Dear Virginia,

I have a very old and close friend and I'm extremely fond of her. But she is rather vulnerable and just occasionally she gets jealous of me and starts making unpleasant remarks.

We are equally successful and both have nice partners and families, but these sudden snipes really get to me. I usually cool off after a bit and we get back to normal, but I feel I can't trust her now, and I'm always wary when I see her. My husband said I should just drop her, but we go back such a long way. What shall I do?

Yours sincerely, Jackie

In my experience you have to treat people like these – and surely we all have one in our address books, perhaps with a bright red warning dot beside them – like frightened animals. It's a bore, and sometimes, to be quite honest, they're not worth the effort, but sniping and the occasional hurtful remark can (not always mind you, but sometimes) be a result not of simple beastliness but, rather, of the most frightful insecurity.

I'd say that almost certainly this "friend" is jealous of you. Whether she has any grounds for this or not is beside the point; her feelings are irrational, and when she feels slightly one-down and unwittingly slighted by some tiny remark, which could be just the mention of some nice place you're going to for your holidays, then you can be sure she'll feel threatened. And that's when she'll start getting the knives out.

I often try to think of these people like damaged dogs who can be perfectly lovely and friendly, but, if they see you making a particular gesture that they associate with pain – it could be simply raising your hand in the air – they will turn into frightened, snarling beasts. Your friend may associate any kind of conversation about some minor achievement of yours, even as small as having bought a bargain in a sale, as a deliberate attempt to score over her, which, naturally, enrages her.

Obviously you can't just tread on eggshells all the time or you'd never feel comfortable in your friend's company. But I suggest you actuary isolate one of these incidents and discuss it with her. And don't pretend for one minute that you haven't been hurt by her remarks. It sounds to me as if she feels so one-down that she doesn't believe she has the power to hurt you. So if you tell her how upset you are, rather than just "cooling off" as you say, it may, in a funny way, be a curious kind of compliment to her. She will realise that she is not a sad little leaf in the wind in your wake. She will realise that she has power and that she must be very careful about how she uses it in future.

You can't expect her behaviour to stop after just one conversation – no doubt you'll have to have a few more in future. But if her outbursts start to diminish, you can go back to being friends. If not, though, then I agree with your husband. However far back a friendship goes, it's never worth being involved with anyone who hurts you deeply, even if it's only occasionally. Particularly if, now you've explained it, they know how wounded you can be.

Readers say...

Have a heart-to-heart

Jackie should take her friend out for lunch and, after a glass of wine or two, broach the topic with an "I love you very much, and we have been friends for a very long time, but ..." and make her displeasure clear. A frank heart-to-heart may well clear up some personal feelings; if it doesn't, then she has a choice: either live with the odd carping comment, or review the terms of the friendship.

To put the matter delicately, she could, if need be, simply say, "I don't need these kinds of comments in my life, and I don't want to have to make a choice, but will if you don't refrain", and stare very deeply into the eyes of her friend. The friend will then have the choice of either going for broke with a lot of personal criticism that may well end the friendship, or else backing down. Somehow, I suspect it will be the latter, and the respect for personal territory will be re-established, perhaps at some cost, but not one that will end the friendship entirely.

Mark, By email


Set yourself free

Approaching 60, I found I was no longer prepared to waste time and energy on untrustworthy people, thereby severing ties with several friends and relatives along the way. It has been painful, but then so were the relationships. It has been liberating to realise these were not honest relationships but habits, some of them carrying a false sense of obligation.

If your friend knows how you feel and still "snipes", and the relationship is causing you (and possibly her) more pain than joy, it's no longer a friendship and you shouldn't feel bad about ending it, however old it is.

Name and address supplied


Be nice to her

I'd advise Jackie to give her friend genuine, nice comments and compliment her often. This way, she will not lose her friendship and perhaps her friend will gain confidence and stop making unpleasant remarks. Often, a problem is solved by reacting in a way that is not expected. By doing this she is supporting her friend rather than dumping her.

Lorraine Jacobs-Hyde, By email