THE BLOG
06/08/2012 02:14 pm ET | Updated Aug 07, 2012

Friendship Advice: Meeting People Halfway

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I suffer from mental health difficulties and I had to quit my job and move back to my parents' house. My GP referred me to a group for women with similar problems and there I met and became close to another member of the group.

My friend is a lovely person and I really welcomed her friendship. However, over the past few months, she's become more exclusive and 'clingy.' Because my friend is married and has two young children, I didn't expect the friendship to become quite so intense (although I enjoy company, I also need my own space). My friend frequently wants to visit me at my parents' house or for me to go to her house.

My friend's house is a half hour drive away and neither of us can drive (I also struggle to use public transport at the moment, due to anxiety and panic attacks). Consequently, we end up relying on my dad or her husband for transport.

Although I really like her husband and find her kids lovely, it is difficult and stressful to cope with spending a lot of time with anyone's lively and demanding children. I've explained this to my friend and her husband has said that, before the birth of his own kids, he felt the same way.

My friend keeps inviting me to stay for the evening meal, even when I explain that it isn't particularly convenient or that I don't feel up to it. If I visit her in the afternoon, she'll push me to stay later and if I'm at home, she'll ring me and try to persuade me to come over. Even though I've explained my issues and some of the details of my anxiety disorder, she'll ask me if she/her husband/kids have annoyed/offended me. Similarly, if I say I'm feeling a bit low and don't feel like talking, she'll keep ringing and try to push me into talking about what's bothering me.

Because of my friend's own issues, she becomes anxious that I don't like her anymore if I express my need for a bit more space. I want to be a supportive friend and I try to understand how her illness affects her. I realize that some of her behavior is due to her own illnesses but I feel I can't give as much as she is asking. I also have limited energy and, while I know she's trying to help, I feel I need the space to be able to see other friends and to pursue my own interests. Even my boyfriend understands this and does not try to crowd me.

I don't want to hurt her or lose her friendship but the constant demands on my time and attention and her inability to accept my limitations is causing me a lot of stress. How do I explain this without hurting her feelings or damaging the friendship?

Thanks for your time and I apologize for the long post!

Best,

Charlene

ANSWER

Hi Charlene,

It sounds like you have a good sense of yourself and your needs. While you like this friend and her family, she seems insensitive to your needs and feelings. As you suggest, she may have her "own issues" that don't allow her to be more responsive to someone else.

I don't think you want to end this friendship but it's clear you need to be more assertive in expressing your needs and setting limits, or else you will grow more and more resentful.

A couple of suggestions:

• You could unilaterally decide to see your friend less frequently, freeing up more time for yourself and for other friends. Explain to her that it's about you, not about her. If she is unable to understand or accept this, you may simply need to learn to say "no" to her.

• You could both meet halfway between your homes at some public place, perhaps a restaurant, where you wouldn't have to deal with the pressure of young children. If her husband is willing to babysit, it might give your friend a needed respite, too. Because the get-together would have a more natural end and pick-up time, it wouldn't drag on to the point where you feel exhausted.

Simply "telling" your friend you're feeling uncomfortable doesn't seem to be enough; you have to follow up with concrete actions as well -- and not continue in a way that suggests it's business is as usual. You can be kind but firm.

Your first responsibility is to yourself. If your friend isn't willing to make any concessions and meet you halfway, literally and figuratively, you may have to back away from the friendship.

Hope this helps.

Warm regards,

Irene

Prior posts on The Friendship Blog about setting boundaries with clingy friends: