Maybe it’s the annual spring break trips to Europe. Or the private school tuition. Or the lavish home renovations. Or maybe it’s just the constant little reminders of your friend’s overflowing bank accounts — the designer clothes, the weekends away — that set your jealousy aboil.
Differences in wealth — whether it’s thanks to a well-off spouse, a big promotion at work or a large inheritance — can make relationships tricky to navigate, says Rachel Annunziato, associate professor of psychology at Fordham University. “Financial inequality can have a way of making you feel bad about yourself, even if the friendship itself is a positive one.”
Those feelings of inadequacy can be worse if you have kids. “Many moms already feel guilty about what we’re able to give our children,” she says. That guilt is often compounded when faced with a friend who is able to shower her children with every advantage.
Still, while it may be tough to tamp down every jealous pang, says Annunziato, there are a few simple ways to help ease your negative feelings.
Try not to obsess over social media. Thanks to social media, the difference between the haves and the have-nots has never been more in-your-face. It’s one thing to hear about your friend’s new $100,000 kitchen or weeklong spa vacation; it’s another to see photos documenting every detail splashed across Instagram or Facebook.
“For some people social media can really feed into these negative feelings,” says Annunziato. Rather than scrolling through your feed and simmering with jealousy, put down the phone and reclaim your time.
Strategize your get-togethers. Spending the entire evening worrying about covering the check is no way to have fun with a friend. If she invites you to a swanky new bar or restaurant, suggest an alternate activity that will fit into your budget, like checking out a museum exhibition or taking the kids to the zoo.
Don’t avoid the elephant in the room. Particularly for special occasions — say a birthday weekend in Vegas — be honest about how the plans fit (or don’t fit) into your financial budget, says Annunziato. “People are so anxious about talking about money; it’s a taboo subject. But being honest can help relieve some of the tension.” If your friend is planning a pricey event, lay it out nicely: “I really care about you, but this isn’t something that I can splurge on right now. Maybe we can celebrate together at another time?”
Day to day, if you find yourself in a detailed conversation about the pros and cons of college admissions consultants or Viking appliances, it’s okay to gently remind your friend that this is way beyond your realm of reality. “You can say, ‘I apologize that I haven’t contributed as much to this conversation, but it’s really hard for me to relate to. It’s so far away from what we can afford at this point in our lives.’”
Focus on why you became friends. Sure, her extravagant lifestyle may gnaw at you, but she’s your friend, not just a bank account. Think about that person you first connected with: Did she share your love of old movies? Did you enjoy hiking together? Sometimes revisiting those favorite shared activities can help remind you why you’re friends.
That said, as you age, it’s natural for some of your friends from your early adult years — not to mention your childhood — to grow more distant. “When you’re first starting out after college, you’re all kind of in the same boat,” says Annunziato. “But as you grow older, people take different paths.” In other words, it’s only natural that you might not have as much in common with your former cubicle buddy who’s now in a high-pressure VP job — while you’ve gone part-time to stay at home with your kids.
Remember why you made the choices you did. Presumably you chose your career — not to mention your spouse — because you liked them, not because you were expecting a financial windfall. So try to refocus on all the good in your own life, whether that’s a job that you love or a partner that makes you laugh. “As a therapist, I tell people: Focus on what you can control. Rather than altering your circumstances, alter the way you think about them,” says Annunziato. “Because that’s really what drives the way you feel.”
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