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“I keep finding myself disappointed in friends. At this point, I’m not sure if it’s them or me. So what do you do when friends let you down?”
Are you tired of being let down by people you care about? Or are you currently angry at a friend because they’ve disappointed you?
Conflicts in relationships are unavoidable, as each person has unique needs. It can be hard to know when and how to express disappointment, particularly if we haven’t had healthy relationships modeled to us.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if we should give our friend another chance or try to move on. We also may find that we are disappointed in our friends over the political views they express or decisions they make. In these cases, we may doubt whether the reason for our disappointment is valid.
Here’s how to recover when friends disappoint you.
What do you imagine when you think of a good friend? Someone who knows you inside and out, always listens, can make you laugh, is never late, and shares your interests and hobbies?
In real life, it is rare to find one person who will fit all of these “boxes” we expect people around us to fill.
It’s essential to accept that everyone has different strengths and flaws. For example, one friend may support you by listening and giving great advice, while another may make you a fantastic cup of tea you never knew you needed when you’re feeling sad.
One way to handle disappointment is to know what to expect from people. For example, if we know that we have a flaky friend, we may choose not to rely on them for plans that need to be scheduled in advance. Instead, we could decide to see them spontaneously or with other people, so the consequences of not showing up aren’t severe.
Similarly, you may have a friend you enjoy being around but doesn’t give you the type of advice you’re looking for when you’re going through a tough time with your family. You may choose to discuss serious matters with other friends while continuing to have fun with your bad-advice friend instead of choosing to end the friendship.
If you depend on a friend to get you through every problem, it’s likely they will disappoint you because one friend can’t meet all our needs. It’s good to have more than one person in our lives that we can rely on.
If you need emotional support but don’t have many friends at the moment, consider joining a group for people who share your issue. Support groups are typically free and give you a platform to discuss issues that are bothering you with others in the same situation.
You can search for support groups by topic on Support Groups Central. For example, you can find groups for learning life skills like healthy relationships and improving your mental health.
Make an effort to meet new people and build your social circle so that in future, you’ll be in a position to get support from friends and give it in return.
We often assume that our expectations in friendship are universal and become disappointed when people don’t live up to our standards. Yet, we may not have even expressed our expectations. In many cases, we can miss ways our friends show up for us and assume they don’t care about us just because they don’t act as we do.
For example, people can have different expectations when it comes to texting. Some people reply to texts right away and will find it rude if a friend replied quickly to one message and then disappeared. Others may feel overwhelmed if they feel that they’re expected to respond quickly to messages all day.
It’s important to understand and talk about our needs with the people closest to us. Nonviolent communication is a method designed to express our needs without making the other person feel attacked. Instead, it centers on expressing facts, feelings, and needs.
For example: “When we’re in the middle of a conversation, and you stop replying, I feel confused. I need you to let me know when you need to stop our discussion.”
You can find local and online groups dedicated to practicing nonviolent communication through Facebook, Meetup, or the Center for Nonviolent Communication, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching healthy communication skills.
Once you learn to recognize your values and needs and communicate them, the next step is to set firm and compassionate boundaries.
Setting boundaries not only lets other people know what we expect from them but it helps us decide how we will act if these expectations are not met.
There’s a difference between setting boundaries for ourselves and trying to control other people.
For example, if you hate smoking, you can’t tell anyone else if they can or can’t smoke.
You can, however, let your friends know that when people smoke around you, you will need some space. If your friends are smoking, you may choose to step aside and rejoin the conversation once they finish with their cigarettes.
Boundaries are not about making other people uncomfortable. Rather, they’re a way for us to make ourselves comfortable.
We often feel disappointed and resentful when we feel that we give others what we don’t get in return.
We usually don’t ask ourselves if it’s good for us to be giving so much in the first place.
Let’s say you’re the type who tends to drop everything to be there for a friend when they say they need you.
One day, you tell them that you need to talk, but they say they’re busy.
Feelings of disappointment and resentment pop up right away: “I’m always there for them… They can’t clear their plans this one time?”
Upon closer examination, we may see that in the past, we put ourselves our needs to be there for this person, even when it wasn’t serving us. In those cases, we may find that expressing a need and setting a boundary may have been a better decision.
For example, instead of putting our homework aside to talk to a friend, we may have chosen to say something like, “I’m in the middle of something right now. Can we talk in two hours?”
As you practice setting healthy boundaries and clearly communicating your needs, your relationships will become more mutual.
Remember that it’s OK to say no sometimes. Taking care of friends is important, but not at the expense of taking care of yourself.
Sometimes our feelings get in the way of us being able to see things clearly. As a result, we may not know if we’re overreacting or how we should respond.
You can talk about the issues you’re dealing with in your friendship with another friend. Ideally this person shouldn’t be a mutual friend who will be biased or feel the need to take sides. Talking to a therapist or to people in a support group are other excellent ways to get an outsider’s perspective.
Sometimes we find that we don’t even need to hear another person’s opinion. Just saying things out loud helps us see things differently.
We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and is much cheaper than going to an actual therapist's office. They are also cheaper than Talkspace for what you get. You can learn more about BetterHelp here.
Did your friend mean to disappoint you? When we’re caught up in our own version of events, we can struggle to see things from the other person’s perspective. After you’ve processed your feelings, talk to your friend and try to understand where they were coming from.
When you talk to your friend, try to create an atmosphere where you both feel safe to share your side of things. Listen to what they say and consider their words without blame or defensiveness. Was there a misunderstanding between the two of you? You may discover that they don’t know they hurt you or were perhaps equally hurt.
In a healthy relationship, you should be able to communicate disappointment. If you decide that the issue you’re dealing with is important and you don’t want to let it slide, consider communicating it to your friend.
Remember that conflict is unavoidable in a relationship. What makes a good relationship is when both people value the other person enough to try to overcome the issues. Resolving conflict successfully can make a friendship stronger.
Sometimes when we’re hurt, angry, or disappointed, we tend to hone in on what’s gone wrong. We may dwell on our disappointment and doubt everything about our friendship.
It can help to review your relationship and look at the times your friend didn’t disappoint you. When have they shown up for you? In what ways have they been a good friend? Note that you don’t need to dismiss your feelings. Your disappointment is still valid. But try to get a more complete, balanced picture of your friendship.
While it’s important to understand that nobody will fill all our friendship needs and that disappointment in relationships is inevitable, it’s also critical that you ask yourself what the essential parts of a friendship are to you.
For example, you may not need your friends to share your goals for the future or hobbies. But if you want to take school seriously, you will probably look for friends who can support and respect that, rather than friends who will expect you to go out partying and stay up late with them. Likewise, if you identify as LGBT, it’s reasonable that you will feel uncomfortable with someone who expresses anti-LGBT views, even if they are a good friend in other ways.
Take the time to ask yourself what you truly need in a friend and if the people you surround yourself with fit your expectations overall. Remember, they don’t need to be perfect, but you should be able to accept each other and share at least some of the same values.
Sometimes we care about someone a lot, but the friendship isn’t working. Maybe it’s an incompatibility issue, or perhaps it’s just not the right time. In either case, holding on to friendships with someone who is letting us down constantly will hurt us more in the long run.
Ending a friendship is difficult, but it frees us up to meet people who will be able to show up for us as we need them to.
We have an article with 24 questions that will help you distinguish real friends from fake friends.
Often, when we get hurt in relationships, we tend to take things personally. We may feel that if the person we care about isn’t showing us the care and support we’re looking for, it may be something wrong with us. We may blame ourselves for being unlovable or for not knowing how to choose good friends and maintain healthy relationships.
You are worthy of love even when your relationships don’t work out. Give yourself the unconditional love you crave from others. Check out our article on how to build self-esteem as an adult.
Friends may let us down because they are unwilling or unable to meet our needs. It may be that they have too much on their plate, or perhaps they don’t know how to be attentive to others. In some cases, it may be that our expectations are unreasonable.