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How to Hold Your Friends Accountable Without Breaking Your Friendship

There’s a fine line between giving your friends advice on reaching their goals and nagging them when they veer off course.


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Shondaland Staff

The title of “friend” comes with a slew of responsibilities. If it was a job listing on LinkedIn, these words and phrases would probably be found in the description: cheerleader, restaurant accompanier, breakup consultant, pep talker, outfit adviser, shoulder to cry on, and accountability coach. But while these roles all come with their own challenges, actually holding your friends accountable to their goals, struggles, and missteps is probably the most difficult.

For instance, let’s say your friend has a ton of credit-card debt she is stressed about. She constantly vents to you about this issue and is clearly distressed by it. But the next time you see her, she tells you about a new purse she bought, or she often orders the most expensive thing on the menu. Another scenario: A friend is upset about his post-breakup weight gain but refuses to accompany you to workout classes and proceeds to eat copious amounts of junk food.

There’s a fine line between giving your friends advice on reaching their goals and nagging them when they veer off course. Here’s how to help keep your friends accountable in life while maintaining your friendships.

Remind Them of Their Goal

When your friend is acting in ways that are not aligned with reaching their objective, it’s important to gently remind them of what they are trying to accomplish. “It can be helpful to use your friend’s words when reminding him or her of their goals,” says Andrea Syrtash, a relationship expert and author. “For instance, you may say something like, ‘I know you told me your goal to do X and how worried you were not to do that. As your good friend, I wanted to play this goal back to you so you don’t lose sight of it, as I know how important it is to you.’ You can also tell a friend that because you care, you want to help her be accountable to herself. You know this is something she wants and values.”

Two things can happen when you bring this up to your friend. The best scenario is your friend takes your advice and makes a serious effort to reach their desired state. Worse case, your friend gets defensive and lashes out at you.

“Understand that it’s sometimes tough to hold someone accountable if they aren’t prepared to do the necessary work or sacrifice it may take,” says Syrtash. “If your friend gets defensive, remind her that you aren’t putting pressure on her, that she is an adult and should do whatever she thinks is right, but that you care about her, and that’s why you are reminding her of her values and what she expressed as something she wanted.”

Krista Williams, a cohost of the Almost 30 podcast, emphasizes protecting your energy. “First of all, try not to take it personally. Her defensiveness is not a reflection of you — it’s insecurity she is working through,” says Williams. “Then, set a gentle but firm boundary. You could say, ‘I see this conversation is upsetting you. I think we should both step away and take some time to process separately.’ Setting boundaries is incredibly healthy and necessary for both yourself and the other person. It will mirror to them how to set healthy boundaries in their own life, and it will ultimately make the friendship stronger.” After taking a breather, you can then evaluate if and when to check in on your friend’s progress, or not bring it up again.


When your friend is acting in ways that are not aligned with reaching their objective, it’s important to gently remind them of what they are trying to accomplish. (Tom Werner/Getty Images)

Don’t Forget to Look Out for Yourself

Constantly giving advice to someone who won’t listen and feeling the brunt of that person’s defeats can be taxing, especially when it feels like an endless cycle. “When you care about someone, it’s frustrating to see them not living up to their values or goals. Also, it’s frustrating to keep having the same conversations about it!” says Syrtash. “Rather than vent — chances are your friend is equally frustrated, even if not expressing it — try to come from a place of compassion but not judgment. You can say something like, ‘I’m concerned that you’re putting this off because I know how important you said this was to you’ and check in with genuine curiosity.”

Another option is to delegate. Whether it be a personal trainer or a therapist, your friend may need professional help that you yourself can’t provide. As Rob Lawless, the founder of Rob’s 10k Friends, for which he is traveling the country and spending one hour with random strangers, says, “You need to identify what you can and cannot help with. If you’re doing your best with the areas where you can lend a hand, then you should feel satisfied; otherwise, you may spiral out of control yourself. If your best is not working, consider who else may be able to help in the situation and get in touch with them.” The next time your friend complains about not achieving their desired result, suggest reaching out to someone who is qualified to help, or text them a link where they can find said help.

Know When to Let Go

It can be tempting to continuously try giving advice or repeating your friend’s objective back to them. But if nothing comes from it, you’re just beating a dead horse. “If you’ve had the same accountability conversation numerous times, it may be time to let it go,” says Syrtash. “Or, if you sense your friend wants to shut it down every time you bring it up, it’s probably not worth pursuing.” Think of it from your friend’s point of view — no one wants to constantly be reminded of their failures. Instead, try focusing on your own goals and dreams. Who knows? It may inspire your friend to get back into action.

Should You End the Friendship?

Unfortunately, not all friendships are meant to last. If the friendship feels forced or strained, it may have run its course. “Friendship has to be built not only on mutual interests but on mutual respect and reciprocity,” says Syrtash. “If it feels very one-sided — like you’re always looking out for her but don’t feel much support from her — or you find you’ve lost respect/are constantly judging her, it may be time to move on from the friendship.”

In this case, you will have to put yourself first. “Ask yourself, if a friendship is causing you to lose yourself, then is it really a true friendship? In a healthy friendship, you should feel safe to show up as your authentic self and speak your truth,” says Lindsey Simcik, the other cohost of the Almost 30 podcast. “If not, the relationship isn’t serving either of you — it’s not an equal exchange of energy.”

Natalya Jones's writing has been published in HuffPost, Elite Daily, ACTIVE, and various other outlets. She has interviewed celebrities such as Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, and Trina among others.

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This post originally appeared on Shondaland and was published November 2, 2021. This article is republished here with permission.