Dear Miriam | Helping by Text Isn’t Much Help

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Dear Miriam,

I have a friend going through a very rough time. She wants to keep me updated on the situation, but she does so only through text messages. I frequently respond to her texts with, “Let me know when you can talk,” but then she stops texting as soon as I mention a phone call. When I call her, she lets it go to voicemail and never calls me back. There’s very little I can do to support her through such short and incomplete updates, so how can I get her to talk to me? 


Talk Don’t Text

Dear Talk,

It’s clear from your question that you’re a compassionate and devoted friend, and your friend is lucky to have you in her corner. I imagine that if you were having a rough time, you would appreciate and maybe even seek out opportunities to talk through your problems, and I hope you’d have lots of people in your life who were able to fulfill this need.

But the current situation is not yours, and your friend isn’t handling it as you would, so it’s time to reframe the situation from what you think she needs to what she’s communicating to you that she actually needs.

Your friend doesn’t want to talk about it. She shuts down whenever you ask her to talk about what’s going on. She’s not taking you up on your offers for a call, she’s not calling you back. Even if you are convinced from an objective mental health standpoint that talking to you would be the best way to offer and receive support, if she shuts down at the mere mention of a phone call, and, as a result, stops reaching out at all, then it’s simply not going to matter that you think she should talk about it.

There are lots of potential reasons for her to be avoiding phone calls. Maybe she’s unable to have enough privacy to make or receive a call. Maybe voicing the situation out loud causes her an uncomfortable outpouring of emotion that makes her feel too vulnerable to proceed. Maybe she’s talking to other people, but not to you.

Of course, maybe you would understand the reasons if she would just talk to you, but since she’s not, you need to find other ways to be supportive anyway. The support is what matters, not the medium.

So text her. Text her even when she’s not texting you. “Thinking about you,” “just checking in” or even just “hi,” could do a lot for her to know you’re there for her on her terms. If she texts you an update, write back to say, “Thanks for letting me know,” “that sounds hard,” or, “here for you.”

You’re not going to solve her problems via text, but you’re probably not going to do that over the phone either. Make sure she knows you’re at the other end of those messages and that you’re available for what she needs. That’s worth a lot more than a phone call.

One more thing, though, is that if her updates, in any format, get to be too much for you, make sure you are taking care of yourself and managing your own stress caused by receiving potentially difficult news. Find your own people to talk to about how the situation is impacting you. Take your time responding to her texts unless there’s a true emergency. Wait and read all her messages in batches at one time of day instead of multiple times throughout the day. Tell her if you ever need a break from her updates, and then take that need seriously.

You’re a good friend, but your friend’s wellbeing can’t rest wholly on your shoulders, or in your messages.

Be well,



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