Help! My Friend Expects Me to Solve All His Problems

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I have a close friend who comes to me with all his problems, and sometimes I don’t know how to help. Some small issues I can give advice on or help him out with. When he asks me about other, bigger things, such as work issues, relationship issues, or family issues, I often really don’t know what to do or say.

He seems to depend on my advice, and if I say “I’m sorry, I don’t know how I can help” or tell him I don’t have a lot of free time at the moment, he will often get irritated and say something like, “Whatever. It doesn’t matter anyway.” Then I find myself trying to reassure him and find a way to help him, even though this takes time and effort I sometimes don’t have.

He also has a tendency to fixate on things. I’ll offer advice or a suggestion, and he seems to like it, but a few days later he will bring up the issue again, almost as if I said nothing at all. This is very frustrating. If my advice isn’t working out, why doesn’t he seek out someone else’s opinion? I’m only going to tell him the same thing again.

This happens frequently. We talk most days, and it seems as if a week can’t go by without him having some new problem he needs help with. I don’t mind doing what I can to help, of course, but (1) sometimes it seems like that’s all he wants to talk to me about and (2) I think he can solve most of his problems himself, if he would just give them a little more thought.

I don’t think this is worth losing our friendship over. We have come too far for that. I’ve tried to raise the issue, but he hasn’t seemed to hear what I’m saying. And if I encourage him, saying, “I’m really not sure because I don’t have a lot of experience in that. Try looking it up online!” or something similar, he might respond with “I’m too dumb to figure this out” or make other self-defeating remarks.

Do you have any suggestions as to how I can bring this up and be heard? —Frustrated Friend

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Dear Frustrated Friend,

It sounds like you have tried to set some boundaries with your friend and he is unwilling to hear or respect them. That raises the question for me as to what you are getting out of this friendship. You say you’ve “come too far” to lose your friendship, but something in this relationship is not working for you. If your friend is not willing to hear you, or responds with what sounds like emotionally manipulative statements, it may be time to reevaluate just how important this relationship is to you and how staying in it is serving you.

Ultimately, if you choose to continue your friendship, it will be up to you to set and hold your boundaries; he is unlikely to change what he is asking of you. You mentioned that when you try to let him know you don’t have answers or it isn’t a good time, you wind up trying to reassure and help him anyhow. One way to stop having him asking for help you can’t or don’t want to give is to stop giving it. Hold firm to your boundary.

Setting and holding boundaries can be uncomfortable. It is clear you want to be a good friend. Being a good friend does not mean consistently ignoring your needs, however.

If the timing is an issue, let him know you aren’t available at the moment, and provide a time that would work for you. He can respond with frustration or anger, but you do not have to give in. You can gently hold your ground and respond with caring. Let him know you are sorry he is struggling and that you will be able to help at another time. If you feel you aren’t the one to help him, that the issues are beyond you, let him know that and then stick to it. If he makes self-deprecating remarks, you do not have to respond to them. When you have given him help and he returns with the same issues again and again, it’s okay to let him know you don’t have anything to add to what you’ve already discussed.

Setting and holding boundaries can be uncomfortable. It is clear you want to be a good friend. Being a good friend does not mean consistently ignoring your needs, however. Being a good friend means not letting resentment build or having frustrations get in the way of your friendship. Being a good friend also means setting limits and not expecting your friend to take full responsibility for holding them.

You will learn much about your friend and your friendship by how he responds to you when you do hold firm. It may open up a meaningful conversation about the kind of friendship you both want with each other and may even strengthen your friendship. If, however, he is unwilling to recognize your needs as legitimate or your boundaries as meaningful, if he responds to you in anger or with blame or manipulation, I would encourage you to reconsider if this relationship is serving you in a meaningful way.

As you consider all of this, you may want to get support from a counselor who can help you identify what is keeping you in this relationship; help you implement strategies to set your limits; or, if you should choose to step back from the friendship, help you grieve the loss of what has been an important relationship.

Best of luck,

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
  • 5 comments
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  • Ellis

    Ellis

    April 15th, 2017 at 6:19 AM

    How about could you look up some websites or providers in your area and the next time he comes to you with a problem just tell him look at what I found and encourage him to take a look or give this person a call. You have your own problems to worry about and it really sounds like having to take on all of his issues are a little too much for you right now. If he is a good friend then eventually he will understand that this is not what your friendship has to be based on.

  • Mazza

    Mazza

    April 16th, 2017 at 10:34 AM

    Oh Goodness, you aren’t the only one who’s had a ‘friend’ like this. The line that stood out for me was him coming back to you with the same problem and acting like they’ve taken no notice of what you’ve previously said. As has been said, they are wanting you to take responsibility for the problem, rather than support them to a solution. If he can’t hear you, then perhaps he needs therapy. It’s nice to be helpful but this is taking it too far.

  • Don

    Don

    April 17th, 2017 at 11:26 AM

    It is a possibility that this friendship is far too toxic for you to hold onto

    Could be best to let this one go

  • Annie

    Annie

    April 18th, 2017 at 11:04 AM

    Ok so I am going to try to look at this from a different perspective in that do you often give advice if not solicited so this person could think that you actually enjoy helping out? I mean, there are many of us who do this and I don’t think that w always mean to but we interject when possibly we would serve ourselves and others better if we could just find a way to keep out of it?
    Maybe this isn’t what is happening in your case because I know that there are times we have all been taken advantage of, but could this be a vibe that you are putting out there and you don’t realize it?

  • Myra

    Myra

    April 20th, 2017 at 2:41 PM

    I am always that person who says I am going to stand firm and hold my ground but I can never do it. I guess that this is why I always feel like there is someone taking advantage of me because if I am honest about it them I am the one who is allowing it to mostly happen. I guess that if they were better friends then they would stop trying so hard to overstep my boundaries but then again if I were stronger somehow then I wouldn’t always be allowing them to do it.

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