Reality Check: Friendly Support

“You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family!” As we can, indeed, choose our friends, it makes sense that friendship would be supportive, encouraging, and helpful for both people. But that’s not always the case.

Some friend relationships involve “friends” who are not at all supportive and may even hurt one another.

Phil had a recent health scare and decided to quit smoking. He’s tried before without success, but he has new motivation now. It will be difficult, but he is determined.

Mark, Phil’s lifelong friend, is aware of Phil’s situation. Mark is also a smoker.

Mark has choices. He could support, encourage, and help Phil by not smoking around him.

Or Mark could carry on as usual. After all, it’s Phil’s health problem, not his. Phil quits every few years; he’ll probably start again after the scare wears off. Till then, Phil’s cranky because he can’t have a cigarette. Mark can’t wait till Phil gets back to normal, smoking.

Phil has no control over how Mark reacts to his non-smoking decision. Phil does, however, have control over how he interacts with Mark.

If you have unsupportive friends who undermine your efforts, what can you do?

  • Look for the ways in which the friendship does work. While Mark may not be the greatest anti-smoking cheerleader, he must bring something to the relationship. (Otherwise, why would they still be friends?) Perhaps he’s the greatest fishing buddy, or the guy Phil can always rely on to help out. Appreciate the qualities Mark brings to the friendship, rather than concentrating on how he falls short.
  • Realize that you likely won’t get all your needs met through just one person. Just because Mark is his friend doesn’t mean that Mark “should” fulfill all friendship purposes. If Phil needs encouragement, he may be better served by reaching out to someone who is encouraging.
  • Ask for what you need. Direct communication can be so helpful! If what Phil needs is for Mark to not smoke around him, then Phil could say, “Please don’t smoke when I’m in the room. If you do, I will leave.” Avoid the impulse to blame (If you didn’t smoke, I’d be able to quit”). Avoid complaining (“You know how hard this is for me.”) Avoid accusing, (“You don’t care that I could die.”) If Phil needs to avoid being in a smoky room, then say so. And, be clear about the consequence.
  • Choose what information you share. Sharing is often helpful; but not always. If experience tells you that you get discouraged by your friend’s reactions when you disclose your plans, then consider not disclosing! So, if Phil suspects that Mark will scoff when he tells him that he’s quit, and if Phil doesn’t want to feel ridiculed, then one choice for Phil is to avoid telling him.

Making any change is difficult. If you’ve ever tried self-improvement, such as getting in shape, quitting smoking, or losing weight, you know that supportive friends can help while unsupportive friends can make it even harder!

Have you ever had an unsupportive friend? How did you handle it?

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