I usually respond to a lot of questions each week about marriage. But last week’s question was about a friendship with another woman and I don’t think we give this topic enough time or energy. Our girlfriend relationships are crucial, probably even more important than marriage because there is no one person, even a good spouse that can meet all of our needs or desires. Therefore, I thought I’d tackle two more questions that have popped up regarding this important topic.
Question #1: Why are women so nasty to each other? It’s so hard to make female friends. I asked the Lord to bring me, Christian friends. Then I was invited to a weekly Bible study, just 3 women. It started out fine but then one woman used me against the other. Why are women so competitive and catty? Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure I have been that way myself in the past but I long for closeness with some female friends. Help me understand what’s going on.
Question #2: I notice that in your book on depression, you encourage women to find a support group or trusted people to talk to. Here is my problem. I have issues trusting people with my feelings and thoughts. I don’t really even have any female friends to speak of. How do I overcome this in order to find help and support?
Answer: Female friendships are very important and the older I get the more I realize how important they are. Even the best man/husband doesn’t understand us the way our girlfriends do. Plus, statistics show that most women will outlive their husbands and research overwhelmingly confirms that having a supportive group of loving friends is crucial in one’s ability to handle life’s stressors.
That said, relationships take work and finding and maintaining good friendships is not always easy. Just as in marriage, we can get in some pretty unhealthy and even destructive relationships with our female friends. In addition, some women have been burned, hurt or wounded so deeply that their ability to trust others has been impacted and find themselves shutting down or pushing potential new friends away.
But I want you to know there is hope. Whether you’ve been discouraged or hurt in your past friendships with women, don’t give up. God knows our need for friends. Even in a perfect world, God told Adam that it was not good that he was alone, void of human companionship. In addition to making us physical and spiritual beings, God also made you a relational being and you will not function well isolated from connection with others. He knows we need relationships to thrive as human beings. That’s why he created families and the church (family of God). However, if your biological family was abusive and your ability to trust others damaged, learning to begin trusting others is very difficult for you, even if you are a Christian.
Second, start small. Don’t give all your trust to every person you meet. In other words, keep your emotional clothes on until you have known someone for a while and she shows you her trustworthiness. Often we can be attracted to people who ooze personality and charm but lack godly character. That kind of woman might be a fun person to hang out with at a retreat or social event, but without a godly character, she will not make a good close friend.
When you’re with other women, especially one that you might want to get to know better, observe how she interacts with others. Does she keep their confidences or does she talk about people behind their back? Is she catty and competitive? Does she act one way with the person in front of someone of status or importance and another way when they are not present? Observe her. Does she respect a person’s feelings and opinions, and listen when they talk?
If you’re not ready to join a Bible study or a specific women’s group yet, volunteer for a committee. Work on a project – a women’s retreat, setting up for VBS, serving a meal for the teens, cleaning up after a church event. Notice how a woman you might want to get to know handles herself when she’s frustrated, doesn’t get her way, or when someone else annoys her. You can tell a lot about a person simply by watching the way she treats other people. We all have a bad day so don’t judge and please be forbearing as James tells us that we all stumble in many ways. But when you observe someone over time consistently treating others with kindness, respect, and honesty, she might be someone you want to get to know better.
In my book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, I write that there are three necessary ingredients for a healthy friendship: mutual honesty, mutual caring, and mutual respect. If one of those ingredients is not mutually demonstrated, the relationship will not flourish. That doesn’t mean someone doesn’t sometimes act rudely or isn’t totally honest. But when she does, is she able to accept responsibility, apologize and ask for forgiveness? Or does she blame you, deny what happened, or refuse to share any responsibility?
You ask why do some women act nasty and catty even in the church? I think partly it’s because they haven’t matured and are still functioning as they did in junior high. They are insecure women and feel better about themselves by putting others down. Even Jesus didn’t trust everyone. It says in John 2, “but Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.”
Two final cautions: If you’ve been burnt in relationships or have trouble trusting others, your internal radar is already on high alert and it enables you to detect even the slightest nuance of annoyance, disappointment, or negativity emanating from other people. The problem when you detect these very human foibles is that you personalize them. You think someone is mad at you, someone doesn’t like you, or you’ve done something wrong. That interpretation is probably not true, although you are correct in picking up some negative vibes. It may be that the person is tired, busy, distracted, or needs to take care of something else right at the moment and isn’t able to give you her full attention. Try to not take these things personally so that you run away or shut down before you give that person a real chance to be a friend.
Second, although we definitely need friendships, our friends can never meet all of our needs. When we expect them to, we will surely be disappointed. Once you find a good friend who you trust, be careful to not become overly dependent on your her to always be there, totally understand you, and meet all of your emotional needs. No one can always be there, never tire, and be totally selfless and loving. That is God’s job. He uses our human friends to meet some of our needs, but not any one person to meet all of our needs.
When we lean too heavily for too long on one person whether it is our spouse or our girlfriend, the relationship is at risk of becoming unhealthy and the other person will eventually fail us and we (and they) will get hurt. They cannot be nor should they try to be God for us. Click To Tweet
Friends, can you chime in here. How have you learned to find a good female friend? What are some of the things you do to build and keep your friendships healthy and mutual?
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I REALLY appreciated and learned from the book Safe People by Cloud and Townsend. WOW!
I’m sorry for your experiences you have had and not just once. Glad you read the book safe people, I have recommended that book to several friends through the years. The difficult reality for me was accepting that ‘safe people’ are quite the minority and we will come across many who are the majority not ready for a safe kind of friendship many of us need through our journeys. And in addition to what Leslie emphasizes about the necessary ingredients for healthy relationship….Why are so many women (generally) not equipped with these characteristics??
Safe ones are out there! I have been blessed to have found the small few I have. I do believe part of the equation is becoming that kind of person ourselves as God grows us.
Thank you for sharing this!
I think finding a good friend begins with ourselves and how we show love in mutual places of like-mindedness as well in differences.
My closest friends are people who have taught me things, where I have kept an open mind about learning, being challenged to try new things, and offering up my own places of value where it is respected. There seems to be balance in the deep places and the fun surface areas of the relationship. Overall, there is a mutual level of trust & investment. It’s not just one-sided.
The one-sided relationships can be hard and tend to eat up our purposeful time for other friendships! This is different than ministry relationships.
One way I try to maintain my good, mutual friendships, is by consistently reaching out to them, even when I don’t feel up to it… and ask them how they are doing. Even when I am struggling myself and asking for prayer, I still try to remember to thank them and finish the conversation with asking them how they are and what I can pray about for them. That way the relationship will not become one-sided. Unless, of course, they don’t share back… which is not within my control.
This also personally helps me “get outside of myself”, and forces me to concentrate on others in the midst of my own trials.
I think this is the key. I am much better able to focus on friendship if I feel at least something of responsibility or even obligation to do it.
I have been blessed with incredibly supportive friends throughout my life.My closest friend and and I have known each other since 2nd grade( we are in our 60s now) and my 2 other close friends and I met in our 20s at a church college and career group.I am also blessed with 2 wonderful sisters.These women are my “tribe”
and I can honestly say I dont t know how I could have navigated separating from my husband and moving out without their love and support.We share from our hearts and have deep conversations,share both joys and sorrows and also can be incredibly fun and silly at times.Friendships are indeed one of Gods greatest gifts!
This has been a life long problem for me. People have me in their life for what i provide for them. When they no longer need it they are gone.
We moved to a new state every time I move I think I will make friends. It doesn’t happen. Last state I joined multiple women’s bible studies. No one was open to making a new friend. They had all the friends they had time for.
Again the people I had coffee with as soon as they talked out what they needed they were gone.
Since I’ve moved here so many of the people I meet are so
Self absorbed. I ask questions about them and their lives. They never ask me one thing about myself. I get tired of being there for oeveryone else and being aware of their needs and no one ever seems to be interested in mine. Some times our personalities weren’t a good fit and it was just as well. You always hear you have to be a good friend to have friends. I’ve been a very good friend. But good friendships for me don’t come.
I’m having a real problem finding a new church where we have moved. I keep praying about finding a church and friends. I’m so tired of being an island. Feels like a family curse. 😢
Debbie, I truly sympathize with your dilemma, but please, don’t give voice to the “family curse.” that gives place to the devil, and he will surely take advantage of that belief. On the other hand, how have you been praying? The Lord does want us to have mutual friends, just as He did while on earth. “A three-fold cord is not easily broken.” So based on the truth that is in the word of God, pray, asking the Lord to provide one or two real friends. Then, open yourself to whatever the Lord brings your way. Sometimes the best friends aren’t people we would be initially attracted to, but eventually, they blossom.
Yes, JoAnn has wisdom to pray for a few good friends. Since every good gift is from the Father Above. I hear a couple of ladies saying how they keep on persisting in calling to make plans. It looks like you at least have been getting together with some potential friends, yet you would like to have a “mutual” time to share. I at times too have been the one listening, then will not get my turn to share. Does a friend need to wait to be asked to share? Some times our personal rules of conduct or expectations are not met because they get in the way or we do not know how to ask for our needs… Can you possibly share by beginning a conversation with, “I am struggling with something.” (After you have had some basic conversations first)… See if you can invite them to give you an idea of how they would want you to share?
I had my daughter tell me a whole lot of things, then when I started to talk, she got up to fix a cup of coffee… I said, “Hey just as I started to talk, you got up… (with a light non condemning tone)… Oh, it was a funny revelation to her. She came back and apologized… I try to present a mistake lightly and lovingly. It is a dance.
I have a very close relationship with the Lord, I pray throughout the day. Spend time, probably and hour or more a day praying and reading the Bible. Of course I have prayed about friends for years now. I just get frustrated because I don’t have a good marriage, my husband rarely talks and doesn’t want to do anything. I really need some girlfriends and a church. I’ve been visiting churches in my area. But just can’t find the right fit. We moved to a new state a little over a year ago. I know God has a plan for me and i need to just be patient. I pour my life out to others, whether it’s reciprocated or not. I’ve learned God has called me to be an encourager. I listen for God’s voice and reach out to people he puts in my path. I believe he has good plans for me. It’s just some days it’s hard. But, what a friend I have in Jesus.
I have felt exactly the same way so many times over the years Debbie. For a long time I let my frustration and disappointment keep me stuck and alone. But then I believe God prompted me and helped me realize that nothing would change as long as I kept giving into the frustration and loneliness. JoAnn is right. That is exactly where the enemy of your soul wants you. She’s also right – you have to begin with prayer and then step out in faith and keep asking to get to know people in non-threatening ways . Don’t give up. Friends are out there, but unless you are moving in faith, God will not be able to lead you both to meet. He won’t push you but He will lead.
Thank you Cheryl for your encouraging words, I always reach out to people no matter how many times I get hurt.
Most of the time I am content and live every day seeking the Lord. But there are times my husband is so challenging. And with him being retired and always home I can’t get a break. I think he has early signs of dementia as well. So I think I just get overwhelmed.
My problem is that I don’t really know what is expected to maintain a friendship. I would be happy just to get together once a month or even once every couple of months, but I get the impression that most people who have “close friends” get together or at least talk more often than that – but how often? Once a week? A couple of times a week? Phone one week and get together the next? Get together once a week and phone a couple of times a week? And what do you do when you get together? Just go to a coffee shop every time? Find events (that I probably can’t afford) to go to? I feel like my single mother friends would just want to spend time with their kids in the evenings (they have full custody, I only have shared custody so every second week, but they have their kids pretty much all the time), and my married friends have their families so why would they want to spend time with me, and when would they have time to do so, anyways? I feel like I don’t know how to find the balance of keeping in touch often enough to develop the friendship (especially since my anxiety skyrockets when I even think about making phone calls) but not so often that I become a nuisance. Also, I seem to need more alone time than a lot of people so going out and socializing a lot exhausts me. How do I maintain a close friendship without burning out? It seems like my “perfect rhythm” for close friendship is more like most people’s “rhythm” for casual friendship or acquaintanceship, so for the people I would like to have close friendships with, I am more of an “afterthought” to them because they have other people that they consider their “close friends”. So what to do?
Christine, you have articulated so well many of my feelings about friendship, especially the last part about your perfect rhythm for close friendships and also the phone call anxiety! I often wonder about other people’s friendships and exactly how they work. It’s always been a mystery to me.
Stick around….there’s good help here. Cheryl’s note above was so helpful. Also the book recommended by Sarajane, “Safe People” by Cloud and Townsend might be helpful. And pray.
I think I would add that you go into it prayerfully – for you and the other person(s). What I mean is making friends is a long game. It takes time and perseverance and begins with a ministry mindset. There are so many others who are lonely and who struggle with the vulnerability of beginning a new friendship.
Find a way to meet new people by getting involved in a setting of people that are more likely to be safe. For me that was my local BSF group. It could also be your church or local bible study.
Begin asking the ladies to meet you for lunch or something like that where you can take time to begin getting to know each other. Keep it simple and non-threatening. Ask questions to get to know them better or how their week has been going. Look for ways to connect through their answers. Look to see if they show an interest in you in return.
Persist at this until you can find a few ladies who are willing to meet and share regularly and openly. Then you may have the start of some potential friendships. That is what I did. It took nearly 2 years and many, many invites and false calls; but I have a small group of ladies now who I believe are becoming true friends and who have been invaluable to me through my very dark time right now.
My unsafe relationship happens to be with my adult daughter. At a time when we could be friends, there is not mutual respect nor mutual caring. And the honesty- well, it’s brutal!!!
Of all my children, this is the one I have grandchildren with, and she uses them as a power and control tactic. She is the gatekeeper; if we are not getting along, I am cut off from my grandchildren.
I am at a loss as to what to do. On the one hand, I want to create the safe separation from her, not allow her to emotionally and mentally destroy me (she and her husband have this perfected). But I know that, in retaliation, her “boundary” will be final; no more relationship with my daughter or her children. And those grandkids are on the other hand…the thought of being entirely cut off is deeply wounding. And I know it would be harmful to them as well.
There is of course a history that goes along with our relationship. Things went very wrong for my children during their teen years; there was a very contentious divorce with their adversarial father, I worked way too much as a single mom (no child support), and this daughter met a troubled teen and eventually ran away with him and they married.
Leslie, do you have any advice here for this scenario? I’m sure there are others out there that have unsafe relationships with family members. I don’t know how to fix things. I don’t know that I could even. Her lack of respect and compassion for me as her mother makes spending time with her almost unbearable. And her husband is quite possibly the driving force. Driving wedges and creating rifts. He is just plain mean.
Thanks for any advice from other readers…
These ugly relationships are particular hard because you don’t want to lose touch with grandkids, but you do need to have some boundaries over how you will allow yourself to be treated. Your sentence “not allow her to mentally destroy me” is what got my attention. What do you need to put in place so that doesn’t happen?
Hi Leslie, thank you for responding. To answer your question, I don’t even know. …boundaries over how I would allow myself to be treated…I am trying to think of situations where I have set a boundary and it was respected. I cannot control what she says to me. But I can tell her that I will no longer text. Going forward, we will need to talk in person, either with a phone call or meeting. Text has been very damaging. (But so has phone conversations and meeting in person.)
I’m honestly not sure what I would need to have in place to protect myself emotionally and mentally.
I would have to be very “emotionally neutral” when I’m communicating with her or her husband. I would have to “go gray rock” like the advice that I’ve read says when dealing with a narcissist. Not offer any deeper relationship. Remain very superficial, guarded, uninvolved. Is this what you mean, Leslie?
Even these suggested modes of relating, I’ve tried to do these things in years past. But it still somehow breeds negative relating with her. There is always an air of superiority, condescension. The things they’ve said, make me feel like I’m less than a person. Not valuable. The worth of a doormat. And they’ve done the same to others in the family.
She’s cut me out before, and then reconnects, and then cuts me out. I wasn’t allowed to meet my grandkids until they were a preschooler and a toddler. I don’t know what else to say.
Jill. Having you daughter treat you that way….that is so very painful. A couple of thoughts…one is that she will someday reap the reward of having her own children treat her the way that she is treating you, and then she will regret what she has done (we can hope), but that will be a long way off. With that in mind, don’t do anything that will completely cut off your relationship with her. If her husband is as mean as you say, she will someday get tired of being treated so badly herself, then she may need her mother. That having been said, you do need to minimize your contact with her in order to prevent her being able to mistreat you. Sometimes it is just a matter of waiting until things change; sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Meanwhile, pray diligently for them all. give the Lord the way to touch their hearts and intervene in their lives. It always amazes me what He can do when we least expect it. There is a reason she keeps returning to you….
Thank you JoAnn! In this relationship there’s almost no “wiggle room”, meaning no room for error. No grace, latitude, forgiveness, forbearance.
I am in my own life situation where I need to focus on me and my immediate family, meaning my husband. And this situation I have with my daughter, it adds another layer of stress to my already over-the-top stressful life. I could almost say that I can’t deal with it. I need to focus my energy and thought life on my home life. She does pull my heart strings though. Being my daughter.
Jill, you could benefit from some counseling, or participating in Leslie’s CORE group. Having someone with you to deal with these things can be a real life-saver.
This is something I have been working on for a few years now. I believe God was prompting me to begin taking initiative in building friendships because I don’t know how I could have gotten through this last year without the friends I have now. It hasn’t been easy though. I have had to be consistent in reaching out despite the fact that many of the women I have reached out to did not respond. I started with simply asking women to join me for lunch after our BSF meetings. Most of the women I have invited did the polite no thanks (said yes and never came or always had something else to do) but a couple of ladies eventually started coming pretty regularly. Then, about a year ago when things got really bad with my husband, I asked another friend of mine to be my accountability partner. She didn’t even hesitate and agreed immediately to do so. However, I became concerned about it putting too much pressure on our relationship so I have been making a concerted effort to ask her about things going on in her life. A short time after asking her to be my accountability partner, I finally opened up more with the other 2 ladies who had been coming to the lunches regularly for about a year. Much to my surprise, I found out that we have somewhat similar situations. I also began to look for things to do together with these women where we could do more than simply have a lunch or just talk about our problems and that allowed us to learn to have fun and relax together. Then, earlier this year, I began a podcast club in which two of these women gladly joined me and, through them, another lady has joined our club and now she and I are beginning to build a friendship too.
It has been very slow going and has required a lot of perseverance on my part but having these women to talk to and pray with and grow with has helped tremendously as I am going through this difficult time with my husband. I am so glad I didn’t let my discouragement over the lack of interest on the part of so many women keep me from persevering. In addition, one of the women I have gotten to know is the one who told me about Leslie and is the reason I am in the CORE group now. I believe God was probably coaxing me along so I wouldn’t give up because knowing that I will be seeing these ladies each week and having people to talk to on a regular basis who care about me and want to grow with me is priceless.
Cheryl, that is wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing in such detail. That is encouraging, and your hard work has paid off. Praise the Lord!
I have found that I am only able to enjoy friendships with other women during relative calm periods of my life. Otherwise, I simply do not have the energy, focus, or even desire for female friendships. After my separation, I distanced myself from friends, even though I had every intention of maintaining them. I could not bring myself to meet up for coffees or talk about our kids when my heart was so heavy, and when I did, I left feeling more lonely than ever. I finally talked with a friend the other day who is feeling isolated and while that seemed uplifting for both of us, to do it every day would be exhausting. I do have two people in my life who I am close to: my sister and also my lifelong best friend. Beyond these two special people in my life, except for relatively stable times in my marriage, thinking about maintaining friendships is just too much. It’s interesting that my mother never had female friends either, and in fact did not have anyone outside of her marriage that she was close to, so it’s easy to see where I modeled the behavior.