The secret ingredient of meaningful, fulfilling friendships is one that we can be hesitant to throw into the mix. With a hectic schedule and a million things on your to-do list, the last thing that you probably want to work up the extra energy for is also the most important:
Listen, I get why we avoid it! Being open about our concerns, asking for what we need, and putting it all on the table is uncomfortable and anxiety-producing.
It can sound a lot better to "put up with" an annoyance or frustrating dynamic in a friendship than open ourselves up to the possibility of rejection or disappointment, the fear that it will push someone away, or the understanding that being honest about our needs is not something we can retract.
But, here's a truth that is undeniable about all forms of relationships:
If being honest about your needs leads someone you care about to reject you, disappointment you, or distance themselves from you - then your needs are probably not going to be met in that relationship.
So, it's important to take a step back and ask ourselves from time to time- "are my needs being met in my friendships?".
Maybe you've been dealing with high-stress at work, school, or in your personal life and wish your friend were checking in more. Maybe you used to have a set time that you would meet-up or touch-base that has fallen off and you miss it. Maybe they've been reaching out a lot more lately to vent about their life and you don't feel like you have the capacity for that right now.
Here are some questions to explore your needs:
Do you spend as much time together as you'd like?
Do you feel able to reach out and communicate openly?
Do you feel like there are healthy boundaries in place?
Do you feel heard, supported, and checked-in on?
Do you feel like they remember big events/ moments in your life?
Do you feel like you can be completely yourself around them?
Do you feel secure in being able to count on this person despite time apart etc.?
While one relationship should never be the source we rely on to meet all of our needs, it's important that we get something out of each relationship we choose to pour love and energy into. Some friends may be more communicative and in touch with their emotions, allowing space for you to process your own, other friendships may be more lighthearted and focus more on making positive memories than having deep conversations. Regardless of the foundation your relationship sits on, your ability to be your authentic self is key to that relationship lasting.
Signs your friendship can support vulnerability:
This friend has been open and honest with you about their needs or difficulties
You feel accepted for who you are when you are together
You feel supported and appreciated even when you are apart
This friend genuinely cares about your happiness and wellbeing
You are more willing to be vulnerable than to lose this person in your life
So, when is it time to speak up?
When you find yourself distancing emotionally, losing connection, and viewing your friendship differently- it's time to speak up. While tough conversations are not fun, allowing distance to grow between someone you care about without giving them the opportunity to acknowledge and address it, isn't usually the best option. Could they let you down? Yes. Could they disappoint you? Yes. Could they take your vulnerability seriously and work on addressing your needs because you matter to them? Yes.
Ways to bring it up:
I've been feeling overwhelmed lately and could really use more time with you, are you up for that?
It seems like there is more distance between us lately and I'm not a fan, are you noticing that, too?
I know you've been dealing with a lot lately and I have to be honest that I'm feeling overwhelmed myself. Could we setup a time to catchup instead of texting/ messaging? I am not doing well at keeping up with that lately.
I'm really craving some support- could you let me know when you have the capacity to talk?
I feel really out of touch with what's going on in your life! I'd love to change that if you're free sometime soon.
If, after expressing your needs with kindness, your friend reacts with defensiveness, anger, or blame- take note. While their reaction is something you may choose to work through, make sure to prioritize people who make you feel supported, heard, and respected.
Meredith Waller MSW, LCSW
Based in Boulder, CO and offering online counseling throughout Colorado
-Certified Shame-Informed Treatment Specialist
-Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional