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  • Paula Thompson
    Paula Thompson

    Treading Tenderly in Turbulent Times: Your Friend Zone with Difficult Personalities

    Categories: Friendship

    We’ve all been there: you think your connection with a person has grown to the point that you feel comfortable expressing feelings beyond friendship and you get shot down. It can be an embarrassing and disheartening experience, and it can leave us feeling confused and frustrated. These kinds of situations require us to take time to reflect and evaluate why we found ourselves in that situation, evaluate the other party, and reset our expectations and boundaries for our own sake.

    It’s worth mentioning that you’re not alone—many people find themselves in this kind of predicament and never know how to navigate it correctly. From the outside, it appears clearly what the other party is doing wrong (after all if they truly want to be friends they won’t keep hinting at or outright saying something different). However, it is often the case that there may be more going on than meets the eye; without knowing their context it is impossible to comment on the foundation of the situation. That being said, there are some useful general guidelines and processes that may help move things forward.

    Firstly and most importantly, don’t lash out or express anything other than neutrality in your communications with them. While a witty retort may feel emotionally satisfying, it will often cause more harm than good for your relationship. Try to bear in mind that the other party must have some positive self-image, otherwise they wouldn’t continue to try and push the boundaries. Instead of attacking this positivity, use your interactions with the person to reinforce it, validating their feelings and boosting their overall self-identity.

    Another important step is to consistently include boundary-reinforcing language in your conversations. For example, assertion statements such as “This is what I need”, “I value this kind of friendship when...”, "I'm not trying to change the existing relationship", ‘This is how I want this kind of relationship to function” help to remind everyone involved, without blame or passivity, that you value your friendship but you will not tolerate any extended advances.

    If they continue making these approaches, however, it’s important to start setting even firmer boundaries. Make sure that your threshold for rejection is still precise and specific, and make sure to communicate this threshold one final time. This should be done gently, so that the other person does not feel attacked or humiliated in the future. If it does manage to reach this point then it is best to end the friendship. It may seem incredibly difficult, but it is almost always worth doing.

    In any case, take the time to learn from your experience, as it will help you in developing better communication skills and constructing healthier relationships in the future. Focus on identifying patterns or areas that you feel you need to work on and make a conscious effort to put them into practice.

    If you find yourself in this or a similar situation in the future and need further advice, there are plenty of people who are at the ready to help you address and unravel these delicate issues without suffering too much disruption or pain.

    Forming meaningful relationships means wading through turbulent waters, but understanding the depth of the situation and responding with integrity, empathy, and tact will ensure you remain friendly and relatable during such tumultuous instances.

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