Supporting Friends & Family in Distress

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Friends having hard times when I'm not

July 2008

I have been a part of a close group of girlfriends for several years. We spend a lot of time together and are very supportive of each other. In the past few months some really life-altering changes have happened to everyone in the group except me. Divorces, forclosures, spouses falling off the wagon, job losses, major illness and surgery, kids getting in trouble with the law, parents dying. It's really a nightmare. I am able to be there for my friends and help them out in lots of ways. What is troubling me is that it's very awkward for me to talk about my own life, which is going really well in lots of ways. Friend's will say, ''What's up with you? Tell me something good'' and I'm floundering because the good stuff in my life seems to me to be salt in their wounds, because it's about exactly the opposite of what their problems are. We're making an offer on a house, or getting promoted at work, the kids won some kind of award, etc. I'm worried it will eventually lead to the end of our friendship, because several women are truly in crisis mode and are not at a stage one would expect equanimity. I just smile and say, ''Oh things are good'' and change the subject. This is my support network and I can't imagine losing it. However, I sometimes wonder if these problems last a long time, if I won't get burnt out being the only ''well one''. I'm also conflicted because I feel like I would have a hard time explaining time spent away from the group to try and cultivate new friendships to have a place I can feel supported in my mundane, but not illegitimate concerns. I am married and talk with my spouse, but he's just not a girlfriend. Any advice? anonymous

First of all, it doesn't sound to me as if you are the only ''well'' one, it sounds like you are the only one not currently having challenges. Don't worry, no one lives a charmed life, your turn will come. And when it does, do you want your close friends not to tell you about how great their lives are? Will you begrudge them their victories and happiness, because you're having difficulties? Do you really think these close friends would regard the good things in your life as ''salt in their wounds?'' It's not as if you are intentionally slighting them by not happening to have anything crappy going on right now.

And think about this: if these are truly good, close friends of yours, who love you, perhaps your current good fortune will actually be CHEERING for them. Think about what you are saying otherwise: that they are so full of self-pity that hearing about how great things are for you will just be infuriating for them, because they'll feel so jealous. What kind of friends would they be then? Don't Begrudge My Friends Their Happiness

Instead of bragging about buying a new house or receiving a promotion to your friends who are struggling, you could say that your life is completely boring and you hope it stays that way so that you can be there for your friend who is going through a difficult time. If you want to talk about something, can you tell an upbeat story about how someone you know solved the problem that your friend is going through? For example, I helped my friend who was going through a difficult time by telling him about an option to take time off from work without pay. He wasn't aware that his employer offered that option. Modest (with much to be modest about)

Be there for your friends -- you never know when the shoe is going to be on the other foot...BUT, don't be the sole source of support for them. I was always that person who took on her friends' problems. One friend (turned out she was pretty depressed and had been in and out of institutions for years...when she went off her meds, I would end up fielding 3 a.m. phone calls to talk about her life as the illegitimate offspring of Baby Doc Duvalier. That is the extreme, but there were plenty of other more normal problems that took way too much of my energy. I listen. If they want advice, I give it. But, if we are still talking about the same issue a few weeks on (in the same way...not new developments in the same issue -- I realize that divorce and all of the surrounding issues are not a two week thing...but, I don't want to discuss 'the jerk' for the next three months), then I start to wean myself off of the discussion. Also, make new friends. You are allowed to... -anon

Trust that when your friends ask about your life that they really want to hear about your life--even if it's going well. Sometimes people going through a rough time don't want to think about their own stuff, and since they're good friends I can only assume they really do care about you and your life, too. And if you still feel uncomfortable, feel free to say, ''Things are going pretty well for me, but I feel funny talking about it because I know you're having such a hard time right now.'' It might actually lead to a good conversation. Good luck

Speaking as someone who has had more than a bit of trouble lately, please know that when your friends say, ''tell me something good,'' they mean it. People who are having a hard time need a break from thinking about what is going wrong in their lives. If you are close friends they will probably let you know if you are causing offense. It's easy for people who are having a challenging time to become isolated because others feel uncomfortable around them. It's okay. Just hang in there, be a good listener, and make them laugh. anon

I have never been in your situation, but I wanted to share a situation that might provide food for thought.

I have a girlfriend for whom nothing is every wrong. ''Things are good'' is her only reply. We are in similar points in our lives, marriages, and child-rearing. I think she thinks my life is harder than hers; having her say nothing about her life certainly makes me feel like mine is harder! What's more, it doesn't encourage me to share anything about my life, good or bad. It forces me to reply with nothing more than ''things are okay,'' too.

These women are your friends; they care about you and your life no matter what is going on in theirs. Share your news--the good, the bad, the petty--and listen closely to theirs. Doing less will be recognized as a judgment of their ability to care for you, or a comment on your willingness to care about them.

Think twice about running off to find new friends....It may all hit the fan for you someday, and the friends you find in fair weather may not be so interested in seeing you through.

Your post raises some interesting points. As a person who has gone through hard times, I can assure you that when I call my friends it's wonderful to hear how well they are doing and to hear their genuine good-news stories. This allows me to share in their happiness even when times for me might not be the best. It doesn't make me feel bitter or isolated to hear that although I am going through a rough patch my friends are not.

Frienship has been called a sharing of souls. It is a wonderful thing when it is genuine and sincere.

You can inspire your friends if you are genuine with them and if you don't pre-judge or over-analyze them.

Also, there's nothing wrong with making new friends as well who are currently going through happy times. New friendships don't banish old ones. friendship enriches everyone

First, let me just say how lucky your friends are to have supportive friendships in place like this group of women, even though it sounds like they are going through a lot. Second, I am in their place and I want you to know that some of us on this crazy downward spiraling roller coaster are glad to have the distraction of some of your good news (or even just plain old day to day stuff). My son has a serious illness and I can be a bit of a handful for my friends to care-take at times. I don't have a tight group of girlfriends but the positive things my friends bring are sometimes the only good thing to cross my mind all day. I need their goings-on to remind me things can and will get better and it's just a matter of riding it out. Thank you becca anna and bamber for buying houses, making me help you pick-out your outfits, and for being my friends even when I've got nothing sunny. Grateful