Friend or ‘Frenemy’? How to Tell the Difference

crossed fingers while shaking handsYou’ve heard the word before: “frenemy.” Not quite a friend, but not someone you have open conflict with, either. This isn’t a trusted pal with whom you sometimes have disagreements. Having a frenemy-type relationship can appear a few different ways:

  • You both actively seethe, equally hating each other. But you mask your disdain with smiles and continue to go through the motions of friendship. There may be attractive benefits to play-acting this friendship, such as keeping the peace in a larger social group or having a backup “friend” you can turn to when you’re lonely.
  • You don’t like this person, but he or she doesn’t know it. Again, there may be benefits to keeping up the appearance of friendliness. Or you may feel so guilty about not liking someone that you are working hard to convince yourself that you actually enjoy the friendship. Or you might feel afraid of creating distance because you believe it would be wrong to hurt the other person.
  • You are not aware of overall bad feelings toward your friend, but you have noticed that each time you spend time around him or her, you are left feeling angry, sad, anxious, or bad about yourself.

If any of these are familiar and you find that you are increasingly agitated by one or more of your friendships, it might help to do some reflecting on how you would like to engage with frenemies in the future.

Questions to Ask Yourself

An important part of self-reflection is asking yourself questions to gain clarity about what you think and feel. When considering frenemies, start by asking:

What keeps me connected to this relationship?

There are a lot of reasons we may find ourselves holding on to another person. Proximity and convenience can tie us to our next-door neighbors and our child’s best friend’s parents. Growing up together, belonging to a larger friend group, surviving difficult times together, and being related to each other are other reasons that keep people sticking with relationships that are otherwise unfulfilling. Think about what is drawing you to this relationship, including anything positive that comes from staying connected.

Being intentional about how you invest your time and effort makes room in your life for healthy, satisfying relationships.

What is this person evoking in me? A memory? Is he or she a reminder of another person in my life with whom I’ve had a bad relationship?

It’s possible that your feelings might not be connected to how the other person is actually behaving. If so, this doesn’t mean that you need to ignore your feelings because they’re unfair to the other person. It is an important thing for you to note about why it may be difficult for you to spend time with him or her.

What is this relationship costing me?

A frustrating relationship may have a lot of costs. There may be tangible costs, such as when a frenemy is demanding financial support. Or there may be costs that are harder to measure: the emotional toll of painful interactions, or the energy spent recovering from time together.

What to Do Next

If you come to realize that your friend is more like a frenemy, the next thing to consider is what you would like to happen for the future of your relationship. Weighing all that you now know about the role this person is playing in your life, and what is driving your reactions to him or her, ask yourself the following questions:

How close would you like this bond to be?

Would greater distance, perhaps spending less time together, feel more comfortable?

Is it time to completely end it—to follow through with a friendship breakup?

Would you like to rehabilitate the friendship, and if so, can your friend tolerate a vulnerable conversation about how you’ve been feeling?

Engaging in this self-reflection will give you the chance to choose how you want to relate in these complicated relationships. Hopefully, this will reduce the chance that you’ll impulsively or passive-aggressively react in ways that can bring about unappealing consequences. Being intentional about how you invest your time and effort makes room in your life for healthy, satisfying relationships.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cristalle Y. Sese, PsyD, therapist in Glendale, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Melissa

    Melissa

    July 13th, 2015 at 9:19 AM

    You would think that those frenemies would go away after middle school, but somehow those people still keep turning up in my life time after time, and I am far removed from middle school.

  • Joanna

    Joanna

    July 14th, 2015 at 6:54 AM

    Very Good article to read. I think communication is very important, as we grow older we change and our relationships with other people will change and our friendships will become different. It is important to learn about each other’s differences and respect them rather than finding something wrong with them. Sometimes it is just impossible to hang on to the friendships from high school. Life is a motion not a fixed state.

  • Maeve

    Maeve

    July 14th, 2015 at 9:46 AM

    choose your friends very wisely…

  • Zada

    Zada

    July 14th, 2015 at 4:13 PM

    I would say that most of the time people show us who they are, but it can be up to us to see it and acknowledge that. I think that we mostly want to think only the best about people, but that is just not possible in so many instances. People look out for themselves and they will use you in a heartbeat if you let them. These are the people that you have to watch out for.

  • jim

    jim

    July 15th, 2015 at 8:08 AM

    Take just a minute and think about how this person REALLY makes you feel when you are with them, or better yet, how do you feel about them when they are not with you.

    Are you suspicious about what they could be saying about you? Then that could mean that there is a real problem there.

  • Faith

    Faith

    July 16th, 2015 at 11:45 AM

    I do not know why but it always feels like I am attracting people into my life that I do not need, who hurt me more than they ever help me. And I do so much more for them. I can’t understand how this keeps happening, why I am this easy magnet for people who are only bad in my life.

  • cassandra owens

    cassandra owens

    July 17th, 2015 at 11:06 AM

    You just gotta get rid of all of the heavy unneeded baggage in your life

  • Donald

    Donald

    July 18th, 2015 at 8:40 AM

    Call me old school but to me there is no such thing as a frenemy. You are either my friend or you are not.

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