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Friendships are important for everyone, whether you like to hang out in big groups or focus on your closest buddies. Friends can make you laugh and can listen when you’re going through something hard.
Some friends you probably met in classes or through shared interests—like a sport, club, music, or volunteering. You may also hang out with people you know through your job, family members, and others you see occasionally. No matter how you met or how close you are, it’s important that friendships boost your mood and feel supportive.
All relationships have their ups and downs, and it’s normal to have disagreements with friends on occasion. But if someone demands a lot of your energy or leaves you feeling bad about yourself, it’s time to give the relationship some thought and figure out what you want to do next.
If a relationship is causing you stress, think about why. Here are some possible issues:
- Taking up a lot of your time, especially if it feels like too much
- Distracting you from important commitments, like studying or working
- Conflict, such as arguing over when to hang out or who else to include
- Questioning or disrespecting your morals
- Frequent misunderstandings
- Making you choose between friends
- Doing you a favor only with the expectation of getting something in return (e.g., “I’ll do this, but you owe me.”)
- Encouraging you to do something you don’t want to do
Finding some of these red flags doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is doomed. Once you’re aware of the problems, you can try to work on them together.
What should I do?
It can be tough to tackle a relationship challenge. Madeline and Kiara from Morgantown, West Virginia, have had trouble with friends who want too much attention. “If you want to stay friends, you just have to deal,” they say. But instead of “just dealing with it,” you can take steps to communicate and try to resolve conflicts. Here are some tips:
1. Talk it out.
Sit down privately with your friend and explain how you feel. Ian Connole, a counselor and director of sport psychology at Kansas State University, suggests, “Try to listen. Put your phone on silent and go for a walk or grab lunch. Listen twice as much as you talk, ask questions, tell stories, and really give your friend the gift of your time and full attention.”
2. Build a sandwich.
No, a satisfying snack won’t resolve the conflict by itself, but having a conversation that starts and ends with something positive, and has a middle that brings out the issue that’s bothering you, might.
For example, you could say, “Hey Joe, I’m glad you’re so excited about hanging out. I want to hang out too, but I need to focus on schoolwork and soccer practice during the week. Let’s make plans for the weekend.”
See that? Joe got a compliment about his enthusiasm at the beginning, and you’ve offered the prospect of plans at the end. That middle part about needing a bit more space and time was “sandwiched” between positivity, lessening its sting.
Once you reconnect, Connole says, “It’s amazing how often the conflict or disagreement means less. The friendship means more.”
3. Keep ’em busy.
Encourage your friend to get more involved in other activities. You can even introduce him or her to some new people. In a recent Student Health 101 survey, one student called this “dispersing the attention and demands.” With more options, your friend won’t be as dependent on the time spent solely with you.
4. Talk to someone else.
Sometimes it can be helpful to talk things over with someone outside the situation, like a parent or school counselor. Choose someone whom you trust and who’s unbiased. You’d be surprised how many students meet with someone professional to talk about friendship issues.
These strategies can be used in all types of relationships, such as with someone you’re dating, parents, siblings, or teammates. Resolving conflicts can actually lead to closer connections. But if after talking, you find that the situation hasn’t improved, it may be time to consider ending the relationship. Being honest with yourself and others about how you feel will allow you to devote energy to all of your other pursuits.
More friendship intervention ideas
Be honest and offer a solution
Focus on explaining your priorities to your friend. For example, you can explain that you need quiet time to get schoolwork done or escape into a good book (or a good movie, whatever you enjoy). Talk about your goals. Your friend is likely to be sympathetic.
Follow up with a suggestion about another time you can hang out together so the fact that you’re busy is less disappointing.
Find an escape route
If you dread running into your friend, it’s time to do something about it. Rather than ducking into the bathroom if you see your friend down the hall, talk about what you need.
Be clear and let your friend know you need a bit of breathing room. Figure out an arrangement that works for both of you. If your friend doesn’t seem to get it, or is hounding you to hang out, the connection might not be healthy for you to hold on to.
How healthy is your friendship? Take the quiz!
Are we best friends forever (BFFs) or frenemies?
Here are some things to ask yourself when thinking about your relationship.
Answer within the range of 1—5. 1 = Definitely not, 5 = All the time.
- Does my friend get angry if I don’t call/text back right away?
- Do I feel guilty if I don’t include this person in every activity?
- Does my friend make comments about my busy schedule?
- Does my friend make his/her schedule around when I’m free?
- Do I worry about this friend to the point of distraction?
- Do I find myself coming up with excuses to avoid my friend?
- Do I lie to my friend about what I’m doing?
- Is my friend jealous of other people/things in my life?
- Do I get annoyed whenever this friend contacts me?
- Do I dread running into this friend?
- Does my friend try to get involved in everything I’m doing?
- Does this friendship leave me feeling exhausted?
- Does this relationship make me feel bad about myself?
After answering, tally up your points.
- A score under 30 means that you’re BFFs, and you probably have a healthy relationship.
- Scores between 31—50 mean that there are some aspects of your connection that aren’t working for you. It may be time for a friendship intervention: an inter-friend-tion!
- If you have a score of 51 or more, talk with someone you trust about your friendship. It might be time to end this relationship.
Levine, I.S., (2009). Best friends forever: Surviving a breakup with your best friend.
The Overlook Press, New York.
Ian Connole, PhD, director of sport psychology, Kansas State University.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014, August 4). Healthy friendships. Retrieved from
Hefner, J. and Eisenberg, D. (2009). “Social support and mental health among college students.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Vol. 79, No. 4: 491–499.