Have a Frenemy in Your Social Circle? Here Are the Dos and Don’ts for Coexisting Peacefully

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In your life, there may be someone who is part of your immediate social circle, but not necessarily someone you’d like to spend time with one-on-one. Maybe it’s a friend with whom you had a huge fight and now don’t have a relationship outside of large group events, or maybe it's just someone whose presence you don't particularly enjoy.

This brand of frenemy relationship can be a blip on your social radar or a proverbial volcano ready to erupt at any moment. The course the relationship takes largely depends on how you handle things. It's possible to have frenemies within your social group without compromising your emotional health and protecting the DNA of your friendship community. Doing so simply requires effort.

Experts In This Article

A frenemy relationship is one where “the two of you recognize the tension in your relationship and aren't exactly fond of one another and don't necessarily have an affection for one another," says friendship coach Danielle Jackson. "But maybe on the surface, you still appear cooperative and relatively friendly.”

Thanks to this undercurrent of politeness and willingness to be cordial, there are ways to get along without causing conflict, hurting anyone’s feelings, or acting in a way that’s dishonest. Read on for the dos and don’ts of peacefully coexisting with a frenemy in the same social circle—without damaging your other relationships or betraying yourself in the process.

Here are the dos and don't for how to have frenemies within your social group

Do: Figure out what's behind these feelings

To make a plan to navigate interactions with this person, both therapist Shontel Cargill, LMFT and Jackson advise introspecting on what drives your feelings. Consider why you don't like this person or their company, and what exactly it is about them that doesn't resonate with you. Next, you can use that information to decide whether it's worth interacting with them at all. If the answer is yes, come up with a way to do so while still respecting your own boundaries and standards. Remember, you have the power to shape this dynamic.

Do: Be courteous and civil, but not fake

Learning how to have frenemies within your social group requires you to behave courteously and civilly. That extends both to when they are in your presence and not: When you're speaking about this person in their absence, it's a best practice to be neutral and positive. Otherwise, you risk veering from frenemy territory into enemy territory.

It's possible (and advisable!) to accomplish this without being dishonest or fake. Leading with respect around someone you aren’t the fondest of is a marker of maturity and a necessary part of maintaining cooperation with frenemies, Jackson says. Saying things and behaving in a way that’s incongruent with how you really feel would be “where the fakeness comes in.” For example, telling someone to their face that you think they’re great when you really don’t is unkind and dishonest.

Don’t: Try to turn the others in the group against the frenemy

Making moves to turn others in your social group against your frenemy in hopes of getting them booted from the larger group is ill-advised, no matter how you go about doing so. Whether you're sharing unflattering information about your frenemy to get a leg up on the situation, presenting an ultimatum to those in the group to either choose you or them, or some other tack, it likely won't reflect kindly on you or serve you well in your friendships with others in the group.

According to Jackson, this can backfire because it positions you as the person bringing drama and chaos to the group dynamic. Adults often don't respond well to being told with whom they can or cannot socialize, so this route isn't the best to travel if your goal is holding the group together, keeping your place in the group, or both.

Do: Evaluate your own place in the group

Remember that you get to decide who your friends are and with whom you spend time. If being around your frenemy tends to cause problems for you—or even just not fill your cup the way you feel interactions with your friend group generally should—it could be time to re-evaluate your place in this group. This is especially true if the people with whom you do typically get along aren't interested in spending private time with you.

“If this person is impacting your experience with the entire group, you have some things to look at." —Danielle Jackson, friendship coach

People change and grow apart, and the loss of friendships can be difficult and painful. But you may be better served removing yourself from a certain framework if you are constantly dedicating effort to maintaining peace with someone you don’t like. “I encourage people to take a look at how much you are willing to do to remain in a group dynamic that may not serve you anymore,” Jackson says. “If this person is impacting your experience with the entire group, you have some things to look at."

Don’t: Confront them, unless you can do it productively and respectfully

As any viewer of the Real Housewives franchise knows, talking out the issues you have with another person—especially a frenemy—isn’t always productive and can make sometimes a tenuous situation worse. In order to ensure a conflict resolution strategy is productive, it's key to first ensure the people participating are on the same page about the goals of the discussion. "Anger, disappointment, and frustration really take you out of your game in terms of communicating in a healthy way," Cargill says.

So, if you think a conversation with a frenemy could help you level set your goals about how to coexist well in a group of friends, be mindful to get clear on what you hope to gain from the chat beforehand. If you plan to talk about a specific situation that isn't sitting well with you and explain your reasoning plus leave space to respond rather than react to them, that's one thing. But confronting someone to tell them you find them irritating, for instance, isn't helpful and will likely make being civil going forward tougher.

Do: Carve out time with the group separate from your frenemy, and be selective with your attendance at group events

Remember, you have control over how you behave, and exercising this reality can help you set yourself up for success in having frenemies in your wider social circle. One strategy you might turn to in order to help is minimizing how often you're around this person, when possible. “Depending on how much stress it actually brings you to be around this person, you need to be selective over how much you engage with them,” Jackson says.

Decide for yourself what your tolerance is for being around a frenemy in question while remaining civil and courteous. And remember that you have control over how much you interact with this person and in which settings, too. You probably don’t need to attend this person’s intimate birthday party, for example.

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