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We have some friends who are great in so many ways. They go out of their way to do things with us on a regular basis. We had an experience where they made a huge sacrifice in time and money to hang out with us for a couple of days, even though we didn’t expect them to go out of their way. However, a few months later, a similar situation came up where we were expected to return the favor. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best thing for our family, so we didn’t go spend the time with them. Based on some interactions we’ve had since then, it appears they now feel like we aren’t loyal to them because we won’t sacrifice in the same way they do. We never expected them to do these things for us. Because they are willing to do so much, they believe a true friend would do the same. We can’t always keep up with their standard of loyalty. How can we still be friends and still honor what our family needs?
Trying to align expectations is difficult for most relationships. In some ways, I’m glad this situation has surfaced. While these types of conversations are a good way to be more intentional about your friendship, the real benefit is the opportunity to clarify what your family needs. Sometimes it takes moments like this to gain a clearer vision of what’s most important.
These kinds of experiences can be surprising to both families. There are lessons for both to embrace. I encourage you to get together with your friends (without kids) and openly talk about what you’re observing. Let them know how important they are to your family. Let them know how much you appreciate the time you get to spend with them. See if you can take some time to better understand what loyalty means to them. Do your best to listen, ask questions, and really show them that you want understand what this has been like for them. They are the ones who have some energy about this, so, let them go first.
There will hopefully be a chance for you to explain that you have no expectation that they sacrifice what’s best for their family to support this friendship. You can let them know that you need to put your family’s needs first. Each family will have a different capacity. Employment, temperaments, finances, illness, and other factors all figure into the equation when deciding how far to extend yourself as a family.
You don’t need to lecture them about how they should run their family. All you can do is work to reassure them of their importance to you and also state your commitment to preserving your family’s balance.
Hopefully this will open up an opportunity for them to explore why they feel so much resentment at your unwillingness to overextend yourselves. Maybe they’ll discover that they shouldn’t have sacrificed so much to be with you. This will be a blessing to their family in the future. This conversation can help them see that it has nothing to do with loyalty to friends, but rather, loyalty to the needs of the family.
If they struggle to understand your need to protect the resources of your family at the expense of the friendship, then be patient with them and stay steady. Let them know that you are willing to sacrifice for friendships at times, but when it affects the whole family, it requires more careful evaluation of resources.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland encouraged us to “watch for the stress indicators in yourself and in others you may be able to help. As with your automobile, be alert to rising temperatures, excessive speed, or a tank low on fuel. When you face “depletion depression,” make the requisite adjustments. Fatigue is the common enemy of us all—so slow down, rest up, replenish, and refill.”[i] Protect your own resources so you can be the best kind of friend who is aware and available when the time calls to serve and lift. Hopefully you can preserve this friendship and enjoy years of association as you manage your family’s resources.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.