5 Sneaky Habits That Could Be Seriously Alienating Your Friends

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Some friendship faux pas are far easier to pinpoint than others—like, say, a betrayal of trust or questioning of character. And even for less egregious missteps than these, you may be able to sense when a good friend is peeved by something you did or said, whether or not they demonstrate it outwardly. However, certain habits that hurt friendships are more subtle, skirting under the radar until they pile up as resentment. To keep your relationships strong, then, it’s helpful to avoid these minor tendencies before they’re given the chance to mount into something major.

Because a key component of friendship is feeling like you can count on someone to follow through on an agreement, failing to uphold your end of that bargain can mess with a friendship over time, says friendship expert Danielle Bayard Jackson, author of Give it a Rest: The Case for Tough-Love Friendships.

“While your friends may accept your apologies for bailing in the moment, over time, they’re bound to feel like their patience or forgiveness are being taken advantage of.” —friendship expert Danielle Bayard Jackson

That’s precisely why cancelling plans last-minute or showing up late are two of the most common everyday habits that can hurt friendships, particularly when they’re repeated. “While your friends may accept your apologies for bailing in the moment, over time, they’re bound to feel like their patience or forgiveness are being taken advantage of,” says Jackson.

Experts In This Article

But while being late to a hangout or missing it entirely may be totally inevitable in certain situations (you can’t control weather, bodily functions, or public-transit mishaps, after all), there are a few common friend behaviors that are fully controllable. Below, friendship experts outline certain unsuspecting habits that could be wearing away at your friendships, and why you’d be wise to steer clear of them.

Here are 5 common habits that can hurt friendships over time:

1. Always having to be right

Regularly doubling down on your point of view (especially on little things or in circumstances that aren't so clear-cut) can give a friend the impression that their opinion holds less value than yours. “You might risk making them feel ‘de-selfed’ or like a shrunken version of themselves, which ultimately makes them less likely to maintain the friendship,” says psychologist and friendship expert Marisa G. Franco, PhD. “By contrast, healthy friendship is built from mutuality, which means each person shares their perspective and considers the other person's.”

2. Frequently bringing the conversation back to you

While this might seem obviously self-centered at first blush, it often presents in innocuous ways—and, in fact, you might not even realize you’re doing it, says Jackson. “When a friend shares bad news, you may be tempted to respond with an example of how something similar happened to you in an effort to connect,” she says. “While this is a noble intention, it can have the effect of making your friend feel like you’re not interested in what she’s saying.”

Your best way to combat this tendency is to practice active listening: “Work to be intentional about asking your friends follow-up questions when they’re sharing, and be discerning about when it feels appropriate to share a related personal story,” says Jackson. The more you ask questions of a friend when they’re opening up, the more you’ll also avoid over-talking or creating a situation where someone feels like they can’t get in a word edgewise, says psychologist and friendship expert Irene S. Levine, PhD.

3. Turning a one-on-one date into a group hangout

Even if your friend agrees to another person tagging along to your scheduled meet-up, suggesting the addition can breed resentment if you do it repeatedly, as it’ll start to send the signal that their friendship isn’t worthy of your uninterrupted attention. “If the original friend doesn’t know the third person well, it can make them feel uncomfortable or disappointed, especially if they’d wanted to have an intimate conversation with you,” says Dr. Levine.

And although you might make this move with the best of intentions—perhaps you’d like your friends to mingle with each other, or you simply think a group get-together could be more fun—it should be used sparingly in situations where the other two people aren’t as close as you are with each of them.

4. Phubbing (even in a group setting)

You might know that phubbing—the cheeky portmanteau of “phone” and “snubbing” that refers to looking at your phone while in the midst of conversation—is generally considered rude. But based on a recent study on friend phubbing, people may be more likely to phub when they’re in a group of three or more, assuming that it matters less in that situation to whoever’s currently speaking. Even then, however, you’d be wise to avoid it, according to the experts. In any context, phubbing can be interpreted as devaluing a friendship in comparison to whatever’s more pressing on your phone.

5. Ignoring problems in the friendship

Saying something’s fine when it isn’t almost always manifests in unhealthy ways, says Jackson: “You'll either find yourself slowly withdrawing from the person over time, responding with passive-aggressive remarks, or resenting them altogether.” It’s the same reason you shouldn’t walk away in the middle of a disagreement without attempting to come to a resolution.

Sitting in the stew of whatever’s bothering you (especially if it’s a big concern or one that arises frequently) just creates emotional distance, says Dr. Franco. On the flip side, she says, studies find that open conflict actually benefits friendships when it happens empathetically, and bringing up problems to work through them can build more intimacy, honesty, and trust over time.

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