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Saving or Ending Relationships with Frenemies and THE VILLA by Rachel Hawkins

Cover of the book The Villa by Rachel Hawkins, used as a teaching tool for Saving or Ending Relationships with Frenemies

On paper, Emily and Chess are lifelong best friends; inseparable from 4th grade to college when, despite Emily moving back home and Chess jump-starting a life in the city, they kept in touch. No matter how different their day-to-day lives became, the two women leaned on each other. Emily married (the wrong guy) and scraped by writing cozy mysteries for a small fan base. Chess became a superstar self-help guru – the type who is frequently seated on Oprah’s couch preaching the virtues of lemon water and power paths – and wrote best-selling books which amassed her a small fortune and a lavish lifestyle. Emily and Chess talk on the phone, have lunch, and even vacation together. No one knows Emily better than Chess, and no one knows Chess better than Emily.

But, also, Emily and Chess hate each other. Emily is jealous of Chess’s success and denigrates Chess’s career. On her side, Chess manipulates Emily into doing what she wants and plays power games.

Chess and Emily are Frenemies. What in the Lindsay Lohan and the plastics is a frenemy / frenemyship? It’s a relationship that is affable on the surface with underlying feelings of distrust, hostility, competition, and jealousy. Frenemies are passive-aggressive and sometimes sabotage each other. Generally, frenemies start as actual friends who, over time, grow to dislike each other but lack the motivation to leave the relationship because of external factors (i.e., same friend group) or internal factors (i.e., not wanting to give up on a long term relationship).

Frenemyships impact mental health, with frenemies reporting increased rates of depression, lower resilience against stress, and problems with trusting others.

Let’s say you have a frenemy. You can ignore the situation (not recommended), but more likely you'll try either saving or ending the relationship with frenemies.

Here are some tips for attempting to salvage the relationship:

  • Take ownership of your behaviors. If you stop the hostility, the other person may follow your lead.

  • Refocus. Pay more attention to the positive, see things from their perspective, and increase empathy.

  • Set boundaries! Seeing this person less or in more controlled settings may be helpful.

  • Identify negative trends in the relationship and problem-solve in advance. For example, if they always shows up late and you find yourself bored and frustrated, bring a book or warn her beforehand that you must leave at a specific time.

If the relationship can’t (or shouldn’t) be salvaged, here are a few ideas for ending things:

  • Emphasize quality of friends over quantity of friends. Strive to be very close with a core group of supportive people than a larger group with whom you have complicated relationships.

  • Communicate your need for change. Talk to them about your need for space and set specific boundaries (i.e., do not call or text me, if you see me at a party, do not approach me). It is up to you how much you want to share regarding reasons.

  • Take the high road. Once you have ended the relationship, do not gossip about the other person.

Let's apply the skills.

Given the history, Emily and Chess would likely attempt to salvage the relationship. They could try:

  • Frank conversations, each owning their mistakes and empathizing with the other person’s hurt feelings.

  • Agreeing to treat each other with kindness.

  • Taking longer breaks between communicating.

  • Proactively sharing behaviors the other engages in that are particularly hurtful and problem-solving so that these behaviors are avoided or managed.

If salvaging things didn’t work, Emily would likely want to part ways. Here’s how she could do it:

  • Spend more time with other friends who consistently show kindness.

  • Tell Chess that she feels the friendship has become unhealthy and that, for now, she is backing away from it.

  • Ask Chess not to communicate with her for some time.

**These steps leave the door open to people growing, changing, and re-evaluating**

It’s unclear whether Chess and Emily would have been able to regain their previously strong friendship. But, if they tried the salvage steps and failed, they would clearly need to part ways. The process would have avoided the disasters of The Villa, which would be an excellent outcome for the characters and a massive loss for readers of this slow-burning thriller.


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