Friendship difficulties can become a major distraction. Observing friends’, clients’, and my own experiences, conflict within a friendship creates anguish in a woman’s life. Likewise, confronting a friend is probably one of the most challenging things you can do.
Why it’s challenging
It’s understandable why we avoid conflicts with friends. If a friend says things that annoy us, we tend to hold our tongues. If a friend does things that we disapprove of or that bother us, we try to ignore them or maybe even make mental excuses for her.
We may try to suppress our true feelings to preserve the friendship.
Meanwhile, the problem or conflict nags at us: we feel hurt and then worry.
There are no easy answers. Every conflict is unique, as is every relationship. In addition, timing matters. So most of the time it’s hard to know the “right” thing to do with friendship difficulties.
What is needed
What I’ve learned from working with clients is that long-term friendships require both courage and confidence. Yet when conflicts occur, the last thing you may feel is courageous and confident. Instead, you may feel disappointed, angry, hurt, and weak.
The key here is to understand that it is not that we need strength or boldness to confront or even engage our friends. Rather, we need courage and confidence to accept our own vulnerabilities, hurts, and failings.
Here are some suggestions that my clients and I have found helpful.
Steps to take
- Go easy on yourself. Societal norms and our own expectations that women and girls have close girlfriends or “BFFs” work against women. They lead you to believe that you’re “abnormal” when conflict arises in your friendships with other women. On the contrary, conflict among friends is both normal and challenging! It’s something all women encounter and with which most women have difficulty. The last thing you should do is tell yourself, “This shouldn’t be happening,” or “I should be able to figure this out.”
- Be willing to let go. As hard as it may be, recognize that conflict, whether you choose to address it or not, may sometimes lead to the end of a relationship. It happens. Yet for many women (and girls), this is hard to accept. We often want to be liked by and please everyone, even if we know that’s simply not possible. (In fact, that’s perfectionistic thinking!) Sometimes we need to accept the end of a relationship, let it go, and allow ourselves to mourn. Other times it helps to believe that the conflict hasn’t led to the end of—but simply a pause in—the friendship.
- Remember that it takes two to tango. In most conflicts, both parties have contributed to the conflict. (One exception is an abusive relationship.) If you don’t know what your contribution is, take a moment to figure out what you might have done.
- Take stock. Remind yourself of what’s good in your life. Seek out the companionship of other friends. Consider how you have been a good friend and are a good friend to others. Take a minute to reflect on what being a good friend means to you. Then ask yourself how you can nurture other good friendships in your life.
- Finally, ask for what you need. Try to figure out what that is. You may decide that you need to confront your friend and tell her what you need from her. Or you may decide to find what you need elsewhere. This requires both recognizing your own vulnerabilities and taking the initiative to take care of yourself.
If you have suggestions of your own based on what you’ve found helpful, I’d love to hear them.
The closer the relationship, the harder it is to cope with friendship difficulties. Sometimes it helps to talk about it. If you’d like to talk about it with me, please contact me.