Friendships part 2 – Expectations

“It’s not fair, Mel won’t talk to me. She’s got a new best friend and doesn’t want me to be her best friend any more!” cries Jemma as she rushes in the door and slams down her school bag.

Unfortunately, this is an all too familiar scene in households across Western countries. Thankfully our daughter seems to have been able to ‘avoid’ this, partly, I believe, due to a few key principles.

I believe that two major keys in friendship are:

  1. We don’t do “best friends”.
  2. Our expectations of friendship.

Best friends versus close friends:

What’s the difference? – Mainly in the expectation we communicate with the words ‘best’ versus ‘close’. Our ‘close’ friends aren’t with us all the time. In fact, no friend is. We give ‘close’ friends space and time to have other close friends. We can have several ‘close’ friends whereas you can only have one best friend.

This was highlighted in our family several years ago when Princess, our daughter, felt that a third ‘friend’ was trying to become best friends with her closest friend and was trying to exclude Princess. We encouraged Princess to look at the fact that if her ‘close’ friend was really a friend, she would still want to include her but that Princess needed to try not to compete for her friendship with this girl. Princess allowed her close friend time and space to develop other friendships and this close friend soon realised the value of Princess’ friendship and was able to see what was occurring with this other girl trying to smother her with trying to be a ‘best’ friend.

Expectations of friendship:

Unmet expectations can be the source of a lot of pain and frustration. It can also pave the way for unhealthy boundaries being crossed within friendships.

Some examples of expectations that you can have of friendships include:

  • A friend should always agree with us.
  • A friend should always be there for us.
  • A friend should never let us down.
  • A friend should always take your side.
  • A friend should always listen to me.
  • A friend should be like me and like what I like and want to do what I want to do.
  • You keep a best friend for life ie you will always be my best friend.
  • You need a best friend who does everything with you.
  • Everyone else has heaps of friends

These expectations can actually be quite unhealthy, plus they can realistically also be quite hard to keep. Yes – you want friends to be there for you, to listen to you, to take your side etc but it is impossible, and unhealthy, to always do that.

It is great to also look at your expectations and the way that you try to meet them. Are those ways helpful or harmful? If you have an expectation that your friend should always agree with you, what happens when either of you think differently about something? Is that the end of the friendship or do you have to pretend you think the same? A great question to ask is “Do they have my best intention at heart? Ie is it for my growth and did they do it in a helpful manner?”

These are all great issues to chat with your children about.

What are some expectations that you may want all of your close friends to meet?

The realization that you cannot have the same expectations of every person in your life can transform how you deal with your relationships and can bring about emotional safety as well as healthy friendship connections.

I have different expectations of my closer friends than I do of casual acquaintances. A casual acquaintance is someone I might go to a movie with, but I will not make myself vulnerable with when I am with them or tell them my “secrets.”

My Close Friend Expectation List:

  • You won’t talk with other people about things that I told you in confidence.
  • You won’t throw me under the bus to further your personal agenda or to get a specific role, position or career.
  • You will tell me the truth when I ask you something.
  • You will have my back and, if someone else is unfairly disparaging me to you, you will say something true and supportive about me—instead of quietly listening or joining in.
  • Similar values in life.

Healthy expectations for your friendships

  • Similar life values

You are not going to find someone exactly like you but you can find people who hold similar values that you enjoy being around. Values are principles or standards that you hold dearly to. They can include things like honesty, loyalty, kindness, fun etc. Having friends with similar values is important eg if you value honesty, you won’t appreciate your friend lying to you. Thus, it can be extremely helpful to spend some time looking at which values in your life you hold dearly to and are non-negotiable.

  • Give your friendships room to grow.

People change and grow. Sometimes you need to adjust to the change in both you and your friend over time. Sometimes you need to adjust the way you’re looking at the friendship. Expecting your friendships to stay exactly the same over the years will only result in a lot frustration and perhaps a loss of friends.

  • Make sure your friendship is balanced.

Befriend people who are willing to meet your amount of effort and time required for a friendship or have a realistic expectation of how much time and effort you both can offer. Most of us lead busy lives and adding more friends in to the small amount of available time can be a challenge. My daughter does this well. She realises that different friends are only available at different times due to their busy schedules and accepts what they can offer in terms of time available. If a friend no longer seems to have any time for you, then perhaps you need to reassess the friendship level.

  • Conflict can be a healthy part of the friendship

Don’t avoid conflict as a healthy relationship will have times of disagreement. It matters how you manage conflict and your honesty. We all need friends who are willing to talk through issues and who value your friendship enough to communicate whatever is bothering them and find a solution. You really want your close friends to reach their potential and, sometimes, it involves appropriate honesty to help them be that person. Plus, you also need to be prepared to be challenged by your close friends on areas you need to grow in.

  • Recognise that it is healthy to have different types of friendships.

Everyone you meet is not going to be your close friend. Even though it would be totally awesome to acquire new close friends regularly, that relationship is special, which means that it won’t happen all the time. New friends you meet might not even make it into your inner circle, and that’s okay, too. Having different types of friends is absolutely okay, as it allows you to turn to different people for different things, which takes the pressure off of one or two people being everything to you.

  • Realise that there can be seasons in a friendship.

Sometimes we can be very close to someone but circumstances change for awhile and we don’t see that person as often. They can still remain a close friend whilst giving them, or you, space for demanding other stuff in their life for a season. Find creative ways to support your friend without expecting more than they can give at that time.

Healthy boundaries in friendships are important. It is really important that we talk with our kids about this and help them navigate healthy friendships. It is also important that we model healthy relationships as actions speak louder than words.

I encourage you throughout this next week to discuss the issues I’ve raised in this blog with your children and to look at your, and their, friendships and chat about which ones are perhaps not the healthiest at the moment.

It is also worth taking a look at last week’s blog on the purpose of friendships.

I would love to hear your thoughts about expectations in friendships, so please feel free to comment below.