When Friendships Split: The Healthy Way Forward
Friendships are one of the natural wonders of the world because human beings are never static. We’re designed to accommodate constant change in our physical and social environment with our own constantly changing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Getting two people experiencing this change and movement to happily coexist for any length of time in the form of a friendship is something of a miracle.
It doesn’t always last, of course. Each of us has needs and capacities that need to be met and exercised for us to feel happy and satisfied. Friends are willing and able to do their part to help each other with that, but both sides of that equation can change, too: the needs and capacities of one person, or the other’s willingness and ability to meet and help exercise them. When one changes without the other, the system breaks down.
Sometimes friendships gently fade away from malnourishment, as each person invests their resources in more satisfying ones. Other times, hurtful behavior, negative feelings, and attachment to memories of better times makes things a bit more complicated, and confusing.
A Matter-of-Fact Perspective
When a friend mistreats you, or your relationship is on the rocks, the connection that has satisfied your fundamental human need to be seen, heard, and cared for is now in jeopardy. Especially since it involves someone with whom you’ve let your guard down, the pain, frustration, and disappointment of the situation can readily transform into defensive, empowering emotions such as self-righteous anger.
Try to recognize and let go of those secondary, reactionary emotions, though. For one thing, they generally don’t serve a useful purpose in the dialogue. Animosity tends to breed more animosity, and holding onto that isn’t a pleasant or healthy activity for either party.
Plus, the real problem isn’t in those feelings. It’s in the underlying mismatch. All that ultimately matters is whether the relationship can be remedied. Making that determination is easier with a more rational, less emotionally charged perspective.
Getting to the Core Issues
Here’s an example. Say your best friend started making fun of you in front of other people a while ago. You’ve communicated to her a few times that you don’t like being made fun of; she said she understood and apologized, but she’s kept doing it. You’re torn because you know that being friends requires some degree of vulnerability and intimacy with someone, and yet you aren’t comfortable being those things with her anymore. At this point, angry thoughts and feelings might well pop up: “Why can’t you just stop? Why are you doing this to me?!”
While the answers to those questions might be interesting, they don’t really matter. You’ve expressed to your friend that her behavior is unacceptable to you. She is either willing and able to stop, or she will continue. If she continues, you have a decision to make: accept the ongoing mistreatment or end the relationship, at least in its current configuration. That’s it.