The Friendship Doctor

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The dirty little secret most women don't talk about

Half of our close friendships turn over every seven years.

Despite the romanticized myth of BFF, the hard truth is that most friendships don't last forever. In fact, research suggests that when it comes to friendships, a phenomenon occurs that is somewhat akin to the seven-year itch: Half of our close friendships turn over every seven years.

Women are reluctant to talk about their friendship problems which turn out to be quite common: losing friends, having unfulfilling friendships, or having no friends at all. Just like other life-affirming relationships that we treasure--relationships with lovers, husbands, siblings, children, and pets--our closest friendships tend to be imperfect. Friendships are fraught with disappointments and misunderstandings---resulting in some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of our emotional lives.

Remember Anne of Green Gables, the lonely orphan who never had a bosom buddy until she met her neighbor, Diana? Anne instantly realized she had found a soulmate in Diana. But as Anne grew up and her world expanded, the foundation of her once perfect friendship with Diana collapsed, paving the way for the next phase in her life. Given all the transitions that that take place in the lives of women (moving, mating, mothering and managing careers, just to name a few), it's not surprising that friendships fray. Anne's story is universal; as people grow and change, their paths diverge. Friends drift apart and even kindred spirits may find themselves circling in different orbits.

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The sense of trust, energy and connection we feel with a best friend is absolutely exhilarating, but when that friendship begins to erode or drift away, the sense of unease, discomfort, or loss is palpable. So what can you do to mend a broken friendship? Here are some tips for getting over the inevitable bumps:

1) Communicate

There's a wall of silence between you. She isn't answering your text messages or voicemails, and is ignoring your Facebook comments. You haven't seen each other for a week and you used to talk every day. What do you do? Summon up the courage to start a dialogue. If there's any hope of mending the friendship, you need to find out what's wrong and resolve it. Sending an email or snail mail (note or card) to your friend, telling her you miss her and want to talk, gives her a chance to respond without being caught off-guard.

2) Apologize

If you know it was you who said or did something wrong--or who didn't do or say something you should have, own up to the mistake. Apologize sooner rather than later because time has a way of making little problems fester. Of course, if you have a recurrent case of foot-in-the-mouth syndrome, this isn't going to work.

3) Forgive

Conversely, if you were the one who was wronged and the friendship is important to you, consciously decide to forgive your friend in order to save the friendship. Try to think about what happened from her perspective and accept her apology. If her behavior is consistently ambivalent and unpredictable, forgiveness may not be the right fix.

4) Take a break

You've approached your friend to sort out the problem and you've been ignored or rebuffed. Perhaps your friend needs more time to get over her anger and disappointment. Propose that you NOT see each other for two weeks or a month. Maybe you need time apart (what I call a friendship sabbatical) to realize how much you mean to each other. On the other hand, you both may breathe a sigh of relief during the trial separation.

5) Downgrade

Maybe your expectations of each other are a mismatch at this time. Perhaps, you need to establish boundaries: Tell her you need more space for yourself and more time with others. Maybe your relationship is based primarily on shared history and your lives have grown too disparate to remain besties. Gradually downgrade to a casual, once-in-a-while friendship. Make the change with grace and respect, leaving the door open for reconnecting in a different way at a different time.

Admittedly, fixing a broken friendship is never easy or simple because the rules of friendships aren't clear. Compounding the problem, women are often embarrassed or ashamed to talk about friendship problems. If they speak to men, they're likely to be accused of catfighting. If they speak to other women, opening up about another friend may be seen as a betrayal. As a result, friendship problems often remain the dirty little secret that nobody talks about.

 


Created by psychologist, author, and professor of psychiatry Dr. Irene S. Levine, TheFriendshipBlog.com is the only authoritative place on the internet for women to anonymously ask and receive advice about their friendship problems and dilemmas. Her most recent book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend is based on an online survey of more than 1500 women (anonymous, of course).

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Picture Credit: Doll Collecting at About.com

 

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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