Loyal to a fault

Joey Garcia

What should I do about a friend who only says nice things about people if they do things for her? I’ve known her since fifth grade, and it’s important to me to be a loyal friend. But I’m tired of listening to her rant about people behind their backs when they don’t give her discounts, or pay for things for her, or rush to take care of her when she’s sad. She’s really good at getting people’s sympathy and getting people to take care of her. It’s starting to make me sick. Advice?

Be yourself. If you do nice things to keep your friend from talking about you behind your back, you’ve become who you think she wants you to be. Instead, be sweet to her because it makes you happy, not because it might motivate her to treat you better. You should also redefine loyalty to fit your adult life, not fifth-grade you. A loyal friend is definitely one who has our back—just like in childhood. But wouldn’t the adult concept of loyalty include supporting a friend to become her best self? If so, talk with your friend about your concerns. Do it for your sake. Otherwise, you’ll continue to rant about her in your head. She will likely have a strong emotional reaction during the conversation: anger, hurt, sadness. She’s allowed to, of course. But if she attacks you, admit that you’ve outgrown a once-meaningful relationship. Move on. Release your belief that a longtime friendship is the most important kind of connection and create the space for new friends to appear.

I saw you on TV talking about couples who break up and get back together. My girlfriend and I have broken up more times than I can count but can’t seem to live without each other. We always end up together again. You mentioned “high-conflict couples,” and I wondered if that’s what we are. What insight can you offer?

High-conflict couples are those whose verbal arguments are frequent and intense. The quantity and quality of these arguments would wear most people down enough to inspire a break up. But high-conflict couples rely on the adrenaline rush that arguing provides. Conflict is their baseline. Peace scares them. As individuals, they never learned how to manage normal anxiety and stress, so they expel that energy through verbal battles. Theories claim that some people are just wired this way, or that one or both individuals have personality traits or disorders that make a balanced emotional life seem impossible.

About 80 percent of Americans have been in dating relationships or marriages with a breakup-to-make-up pattern. If you want to end your rollercoaster relationship, get honest about why the breakup reoccurs. It’s usually not the reason the couple first identifies. A person who struggles to commit, for example, is often fighting a deeper issue. It could be fear that he will be judged as not good enough once he does commit. Heal the fear that drives the conflict, and the conflict is swept away. A couple’s therapist can teach you and your girlfriend how to stop conflict before it begins.

Meditation of the week
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths,” wrote Etty Hillesum. Can you rethink rest so it’s both work and play?

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