Today’s Solutions: December 05, 2023

Red flags in a relationship don’t just apply to romantic ones. Platonic relationships—friendships—may not call for participants to become as intimate and vulnerable with each other but maintaining them still takes a considerable amount of emotional energy. This means, according to relationship experts, that it’s important to be aware of these red flags so that you can handle them effectively.

There is no standardized list of friendship red flags as most red flags (outside of any form of abuse, which should be considered a universal red flag) will be subjective to the person who experiences them, says sex and relationship therapist Rachel Wright, LMFT.

That said, there are still some common friendship red flags that most people would agree upon as not ideal in any kind of friendship. These tend to resemble the red flags that you may be familiar with looking out for in romantic relationships. “We are looking for essentially the same thing in our [platonic and romantic] relationships—being respected, being able to feel physically and emotionally safe, feeling heard,” explains licensed marriage and family therapist Karla Zambrano-Morrison, LMFT.

Here is a list of five common friendship red flags that Zambrano-Morrison and Wright have come up with, along with some advice on how to handle them.

The relationship feels one-sided

If you notice that you’re the only one who initiates plans or reaches out and that you only hear from your friend when they want or need something from you, then this may be a red flag worth addressing.

Of course, healthy friendships come in all shapes and forms and don’t necessarily need to follow a 50/50 split in terms of making plans and reaching out, and it’s not right to assume that a friend is not reaching out because they’ve stopped caring about you. As Wright explains, sometimes “it has nothing to do with [them] not wanting to connect with their friends, [and] has everything to do with their own boundaries and their own want for some downtime.”

If you do feel undervalued and ignored, though, Wright suggests communicating that by approaching the topic with something like “Hey, I’m usually the one that calls and I love talking to you. It would mean so much to me if you could also call me first every once in a while.”

They don’t respect your boundaries

If you’ve already expressed to a friend that you don’t like when they do or say a certain thing, but they continue to do it, then that’s a red flag, says Zambrano-Morrison.

To figure out whether or not the friendship is worth working on, then Wright suggests saying something like: “I felt very disrespected and, in order to continue a happy, healthy friendship, I need my boundaries to be respected. Is that something that you think you can do moving forward?”

If the friend in question is extremely important to you but responds defensively or is in denial, then you should try to salvage the friendship by talking it through. If, however, they continue to make you feel disrespected, then it might be time to reconsider the friendship.

They dismiss your problems but expect you to understand theirs

According to Zambrano-Morrison, if your friend “can talk about their problems the whole time, but [when] you try bringing something up… it’s completely shut down,” this is a red flag to be wary of.

Relationships should be two-sided, so noticing that you are not being heard, which suggests that this person doesn’t care about what’s happening in your life, then it’s worth addressing. Sometimes, the friend in question might not even be coming from a place of malice, so talking about it can help you build a healthy friendship.

“Often, this comes from one of two places,” says Wright. “Either the person is very self-absorbed, or they don’t realize that they’re doing this.” She suggests trying to approach the subject by saying something like, “I shared with you something I was going through, and I felt really dismissed when you didn’t respond. I would really love it if we could talk about stuff that’s going on in my life just as much as we talk about stuff that’s going on in your life. Do you think that’s possible?”

They don’t take responsibility for their mistakes or actions

Not taking responsibility for their actions is “indicative of someone’s lack of self-awareness and empathy,” says Wright. “Unless you’ve seen them do otherwise like actually take responsibility, you have no reason to think that they’re ever going to.”

It’s important to not brush it off when a friend does not acknowledge their mistakes or the consequences of their actions, as it’s easy for people to get stuck in unhealthy dynamics this way. “People are telling you who they are every day. Listen to them,” adds Wright.

You can’t be yourself around them

If you feel like you can’t be yourself around your friend, then consider why that is. According to Zambrano-Morrison, you may feel uneasy to be yourself around this person “because if you are yourself, they may make fun of you in front of others or challenge your thoughts and beliefs.” Being in this kind of environment may lead to people-pleasing behavior, just to be liked and accepted.

“If someone is actively telling us who we are, how we laugh, or what we think is not allowed, that’s not a relationship—not a healthy one at least,” adds Wright.

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