- It is important to be mindful of your behavior in friendships.
- Sometimes what we do is as important as what we fail to do.
- Stay curious in your relationships.
Let's talk about friendships. We need them. We rely on them. At times, we intentionally end them. And, sometimes, we misstep in the most unfortunate ways and are not at all aware that we are destroying relationships that mean so much to us. What is even more distressing is that we may never even understand what it is that we did that tore away at the fabric of the friendship. We are left wondering why a friend is no longer responding to our calls and/or texts and is creating a powerful and distressing distance. When this happens, we are left at a loss. We not only lose the closeness of a friendship but we lose confidence in ourselves because we do not understand what we did wrong. We can speculate, create narratives, and ruminate but the reasons are often unclear.
As a therapist, colleague, and friend, I am in a unique position to describe what frequently goes awry in even the closest friendships. Of course, friends can be expected to irritate and annoy each other but sometimes it just gets to be too much for friends to manage. And then, before you know it, the friendship is in disrepair. You are left with two friends with varying degrees of distress about the deteriorating connection. I would like to speak to you from over three decades of listening to frustrated individuals. I am mostly referring to adults here. Children and teens have their own unique set of relationship challenges, but that is for another article.
Here are the missteps that I most frequently hear about:
- Lack of contact. This can present in a number of different ways. Perhaps your friend stops responding to your messages. Or she no longer initiates contact as she used to. Or maybe you have stopped commenting on your friend's social media posts in the way and with the frequency that was typical. Ouch. This is painful and can be gradual or sudden.
- Exclusion. You used to be invited to get-togethers but your friend seems to be excluding you. Or perhaps you forget to invite a friend to an event that you then post all over social media. That's not too sensitive, is it?
- Unsolicited and surprising feedback and criticism. Your friend is really excited about a new item that she treated herself to. She shows it to you. She does not ask you what you think about it but you nonetheless point out how it is too expensive and unattractive. After all, you like to be honest. Think again. In a situation like this, it is prudent to engage in a bit of self-control.
- Gossiping. Gossip is a social currency in our culture. We are all aware of that. Nonetheless, when a friend shares very confidential information, he is trusting you. Keep it to yourself. Otherwise, trust deteriorates and so does your reputation and friendship. Those are two things that we want to remain intact, yes?
- Lack of reciprocity. It becomes very tedious to be in conversation with a friend who steals the conversation at every turn. You might be talking about an issue with your child and before you know it, your friend tunes you out and starts talking about her own children. That person seems to forget that this is a dyad and that a conversation is between two people. This eventually becomes frustrating and boring.
- Inability to match emotion. You may be trying to celebrate a small or even a large success or accomplishment and your friend closes up and becomes unusually quiet. You feel a very real energy shift. Energy shifts are very palpable. You have likely tapped into envy. That is a disappointment and a shame.
- Lack of curiosity or follow-up. You might be so involved in your own life and forget to follow up on significant events in a friend's life. This can be something joyous, like her recent trip, or critical, like the results of her recent medical diagnostic test. In friendships, it is important to follow the threads of conversation and to remain curious.
- Cancellations. Yes. Sometimes cancellations are inevitable. On the other hand, they may indicate that you found something better to do or that the plan wasn't really ever that important. Be thoughtful.
I hope the above has given you some insight into how you may inadvertently hurt others. To the best of your ability, try to be mindful of how your behaviors affect others.