The Friendship Doctor

Send in your friendship questions and quandaries and get expert answers and solutions

How can a misunderstanding kill a longtime friendship?

When behavior can't be explained, there's usually a missing piece...

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

Five years ago, my girlfriend stopped communicating with me. I found out later on from my sister that my friend's husband was diagnosed with stomach cancer and I wasn't there for her.

The only reason I wasn't there was I did not know. Her daughter told me that I had been e-mailed about the situation but I never received the e-mail that I know of. And if she really needed me why didn't she call on the phone?

I have tried repeatedly to contact her and apologize. I have tried calling, sent cards and letters, and I have tried going by her business several times, unsuccessfully. I have even talked to her husband, who by the way is now cancer-free, and he said he had no idea how to win her back.

We were friends since we were four-years-old and to lose her after 40 years hurts deeply.

Can I win her back, or is it hopeless?

Signed,
Angelina

 

ANSWER

Dear Angelina:

The loss of longtime friendship is extraordinarily painful---especially, when someone is dumped and the decision has been so one-sided.

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Misunderstandings are common among friends---a better measure of a friendship is how often these occur and how we get over them. Two friends need to be able to communicate to get over the inevitable rough spots. Having a long shared history ordinarily provides a foundation of trust that makes it easier to clear up relatively minor misunderstandings. This can be more difficult when someone is very upset and has recently experienced trauma or loss, as your friend did when her husband was diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease.

Emails are easily deleted, forgotten, and overlooked---so it is plausible that she sent it and you never saw it, or that she meant to send it and never did. Whatever the case, it is now five years later and your apologies have been met with an unexplained wall of silence. There must be some other fundamental problem going on with your friend, one that may or may not have anything to do with you. When behavior can't be explained, there's usually a missing piece of the puzzle that you don't know about.

You have no reason to feel guilty or ashamed. Although this doesn't make the hurt any less painful, situations like this are not unusual and you need to reach closure on your own by continuing to build other solid friendships.

I hope this helps!

Sincerely,
Irene

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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