How to Heal a Fractured Friendship

Part 3 in a series dedicated to friendship and mental health.

Posted Apr 11, 2018

A friendship doesn’t begin with the hope that it will end. We invest time, energy, and compassion without the suspicion that our efforts could ultimately be futile. Instead, as our bonds develop we delight in boosts in confidence, happiness, and coping. We may be lucky enough to receive compassion, improve our self-worth, and experience a sense of belonging. Further, as we age, quality friendships may account more for our happiness than familial ties. Nevertheless, friendships are not always forever.

Friendships may falter for a variety of reasons. When they take a turn for the worse, is it possible to heal? If you recognize that your bond just isn’t the same, and perhaps it is even unhealthy, are you helpless to stop the demise of the relationship or can you help to rekindle your connection? I tend to lean towards the latter, and I hope the following suggestions can help you to decide for yourself.

Take a step back

Recognizing you are in conflict can trigger intense emotions, and compulsions in communication are not typically helpful. Instead, take a moment to reflect on your friendship.

You may benefit from asking yourself:

What is the purpose of friendship?
How do I define a good friend?
How am I a good friend?
How is ____ a good friend to me?
What do I need from my friend?
What does this friendship mean to me?
What fostered our bond?
What has changed?
How have I contributed to the change?
Has this happened before?
What can I do to grow in this friendship?
How do I feel?
What do I hope for us?

As you thoroughly consider yourself, your friend, and the trajectory of the friendship, there is one essential question to ask yourself prior to moving forward.

Do I want to mend this friendship?

Under circumstances, you may wish to heal your ruptured bond, yet your intentions may not align with what is best for your mental health. For example, if your friend is consistently verbally abusive, a disconnect may be a way to protect yourself. If you have previously gone through similar steps noted in this article and have circled back to this point, you may benefit from moving on. We may feel a commitment to our friend who has been helpful, loyal, and sincere over time. However, as it is natural for people to grow together or apart, it is essential to consider whether we are acting out of obligation rather than genuine concern for ourselves and our friends.

Seek the source

It is helpful to delve deeper by considering what may have caused the fracture. Is there a mismatch between caring, sharing, time, energy, interests or even how you view friendship? Is it a new concern that arose out of a shift in context? For example, have either of you moved, found a new partner, or started a new job? Understanding the root of the concern is the key in being able to fix your friendship. However, you may be in a surprising scenario in which a feud has caught you off guard, and even after reflecting, you might not be able to arrive at an answer.

It is certainly possible that your friend’s view is the missing puzzle piece in your contemplative process. Nevertheless, it’s also possible that the source is in your own blind spot. In order to move forward, it is imperative to reflect on the role you may have played in the process. Is this a concern that has existed from the beginning of the bond and that you opted to brush under the rug? In a situation such as this, there is a shared responsibility that both friends need to accept in order to foster change. 

Make time to talk

After reflecting on the overall friendship and what may have prompted the problem, it’s time to have an actual conversation to share your concerns and allow you to collaborate on mending the wound. You might be hesitant about discussing this with your friend, and that is quite all right. If the friendship is meaningful to you, it is understandable that you would not want to risk exacerbating any discomfort that already exists. However, even if you are somehow able to ignore the pain of the fracture, if you choose to avoid addressing the concern for the sake of maintaining status quo, you are also ignoring your ability to prevent a future fissure.

You may be concerned about saying the right thing, and fear of saying the wrong thing could inhibit you from being open and genuine in the process. At the end of the day, it is a problem that affects you and trying to effectively communicate your pain and your desire to heal honors your self-worth.

If possible, try to have the conversation in person and sooner rather than later. Try to be cognizant of your prior reflections as well as your hopes for the friendship. Remain calm and take your time. When your friend is sharing their view, be sure to listen attentively; avoid jumping ahead by considering what you are going to say next. Friendship is about balance, and this can be practiced within this healthy conversation. While wanting to assert your view, have compassion for your friend’s standpoint whether it is aligned with your own or even if it is a potentially contrasting perspective. Ultimately, this is your friend. If you are true to yourself, utilize effective communication skills, and are open to your friend’s view, what could have erupted into a difficult dispute may be a turning point for growth in your friendship.

Learn and Grow

Having a conversation is pivotal in paving the path for your growth. By this time, you would have already grown by considering how the problem arose, contemplating your influence, and addressing your concerns. But the opportunities to grow from this fracture have just begun to arise. After your chat you will have a better idea of how to move forward. It is important to note that moving forward does not require a continuation of your friendship. At this point in time, you may realize that it may be best to honor the friendship you once had and heal by growing, separately.

On the other hand, you may now know what is needed from both sides to not only maintain, but capitalize on the friendship. If you and your friend are able to come to a shared understanding of what occurred, you can work as a team to address the problem. Even if your stances vary, you have the potential to consider and respect both of your unique needs and hopes as you tend to the friendship in the future. In order to avoid cycling through and re-experiencing the concerns in the future, be mindful of your boundaries. Remember to maintain kindness and respect for yourself by being reflective and assertive hereon. Having transparent, truthful talks from time-to-time can help you to stay aligned with your shared hopes and ultimately foster your friendship.

Overall, you have the capacity to grow from a fractured friendship. You may choose to take that path independently or you may choose to give your bond another chance. Given the uniqueness of each individual, and subsequently each friendship, it can be difficult to discern which path is promising, however, both are equally valid. Regardless of the option you choose, you have the opportunity to heal.