Ever wondered what you'd say to a therapist, given the chance? We asked Dr Sheri Jacobson, a retired psychotherapist with over 17 years' clinical experience and the cofounder of Harley Therapy, for advice on the things we worry about in private.
All my closest friends are currently in relationships and I’m struggling with feeling lonely and not as valued as when they were single.
One of the couples I’m friends with has been together since we were at school, another has been together for about two years now and another friend has just started a relationship so is in the early 'we have to spend all our time together' phase. I’m really happy for my friends that they’re falling in love and having a great time. However, I’ve been single for six years and I really, really value all my friendships. Lately, as my friends get into relationships, I feel like our friendships are becoming more one-sided as they prioritise their romances. I’m starting to feel resentful, unvalued and as if they may not notice if I disappeared (which I know is ridiculous because they would notice). I go on dates and have fun but I’m yet to meet someone that I want to see more than once so I’m feeling a bit dejected in my own romantic life, and I think some of my feelings may come from jealousy.
Do you have any tips on dealing with shifting priorities within friendships when romantic partners come into play?
The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that you have difficult feelings about it and these feelings are totally normal when you go through what's called a cycle of change. In any shift, change or loss, we go through a transition and there are different stages that we need to work through (though they can come up in whatever order).
It typically goes: shock, denial, anger, bargaining (but possibly less so in our relationship stage), depression and then eventual acceptance. This is the ultimate stage we want to reach, where we roll with the status shifts and move to a position of peace.
This means not focusing on the past but going through whatever cycle of emotions come up for you, with the understanding that you can accept things and move on.
It's also important to recognise that relationships and couples often do take priority over friendships and that's simply a reflection of the limited time that we have in a day. If we had more time and more energy, we might be able to sustain the same amount of contact we did before. But the fact is whether you're in a new relationship or married, it's still very likely that other things that were present in your life when single are squeezed out. Not only friends – it's sometimes hobbies and interests and routines as well.
What I'm trying to say is that it's not personal. It's a reflection of what happens in relationships. But it doesn't mean that something is over if it's different, it just changes! Which is a fact of life – our locus of interest is always naturally evolving.
It's a personal preference whether you communicate how you feel with your friends. If it's bothering you enough and you feel that your preference is to communicate, then by all means share that reflection. But hopefully you wouldn't be requesting them to do anything dramatically different. Instead the purpose is to let the friend know that you're feeling a certain way but you're working on it.
If we're not adaptable we're in for disappointment. Nothing stands still in any part of life. And if we're pinning our hopes on the idea that it will, we're going to be left disgruntled. So a mental adaptability to changing circumstances is a work in progress and an internal one. If a friend gives you reassurance or makes a particular effort because of how you're feeling, it may not be sustainable and may eventually lead to the rupture of the friendship.
It's great that you said "I'm really happy for my friends" so you should try and focus on the satisfaction that friends are in a good place and readjust your perspective of where you fit within that. That may mean being happy with maybe less time but making sure it's quality time. Also, have clear boundaries and communicate them. For example, if they let you down with a plan in favour of their partner, be wary of that and be sure to communicate if you feel let down. Similarly, be watchful that the relationship is reciprocal and doesn’t become heavily one-sided.
If you want to raise things, focus on specific instances instead of the fact they have partners, as well as doing what we call internal work. I think a lot of this will derive from our core beliefs, things that we believe about ourselves and other people in the world. This is something we do in CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy): we often take a look at what is ultimately troubling you about this situation. Is it that you feel abandoned? Which, if that's true, reveals a core belief that you don't think you're loveable, for example. And so the internal work is working on that core belief as well as working towards a place of acceptance.
And with all that in mind, you should stay hopeful too, because the other side of the story is that relationships aren't easy. In some ways, some of your friends might find you lucky to be single. Grass is not always greener on the other side.