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Question

My lifelong friend is extremely ornery. It’s embarrassing to go to restaurants, motels or stores with her as she will cause a big stink. She is hypercritical and fills out comment cards at businesses negatively over the slightest infraction.

She is a big world traveler, single, almost seventy years old, childless by choice, and lives where she works. She has no retirement plan and just plans to always work and has no home base. She expects her friends and family to host her at our homes several times a year. Travel and work is her life. She’s very angry and unaccepting of aging. We used to have a lot of fun together and she used to be easy going. She’s not this way anymore.

I, on the other hand, am all about my modest home (which I have worked diligently to pay off before retiring), my children, and grandchildren. My husband passed away and I remarried a loving man, which really angered her, as she’s very negative towards marriage. She’s very rude to my husband. I can’t afford travel and have no passport and it’s not my value anyway. She puts me down.

She visits three times a year and the May visit is coming up. Lately she refers to my guest room as “her room” and indicates she may move in as a retirement plan. My husband and I joke that we expect a negative, 1 star comment card left for us about her stay (as if house guests leave comment cards). Last time she was here, she wanted to visit a friend out of town. I went with her and ended up footing the bill for the motel and dining. She belittled the staff everywhere we went and made huge angry scenes. I should mention that I usually pay for our dining out.

Part of me wants to tell her not to come anymore and part of me thinks I should just put up with it because we’ve been life long friends. Help!

Answer 

Longtime friends are important to our well-being because they carry a part of our story with them. There is a familiarity and comfort in these relationships that are hard to find in newer relationships. I know it might be easy for others to tell you to get rid of the friendship because she’s now become a difficult person. However, I recognize that it’s not that simple. Even though it’s not going to be easy, I think it’s important to do something different with your friendship.

You have some things in common, but the longer you both live, you are discovering that there is more you don’t have in common. Relationships don’t require us to be clones of one another’s preferences and styles. You can simply accept that you both have different priorities.

Your friend’s preferences aren’t supportive of your marriage, family, and budget. She doesn’t seem to be interested in honoring or celebrating the direction your life is taking. She is critical of the things you hold most dear, including your loving husband.

If you don’t set boundaries with her, the resentment you feel will continue to grow and cause you untold suffering and distress. Brene Brown said that when she began setting healthy boundaries with people in her life, “[she] wasn’t as sweet, but [she] was a lot more loving.”[i] If you truly want to prevent poisoning yourself with resentment, it’s critical that you place limits on what you can offer your friend.

Followers of Jesus Christ are often afraid to set limits with others because they fear they will be causing contention. We know that we’re commanded to avoid contention, so we often feel like it’s better to go along than to create strife. In reality, the Savior regularly set limits with others. He asked people to pick up their beds and walk. He often spent time alone from others. He was able to love more fully because he was perfectly honest with people about what he needed from them. Most of our suffering comes because we choose to be emotionally dishonest in our relationships.

It sounds like you’re done having her negative and entitled presence in your home and in your life. You can make excuses and buy yourself some time with this upcoming visit, but ultimately, you’re going to have to restructure the way you do things with her. Your job isn’t to change her, but to communicate clearly what you need. She’s not shy about her expectations. Now, it’s your turn to speak up.

You get to decide where you need to stop. If you don’t want to go out with her in public, then that can be your limit. If you want to reduce her stay at your home to one night, then you can choose that as well. Ask yourself what would be most supportive to you and your marriage. If having a break from her right now is the best thing, then you can choose that as well. She doesn’t get to choose how this works for you and your family. She’s doing what’s best for her and you get to do what’s best for you. Sometimes both parties can find a good fit and sometimes they can’t. The truth is that ultimately there doesn’t need to be a debate. You both get to choose.

If she’s an understanding and supportive friend, she will care about what you need. If she becomes upset and dismissive of your limits, then it’s a good thing you’re setting limits. Hopefully she’ll choose to behave like a friend.

This is hard to do and you will need your husband’s support. You’ve already established expectations in this relationship because you’ve not set any limits with her. This will likely shock her and she may feel betrayed by your candor. On the other hand, you’ll feel a relief you’ve needed for years. Your husband will be relieved to have you back. He will be grateful for your loyalty and courage.

If you intend to preserve the friendship, find a way she can fit into your life that won’t cause you resentment. Because she’s been so profoundly embedded in your life, you’ll need to tell her what has changed for you and how you need it to be from this point forward. She’s doing the best she can and so are you. You’ll experience discomfort for a moment, but that will be much better than feeling permanent resentment toward your friend.

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecb6ExBaW80