Have you ever wondered, “Maybe it’s something I’m doing?”. Well, maybe it is. Here are 5 reasons you keep losing friends and close relationships… and how to fix that.
“You say you want it, but then you complain when you get it!”. I stared her straight in the eyes as this frustrating conversation was underway. She had been very very adamant that this was what she wanted, but her actions weren’t lining up. It was so confusing to have her telling me and everyone else who would listen that this was what she wanted, but when she was being provided with it, she wasn’t taking it.
Yes, this conversation between 3 and 4am occurred over the weekend between myself and my infant daughter. Probably multiple times actually. She was overdue to eat, clearly making hunger signs, had no other reasons to be upset, and yet was being entirely fussy when it came to consume what she was asking for.
As Daddy successfully was able to negotiate peace and the feeding was underway, I realised something about people – we don’t always grow out of this behaviour. We can be very good about complaining about the things we don’t have, but remain unaware of what’s making it hard for people to deliver it to us.
This made me think about a number of situations recently where people have been complaining about a lack of friends, or the loss of them. I had seen multiple people even just that day loading up their social media with posts about how they keep losing friends and close relationships, and their frustration with others.
You don’t have to look very far throughout the Internet to find troves of people complaining about other people. Bad friends, people who won’t stay, the frustration of never being able to feel like you belong anywhere or that you’ll never make friendships that really matter.
And it’s true that all of us, even the most perfect person out there, is going to lose friends over the course of their lives. Life is long, and everyone has their seasons.
But when you keep losing friends every year, or month, or however frequently is annoying you, the question comes up – “Is it something I’m doing?”.
Well, if it keeps happening no matter which company, which church, which organisation, and which circle of people you enter, it might be the case that yeah, there’s a factor involved in why your friendships aren’t working out. And like my infant daughter who was staying hungry whilst refusing the food she had been asking for, so to you might be losing out on the friends you complain you don’t have all the while acting out in ways that make it hard for people to help you.
No one likes being corrected or taking a deep examination of how other people experience us, but if we are to have successful friendships and win with people, we need to increase our self awareness.
Besides, it’s highly likely you’ve already had enough people in your life who have tried to tell you this, and on their behalf I’d like to repeat what might be the reasons you keep losing friends. Let’s have a look at five of them.
#1: Not respecting seasons
Have you ever tried planting trees or growing your own garden? There are scores of factors involved in why one plant will grow and one won’t – the soil type, the acidity, the depth, the level of watering, the amount of sunlight – so many factors.
And yet even with all these factors considered, a primary factor can override all others – the season. If you fail to respect the seasons, you’ll try to plant something somewhere that won’t grow then, and you’ll be frustrated when the time has come to harvest or for a thing to end if you haven’t accepted that that time will come.
People change. I know it sucks and can hurt, but they do. Children grow up and finish school. Young adults finish tertiary studies and courses and leave the home and the town and the country. We’re not all in the same classes any more. Our priorities shift. Our commitments increase, and often in different directions. Best friends get married and have children. And then those children grow up and repeat the cycles.
And what was once a flourishing and successful friendship may now have run its course.
The truth is like King Solomon put forward in Ecclesiastes, there is truly a time and place for everything. And very few relationships in our lives will be with us forever. When we refuse to accept that a person or a group of people may no longer be the ones who are going to be our core friends any more, we leave ourselves frustrated and disappointed, all the while we are blind to how many people are around us right now making a genuine effort.
In love, you lose a lot if you can’t let go of the one who got away. In friendships we do exactly the same thing. Surrounded by amazing people, and missing some of the best friendships of our lives because of the ones we haven’t accepted will not have the same type of relationship with us any more.
#2: Putting all your expectations on only a few people
In a similar vein, it’s very difficult when all our expectations for friendship are laid on just a few people. Sometimes this is even just one best friend. I’ve seen it happen so many times how utterly heartbreaking it is when someone gets engaged or starts dating or moves country, and the one who isn’t in that boat feels like their whole world has been shattered. You should be happy for them! But instead you’re miserable because of what it might mean for you.
We set ourselves up for failure and resentment when it’s all on just a few people to meet all our emotional needs.
If you’ve read my writing before, you know one of my favourite comparisons on this topic is between an umbrella and a house. Which one is stronger? Which one will last longer? The house obviously – but why? Because an umbrella only has a single support, whereas a house has multiple strong supports holding it up.
How are you building your life? Umbrella? Or house?
King Rehoboam instigated a civil war and split the kingdom of Israel in two because he listened to a small group of people he grew up with and neglected the wisdom and counsel of seasoned and strong people in his life. Similarly we are reminded by his father Solomon that two are better than one, and a three stranded cord is not easily broken. In other words, the more we are, the stronger we are.
I can’t even count the number of people I’ve seen lead their own lives to ruin as they choose isolation or stay angry at a few people who have moved on with their lives and use that as an excuse for why they’re stuck in their own lives. How many friends have broken down crying because someone got engaged, got promoted, had kids, bought a house a bit further away.
We can’t celebrate anyone while we’re desperately clutching and snatching at just a few people who are unable to hold all our weight or pressure.
We are exponentially stronger when we have more than one connection in our lives, and we are much less resentful or angry at people for living their lives when they aren’t the only person we take fellowship and counsel with.
Or I guess you can keep hating your bestie, your family, or that small group because they have other things in their lives as they grow and continue in their journey.
#3: Doing nothing about your toxic atmosphere
Uh oh. Real talk approaching.
Have you ever considered what it is like to be in relationship with you? As in really – what is it like to be your friend? What do you talk about? How do you spend your time?
I remember a few months ago I gave a younger guy a lift in my car somewhere we were both going. Immediate regret. Well, not fully, but his hygiene wasn’t that great. The odour was amazing to be honest, to think a person was capable of generating such a smell. And even hours after he had gotten out of my car, the smell remained.
All of us have an atmosphere and an odour we bring with us everywhere. The question all of us have to ask ourselves, is do we bring with us a life giving, empowering atmosphere, or do we keep losing friends because we are actually toxic?
What does “toxic” mean? If anyone has used this word about you or around you, it may mean they’re like I was in that car with that dude – finding it hard to breathe in your atmosphere.
When people can’t breathe, they can’t stay very long, or worse – they die. In fact, the phrase was originally coined by Dr Lillian Glass who originally coined the phrase describes something being toxic as something “that is constantly draining and unpleasant for the people in it”.
Here are some examples of some toxic atmospheres:
- Anger, aggression, or always being offended – anger leaves people feeling unsafe, threatened, and afraid. It burns like a fire and is overwhelming and dangerous to remain around for too long if its left uncontrolled and unbridled
- Constant negativity – we all have days we need to get things off our chest and complicated things to work through, but when all you do is drone on about how bad life is, it’s like sitting in a black hole of despair. No light, no celebration, no good news, and no equilibrium can come while the despair is allowed to continually dominate
- Complaint or criticism or constant offense – we should all call each other to be better, but constant fault finding is a horrendous ordeal to sit through, and if you know someone is only going to find faults in you, you’re probably not going to want to spend too much time hanging around
Some of these behaviours and more are explained in much better detail and with great research to back up causes and effects in Dr John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The research of the Gottman Institute shows these behaviours are the harbingers of death in relationships.
Moreover, Scripture encourages us that bad company will corrupt good character, and that true friendship is embodied by encouragement, brotherhood, iron sharpening iron. In the progression from friendship to marriage, the Shulamite says of herself that she became as one who found peace in the eyes of her husband. John Maxwell in the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership calls this the Law of the Inner Circle, and he puts forward by research and by observation that “those closest to you determine your level of success”.
I could keep quoting people on this one, but you get the point – we’re either an atmosphere of life, or an atmosphere of death.
We know that the way we live has a profound impact on others, and the same is true about how we live. If we want to make relationships that last rather than to keep losing friends, we must give realistic and dedicated attention to the atmosphere we bring with us.
Some of this stuff can be really, really hard to detect about ourselves, and even harder still to do something about. How do you stop being angry or negative or bitter when that’s the way you’ve lived for the last several years?
I always find accountability and strong friends and mentors the most potent antidote to my own stinking thinking or poor behaviour – get eyes on your life, and fresh air and counsel to help properly deal with the sources of the toxicity.
People are willing to tell us, in fact they probably have already tried. We just need to be brave enough to listen and change.
#4: Bailing on everything and expecting people to still be cool with it
Another real one. And I’ve gotta say, when people have come to me saying why they’re finding it hard to be close with someone, this is probably the top of the list.
Who is withdrawing from who in your relationships? I hear from so many people that they feel like no one reaches out to them any more or is reaching out to them, but when I have a look at what’s happened, they were the ones to make the first move. At first it was a few small things – we stop seeing you at the parties and the common celebrations, you stop coming to the group or the meeting or the hang out spot, you don’t make time for people any more. And then you stop replying to messages, or become terse or evasive.
And then you blame everyone else that they don’t reach out to you any more.
But you pulled away. You stopped turning up. You moved while everyone else didn’t.
It’s the friendship equivalent of ghosting, which is one of the worst phenomenons about modern relationships.
I need to tell you, it’s really, really hard to try to be friends with someone who never turns up, then gets sad that no one turns up for them.
If you’re unreliable, people will expect less of you, because you’ve taught them to! Faithfulness affects everything we do, and if you’re faithful in little, you’ll be faithful in much. The late Zig Ziglar said on this – “If you go out looking for friends, you’re going to find they are very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere”.
Proverbs tells us that the ideal friend is born for adversity and sticks closer than a brother. How good are you at being present yourself? Are you sure people aren’t just giving up cause they tried and you kept moving?
If you’re not sure, be brave and ask someone. The truth is usually there staring us in the face if we’re willing to find out.
#5: A spirit of entitlement
What are you owed in life?
An older gentleman I was talking to recently expressed frustration with the current generation coming out of college and university expecting to be the CEO in their first job. It’s true that our generation expects a lot, but are we willing to put in the work that the position requires?
Friendship is the same. In fact, Greek philisopher Aristotle said that “friendship is essentially a partnership”. In a partnership, you’re talking about an equal playground. We all go through times and seasons where one friend has to put in more than the other and be supportive during tough times, but any relationship that is in a constant or prolonged state of inequity is going to have trouble going the distance.
Imagine being in a one-sided romantic relationship. Or maybe unfortunately you don’t have to imagine it cause you know what it may be like. One person doing all the work, all the cleaning, all the earning, all the housework, all the child rearing, all the pursuing, all the organising, where’s my flowers, where’s my sex, where’s my chocolate, where’s my money, where’s my where’s my me me me me my my my my now now now now all all all.
Does that picture in your head match up against any of the friendships you have with others?
In truth one relationship in my life that’s almost completely one sided comes to mind – with my daughter. As it should be. She’s still a baby, she can’t do anything for herself for quite a while. And one day she’ll grow up and our dynamic will be more equitable.
But no one wants to marry a baby. Or date one. Much less be friends with someone who maintains a childish, selfish, entitled attitude through all the relationships they have.
Are you still acting like a child? Are you still expecting people to baby you and coddle you and wahhh my nappy wahhh I can’t look after myself wahhh I can’t bring anything to the table wahhh I won’t deal with my issues or drama and I’ll keep spiralling and stay a child and why doesn’t anyone want to play with me wahhhhh?
Friendship is a shared experience, and if you keep bringing nothing then nothing is what the relationship will eventually become.
If we want to be and have great friends, we need to lose the spirit of entitlement. We need to get over the notion that the world owes us anything, and be truly humbled by the great gift that the life of another really is.
We entered this world with nothing, and we’ll leave this world with nothing except one thing – people. For this reason, an investment into others is the greatest investment we will ever make.
And we’ve gotta grow up. Friendship, true friendship, meaningful friendship, is one of life’s greatest rewards. And if you’re an adult, you need to act like one in order to enjoy adult friendships. It applies in the world of romance and dating, and it’s still important if we don’t want to keep losing friends, but to maintain and grow friends that will last their full distance.
One of my pastors growing up, Pastor Bruce Hills, would regularly tell a story about a man who went to the doctor and said, Doctor, my finger hurts when I push here and when I push here and when I push here. The doctors looks at him and says “Son, you have a broken finger”.
If we keep losing friends or our relationships are continually fraught with issues, we might be looking at a broken finger problem. We need to make sure as far as it depends on us that we’ve done all we can do to heal the finger and to bring our best self into every relationship we encounter.
So let’s say you’ve read all those and you look at your current relationships and you’re like Matt, I’ve done all these things. I’ve taken realistic stock on my contributions or lack thereof and I can’t see anything more I can do.
Well then my friend, that’s a releasing experience, because you have done everything you can do. And we should continue to do the right thing even if we get the wrong result, because at least we can say that we’ve done the right thing.
How about you? Do you resonate with any of these? Why do you think people keep losing friends or close relationships, and what can they do to improve?