad time now, you’re carving out time for us later.'
4. You feel like their dumping ground for...everything
'In relationships like this, one person often calls, emails, or vents in-person about their own issues with little or no interest in the other person’s life, feelings, or thoughts,' says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear. 'This can leave the friend on the receiving end feeling hurt, irritated, and ultimately resentful.' Especially when they stick you with the happy hour tab after they vent and run. (True story.)
Again, voicing your feelings to your pal and expressing any concerns as they arise can be key in rebuilding balance and repairing your frayed relationship.
5. They cancel on you all. the. time.
Sherry Skyler Kelly, PhD, a clinical psychologist and founder of PositiviTeens and Mind and Heart Coaching, suggests being on the lookout for this one if you think you might be in a slanted friendship. Look for patterns, she says. If it’s a rare and legit cancellation, that’s totally normal, but if it’s a regular thing, whether blowing you off for a FaceTime again or asking to reschedule a coffee hang for the fifth time, pay attention.
6. You get one-word text responses
Okay, maybe two: 'Okay, thanks' and 'that’s fine' are practically monosyllabic in essence. If your texts are regularly met with super brief responses, it’s a good indicator your friendship isn't exactly rosy.
'In one-sided relationships, replies are short, sometimes incomplete, and never go beyond what you texted them about,' says Darcie Brown, LMFT, a therapist in San Diego, California. 'If a text conversation leaves you feeling frustrated and dissatisfied, it may be worth considering whether this friendship is fulfilling you or simply draining you.'
7. You feel weighed down by all the details you know about their life
Sadly, Friendship Highway can feel like a one-way street when the other person doesn’t even know what city you grew up in or your alma mater. 'A common example is one person remembering and celebrating special events such as birthdays and other significant events while the other person is only concerned with their own needs,' says Manly.
8. The friendship is taking a toll on your self-confidence
Of course, this can occur in different ways: Maybe their IG is sprinkled with photos of them at events you weren’t invited to, or maybe they make you feel bad about your love of comic books.
'These kinds of one-sided friendships can negatively impact your wellbeing because they're energy drains instead of energy sources,' Brown says. When you begin to question aspects of your personality and self-worth, it’s time to rip the Band-Aid off.
9. Empathy isn't in their dictionary
But really, though. 'Toxic friends don’t want what is best for you, so they're not understanding or empathetic when you're struggling,' says Sam Nabil, founder of Naya Clinics in Boston. 'They may toss a ‘so sorry to hear that’ your way, while secretly relishing in the fact that you are struggling.'
10. You don’t feel like this person truly listens to you
Without heartfelt listening, what would a friendship be, exactly? Safe to say pretty lacking.
'You may realise that the person never listens when you're trying to share something important to you,' says Tamekis Williams, LCSW, therapist and owner of Real Life Solutions in Georgia, noting that these are often the same friends who don’t return your call, abruptly wrap up a conversation when you start to share, and/or constantly bring the conversation back to 'their issues, needs or wants.'
11. You voice your concerns, and they’re just not having it
It’s pretty tough to be vulnerable and tell a friend about the struggles you’re having in your relationship only to be met with a defensive attitude, nonchalance, or a total lack of respect. 'Step back from the friendship until the other person is able to work to create balance in the relationship,' says Williams.
And don’t doubt your decision. At all. Valuing yourself and your time and energy is the greatest gift we humans can give our harried souls. 'Not everyone deserves to be considered a friend,' adds Williams.
12. You're in a bad mood after you chat.
If you regularly catch yourself feeling low after QT with a certain friend, pay close attention. 'One-sided friendships take and never truly give,' says Nabil. 'This can affect your mood and may leave you asking yourself if something is wrong with you while you try to sort out what's going on.'
13. They regularly come to you when they’re dealing with a crisis.
And yet they're mysteriously MIA if the tables ever turn! Whether it’s a school, work, or personal issue, you can bet your bottom dollar they flock to you when they’re in need of advice or help, but never return the favor.
For instance, they might come to you when they need help with a work Q, but when you’re looking for their expertise, they never get to it, says Jeanie Y. Chang, LMFT, therapist and founder of Your Change Provider in North Carolina.
14. You feel like you’re their parent/partner/therapist/punching bag
In therapist lingo, this is called one-sided emotional labor. 'Sometimes friendships become lopsided when one friend is always in the role of emotional support,' says Sarah Epstein, a psychotherapist in Philadelphia.
'Yes, there will be times in a friendship, sometimes extended times, when one friend is going through a rough period and needs more from the relationship. But it's an issue when that dynamic becomes a defining feature of the friendship.'
15. You just feel ~weird~ about the friendship
Sometimes, there’s no specific thing, but a general, lingering intuition that things aren’t right. 'If something feels off, you're probably in a one-sided friendship,' says Orlandoni. 'If you find yourself wondering if the friend even enjoyed your company after a coffee catch-up, then you probably have a good idea that the friendship is one-sided.'
So, is it time to break up with your friend?
By now, if you’ve been nodding your head at any or all of the above clues, you’ve likely identified a friendship in your life that meets these criteria.
It’s no easy thing to accept, so be kind to yourself in acknowledging that and feeling all of your emotions. 'Humans long for connection and inclusivity more than we realise,' says Colleen Woodward, LMSW, a psychotherapist at A Good Place Therapy & Consulting in New York City. 'So when we finally open ourselves up to make those connections with people who become our friends, it can feel like a real letdown when the relationship becomes one-sided.' This can also take a toll on your self-esteem, she adds.
At this point, communication is crucial. 'It’s difficult to be vulnerable, but remember that your friend is not a mind-reader,' Woodward says. In fact, 'your friend may have no idea that you're feeling slighted and need more connection.' Start here:
Ask yourself: Is my friend going through a temporary rough patch, or is this a long-term pattern? (It's okay to be busy at work or need to vent more than usual, but it shouldn't be your entire 'ship!)
Talk to your friend: Explain how you feel instead of pointing fingers
Establish next steps: What do you need from the relationship to move forward with it?
Be prepared to move on: If this conversation doesn’t lead to the kind of change you want—and deserve—take peace in walking away. 'Remember that they may just not be able to give what you need, and that is okay,' Woodward says.
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