Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Save a Friendship

"Friends are like stars. You don't always see them but you know they are there." Once said by someone wise, this quote sums up how easy it is to take a friendship for granted, and yet, just as stars fade away, so do friendships from time to time. Whether it's because your circumstances have changed, time has passed and eroded commonalities, or something has been said or done that has spoiled things between you, it's sad and often painful to experience a fading or dying friendship.

If you believe that it's worth trying to save your friendship, then it is worth it. The only time it's not worth trying is when you've stopped believing in the friendship. So, if you're still stirred by a friendship that has given you priceless moments, unconditional love, and treasured memories, at least give saving the friendship a chance. While problems are inevitable, if both of you see the value in saving the friendship, focusing on fixing things may just be effective, and your friendship may even come through this trial better and stronger than before.

   1.  Act now. The moment you're aware that there's a chasm opening wider than the Grand Canyon between the two of you, do something about it. Waiting will only bring about an inevitable permanency of the loss of your friendship. Be prepared to be the one who makes the initial steps; your friend may be laboring under the belief that it's something you've done to harm the friendship, so it's not worth waiting around for her to solve things.

   2. Do some honest analysis of the situation. Sit down and think back to where it all went wrong. Was it your fault? Was it something you said or did or didn't say or do although you should have? This involves thinking about your inaction as well, such as all those times you failed to make a call to see how your friend was, or when you missed appointments, or failed to show up at important events.

   3. If it was your fault, apologize. Briefly explain your side of the story and avoid making excuses or shifting the blame. By taking responsibility for your part in damaging the friendship, you demonstrate to your friend that your desire to keep them as a friend is more important than your pride or sense of self-righteousness.

   4.Talk, talk, talk. If you can't seem to find the reason for the growing interpersonal distance between you and your friend, suggest that the two of you simply talk. Tell your friend that you're sad that things don't seem to be that great between the two of you anymore and that you'd really like to work out whether it might be possible to restore the friendship you had in the past. Your willingness to work through the issues will be appreciated, especially if you make it clear that you're totally open to hearing their side of the story. Try not to interrupt your friend while explaining their side of the story. Instead, listen attentively.

   5. Listen to your friend. If a third party has been telling different stories to both of you to cause conflicts, listening to your friend is the best way to spot it. Ask who told them that if you hear that you said something you'd never say in a million years. It's amazing how fast a third party liar's mind games blow up in their face once the victims compare notes. So even if someone is trying to avoid you, ask why and be prepared to listen no matter what your friend says.

   6. Make a decision as to the worth of disputing points about your behavior or issues that have arisen in the friendship. If your friend has the wrong end of the stick and has misunderstood things that you've said or done (or not done), then by all means clarify what you believe to be the case. However, do not be argumentative or confrontational, as this will cause your friend to feel defensive and it will simply speed up the end of the friendship. Be patient, explain clearly how you see the situation and give your interpretation of past events without judging or defensiveness.

 For example:

          * Your friend might accuse you of never being there during important events in the opening of their new business over the past year. They might say that it got to the point that every time he or she asked you to help out, you seemed too busy or disinterested in their new venture even though at first you had been very supportive. You might reply that you accept it was wrong of you to never be available to talk things through. You might also outline what happened to prevent you from being the close friend of former times. For example, perhaps you had to take care of a sick child or spouse, all the while trying to hold down your job with its unforgiving deadlines. Provide factual explanations of why you weren't as engaged with your friendship as you could have been rather than offering excuses - the truth is important. And don't seek sympathy or pity but do clarify why you were not able to be there for your friend.

   7. Acknowledge your differences. Your friend might be footloose and fancy free while you're a dad to three kids. As life changes around us, friendships change too. However, this doesn't mean that you lack that vital connection that sparked the friendship in the first place and shifts in your working, personal, and lifestyle doesn't have to undermine your friendship. Talking openly about the changes is important, as well as accepting that the two of you have different trajectories but still have space, love, and respect for one another in your lives.

          * If your friend has distanced from you because of changes in your lives, take the opportunity to reassure each other that while life has changed, the importance of your friendship has not. And acknowledge that if you have changed, you certainly don't expect your friend to change.

          * Resurrect some things that the two of you can still enjoy doing together. For example, set aside a regular night, afternoon, or day when the two of you meet up to spend time together doing the things you both enjoy such as seeing a movie, sitting in a cafe, playing a sport, etc.

   8. Avoid being naive. While you may want to rescue the friendship, be alert for signs that your friend is deliberately seeking to end it. Given that this is an unthinkable prospect in a previously loving, and caring connection, only resort to believing this is a possibility if the signs make it extremely obvious, for example, if your friend goes out of their way to avoid you, or stops answering your calls, or can never be found by you but mutual friends don't seem to have this problem, it's possible that your friend is trying to end things. If this is the case, try to revive things but don't beat yourself up if it fails because it's not your fault and the other person has a made a choice that you can't change.

   9. Find a compromise. Assuming your friend has talked and listened, and both of you have cleared the air, look for ways that you can reach compromises on the things that have undermined your friendship to this point and look for ways to set the relationship back on track. If you mean as much to this person as they means to you, through mutual compromising in the end you will have at least made some progress in the right direction.

  10. Show willingness to strengthen your friendship and to avoid growing apart ever again. Once you have worked through the challenges facing your friendship and come to a shared solution, show your friend how much they mean to you. Start creating new memories and precious moments that will make the unpleasant page in your common history look insignificant and never worth mentioning again.

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