How to Ask a Close Friend for More Space
A script for setting boundaries without hurting the friendship
Scripts is a weekly series dedicated to helping you navigate the tough conversations.
It’s a hard truth that a friend, even a close one — maybe especially a close one — can be a source of stress rather than its antidote. No matter how close the relationship, you’re still two different people, with different needs and expectations. Lives change, priorities shift, and at some point, you may find that you’re not able to be available for a last-minute hang out like you once were, or your friend might need emotional support that you don’t have the capacity to give.
We’ve all been on both sides of this equation. People get busy, move, get married, start new jobs, change. Friendships, like romantic relationships, sometimes require space and boundaries. And just like a romantic relationship, learning how to have tough conversations is crucial to the long-term health of the dynamic.
“Think about how you’d want to be let down,” says Nicole Sbordone, a therapist in Scottsdale, Arizona, and author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Whether you’re declining to do them a favor or simply requesting more space, your goal is twofold: You want to protect the relationship without undermining yourself and your needs. Here’s how to pull off the delicate balance.
Step 1) Practice
Give some forethought to how this discussion will unfold — which includes figuring out a time to have it in person. “It can seem impersonal through text or email,” says Sbordone, and digital communication can lack the tone and visual cues that temper a tough talk.
To sidestep any gaffes, try practicing what you want to say beforehand so you can nail the tone. “The manner in which the message is delivered can make a world of difference,” says psychologist Kelly Campbell, a professor at California State University, San Bernardino, who studies relationships.
If there’s been a conflict or problem that needs to be addressed as part of the request for space, she says to be careful not to resort to blame, criticism, or a bringing up a laundry list of…