Whether it's sharing clothes, catching up over brunch or grabbing popcorn and a bottle of wine to watch the latest episode of your favorite show together, your friends are the ones who know about your quirks, flings, triumphs and most embarrassing moments. These are the friends who held you when your tears made your mascara run and visited you with soup when you were sniffling in bed surrounded by tissues. Because our friends make up an integral part of our lives, fighting with them is equivalent to getting your teeth pulled at the dentist—unpleasant and painful. If you see a recurring pattern where you’re repeatedly at each other’s throats, then one of these four reasons may explain why.
1. You’re trying to one-up each other
Kendra*, a sophomore at Seneca College, recalls when she and her longtime friend were involved in a situation where each was trying to best the other. “After we started college, I found that my BFF would constantly compare her accomplishments to mine because we were in the same program and had similar aspirations,” she says. “The imaginary rivalry she built between us eventually developed into an unhealthy contest for who could out-achieve the other.” Competition can be healthy at times when it challenges us to demonstrate the full extent of our capabilities. However, when it becomes a constant in your friendship, then it’s probably time to initiate a one-on-one conversation about the less-than-positive effects the competition has on the relationship.
What to do:
In this scenario, you need to ask yourself if it’s ultimately worth participating in an “I’m-better-than-you” challenge. If you have that one friend who decides that they want to use you as a benchmark for success and feels the incessant need to compare, then that’s an indicator that they’re insecure.
Dr. Tim Jordan, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and author of Sleeping Beauties, Awakened Women, points out that “girls tend to compare themselves a lot to other people. If they see a friend with better grades or who is prettier or thinner, and then compare themselves to those girls who [they consider] are ‘better than them,’ that makes them feel discouraged and then negative self-talk turns on, which results in putting the other person down and other mean girl behavior."
We suggest gently informing them that while you’re happy for their successes, you aren’t interested in playing that game. By articulating your disinterest in competing with them, it takes the wind out of their sails. “What I like for girls to do is catch themselves when they start comparing,” says Dr. Jordan.
“Instead of making it about themselves in a negative way, they instead look at the other person and say ‘Wow, I love how smart she is!’ It’s more powerful to acknowledge people so that it keeps you out of the competition.” Expressing your enthusiasm for their achievements also conveys that you’re a supportive friend who is genuinely happy for their success.
2. Unresolved issues have re-emerged
When it comes to conflict-resolution, simply brushing hurt feelings under the rug is guaranteed to lead to more misunderstandings and feuds in the future. Bridget*, a junior at York University, once found herself in a screaming match with someone who she considered to be more of a sister than a friend. “From attending the same piano recitals to surviving the awkward pubescent phase called high school, we practically grew up together,” says Bridget.
“In our freshman year, I told her that the guy she was currently involved with wasn’t the best influence on her and that the relationship wasn’t likely to last. I saw her changing her values to better fit his ideal image of her and she got upset when I pointed that out.” As a result, “this strained our friendship because she would try to ignore the subject if it came up and each argument about the matter got progressively worse and worse.”
Deliberately overlooking a problem by neglecting to address it just allows further animosity and ill-feelings to build up between the parties involved. “In my experience working in summer camps and schools, girls hold onto their feelings," says Dr. Jordan. "When I teach them conflict resolution, they talk about things that happened six months ago or even two years ago." He notes that drama is prone to happen when past situations haven’t been dealt with properly as this causes emotions to fester before surfacing again in harmful ways.
What to do:
Take a breather and temporarily step away from the situation to regain your composure if emotions are running high. It’s difficult to act rationally and calmly when experiencing anger or distress. When both parties decide to approach the matter again, let one person speak uninterrupted before the next person replies.
Explain how you feel about the circumstances and why. Avoid a distribution of blame. When listening, try to understand the rationale behind their perspective. A sincere, thorough discussion that lets both parties articulate their thoughts is the best remedy when pent-up resentment has accumulated over time.
3. There’s a vicious cycle of trash talk
Wanting to vent is an expected reaction when we’re frustrated or displeased. However, deliberately gossiping with mutual acquaintances about a well-known friend is distasteful. Janice*, a freshman at the University of Ottawa, was in a dispute with a friend about having a spin-the-bottle party in their dorm room. Later, she was unpleasantly surprised when she found out that nearly half the residents in the building had heard about their fight over the weekend.
“It was beyond ridiculous,” she says. “When I returned to campus, other people living on the same floor as us were giving me looks of disapproval and commenting on how I was no fun. I was bewildered until the girl living in the adjacent suite confirmed that she and a bunch of people were given a blow-by-blow account of what happened.” A form of malice, idle gossip is counterproductive and only serves to damage relationships.
What to do:
“Girls in general have a hard time handling conflicts and disagreements directly,” says Dr. Jordan. “They are worried about losing a friend and being excluded from the group.” However, bringing in third parties is bound to intensify the existing conflict as other friends start taking sides. If you’re upset with someone, it’s best to talk to them directly rather than going to others to air out your dirty laundry. This way, the argument can be sorted out without further complications.
4. It’s a demonstration of status
While we wish that the mean girl antics stopped in high school, it unfortunately doesn’t end there. Alicia*, a sophomore at the University of Guelph, was in a situation where she was repeatedly being put down by a friend in front of their mutual acquaintances. “It was basically her way of showing power. She wanted to put me in my place and show me that I didn’t have as much influence,” says Alicia. It’s troubling when someone resorts to such means to establish their position within a social circle. However, it could be a marker of their underlying fear of being left out or a lack of confidence that drives this type of behavior.
What to do:
“I teach girls to not give their power away. When you react to someone else’s words about you, you are in essence giving up your power,” says Dr. Jordan. “I want them to know that they are always in charge of their feelings and how they react.” He emphasizes how important it is for young women to understand that they have the choice of either allowing their feelings to be hurt or choosing not to let it bother them at all.
Dr. Jordan suggests that “no matter what group you’re in, girls need safe spaces to say what’s going on, clear the air and state their intentions. This way, everyone has a voice and they are able to handle things instead of letting feelings stew.” Holding an open group dialogue can do wonders in repairing and strengthening friendships. So the next time you find yourself in a heated moment with a friend, keep the aforementioned recommendations in mind and skip the drama.
After all, your friends are the ones who played tag with you on the playground, watched every rerun of Gossip Girl and will likely be your bridesmaids on your big day. They make life so much more interesting, for better or for worse.
*Names have been changed