Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationships — with romantic partners, family members, co-workers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]!

Q: One of my closest friends got engaged earlier this year, and I couldn’t be happier for her. She’s not super close with her family, so a few girlfriends and I have been planning various events as bridesmaids to celebrate her — like the bachelorette, the bridal shower, and the engagement party. I’ve personally put a lot of effort into making this a special time for her, but she’s being a total diva. Her temper is short, her demands are unrealistic, and this engagement is beginning to feel like a stressful chore for the rest of us. Can I say something to her without hurting her feelings? What do I do?

A: You’ve asked an important question, and I am glad that you’re reaching out and considering how to bring your concern up with your friend. 

To start, I think it would be best to focus on how you’re feeling when confronted with her demands and unrealistic expectations. I ask you this first because in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy, we use what’s called a soft start-up. This is for those times when you need to bring something that is concerning you up with a partner, or a friend. The first thing you would do is clarify how you’re feeling, about what specific situation, and what you need instead in positive terms (this is called a positive need). Adding in appreciation and politeness also helps! This helps to avoid blaming the other person and gives you a better chance to be heard non-defensively by the other person. 

Also, it’s best to bring up the concern rather than avoid talking to her. She is clearly a good friend, and if you don’t bring it up it could lead to resentment, or even an explosion on your part if you were to reach a breaking point. Try to bring it up in a moment where there is space for calm conversation. Make sure you are raising the concern when no one is feeling exhausted or hungry. 

Here is what I imagine your soft start-up may sound like:

“I am so happy for you that you’re getting married to such a great person, you deserve to be truly happy. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the way you ask for things at times, and I’d feel better about all of this effort if you could communicate what you’re wanting and needing in a calmer, more accepting way.” 

Or it could be more to the point, such as:

“I appreciate you as a friend and want this to be a good experience, but I could use more appreciation and kindness from you for my efforts here.” It might be good to ask her how she’s feeling at this time. It sounds like she may be feeling scared, anxious, or overwhelmed, and that is what’s leading her to be demanding at times. Especially if this behavior is uncharacteristic for her, I would ask her what is going on for her, and how she is feeling about everything. That may bring the conversation more to a feelings level, rather than just the surface level. Increase your understanding of what is going on for her, share your concerns and needs, and that should help this whole situation.  

I hope this helps you feel clearer, and that you have the confidence to bring up the issue with her. Good luck!

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