In Sickness and Health, Part 2: Friendship When We’re Hurting

While this blog post is the second in a series devoted to friendship with those who live with chronic pain and illness (nearly 1 in every 2 of us!), the principles are such that we’d all be wise to keep them in mind for when any of us are facing pain, loss, or suffering, in any form (all of us, at different times!). We all have to keep practicing friendship even in the midst of our imperfect conditions.

Lucy Smith, who has been diagnosed with a debilitating neurological condition, reached out to me several months ago asking for my friend-making advice for those, like her, who live with pain and illness. Because I don’t know what it’s like to live with chronic pain, suffer from depression, or feel that my body or health places limitations on me, I asked her if she’d be willing to weigh in, too.  She wrote the first post in this series about what she wishes her friends understood about how that pain impacts their friendshipship, and I’ll give her the last word in an upcoming post where she offers up friend-making tips to those who suffer from chronic conditions.  But I also wanted to honor her original request and weigh in with what I know about making friends when we’re in pain.

May these tips be received in the spirit they are given: with hope for what we can develop and practice, and a gentleness for what’s beyond our control.

hurting friend

Making friends can feel challenging even under the best of circumstances! But we still have to practice engaging in positive ways even when we’re in pain.

4 Tips to Creating Healthy Relationship Even In Pain

  1. Give the Signal for How Much You Want to Talk About Your Condition/Circumstances:  Make it as easy on your friends as possible by either stating your comfort level with talking about your health (“By the way, I’m an open book on this subject– you always have my permission to ask any question you want that might help you better understand my condition.”) or by affirming the behaviors you appreciate (“Thank you for always asking me how I’m feeling– it means a lot.”). Or if you feel like your whole life is your health and that when you go out with friends you want an occasional break from it, then say that, too!  (“It’s very thoughtful of you to ask, but I’m honestly just tired of talking about that and would love a night off from it.  Is that okay with you?”) Assume that you are way more comfortable talking about these things than your friends are and they’re probably worried about asking a dumb question, hurting your feelings, giving advice where it’s not wanted, or bringing it up too much or not enough. Your ability to give us permission and make it a safe subject (as opposed to everyone feeling like there’s an elephant in the room) will help create a safer relationship. In short: teach and guide us how to best interact with you on this subject, we will fail repeatedly if left to our own best guesses.
  2. Remember the Positivity Ratio:  Research is showing us that our relationships have to maintain a ratio of positivity and negativity that stays above 5:1 in order to stay healthy.  Period. This isn’t negotiable for a friendship. No matter how much our lives hurt, we have to figure out how to keep our friendships titled toward joy. In other words, for every withdrawal we make on a friendship, we have to make 5 deposits to not go in the red. Positivity can include such things as saying thank you, affirming who they are, cheering for their successes, smiling, laughing, doing something for them, letting them know we are thinking of them, or giving a small gift. When our lives are full of pain (of any kind), it is perhaps even more important that we stay mindful that our friends still need to leave our presence feeling better about themselves and their lives for having been with us if we want the friendship to stay healthy. We’re allowed to complain and express hurt, but it’s our job to also bulk up our time together with gratitude and love. This is a tall ask, but to ignore it will kill a friendship with even the best of friends.
  3. Practice the Verb Most Challenging to You: Give, Take, or Receive.  Both giving and receiving are crucial to the health of every relationship, but I’ve also recently learned about how crucial it is that we also learn to take what we need, which is different from receiving that which is offered, right? All three are important for each of us to practice. My guess is that it would be easy to either be so very aware of your needs that you feel as though you’re insatiable and need more than most people can give, or that you so badly don’t want to be a “burden” or inconvenience on anyone that you might be at risk of turning down acts of love when you need it.
    • If you’re saying no to help because you’re embarrassed or scared– practice saying yes, reminding yourself that your friends will feel more bonded to you and your journey if they can be involved.
    • But if you find yourself asking, demanding, or begging for more– instead practice figuring out how you can give to your friends, making sure the relationships don’t center around your needs. I heard someone say the other night, “When we can say ‘I don’t need you,’ others trust us more when we then say ‘I want you.'” Your friends don’t want to be “needed” as much as they want to be “wanted.”
    • Or if you find yourself resentful or hurt that your friends aren’t stepping up, inviting you to things that they “should” know you can’t do, or exhausting you with their expectations– sometimes we need to learn to “take” what we need.  Take the time to stand up to stretch when needed, to go rest when you feel the headache coming on, to ask for what you need. Taking is a skill that can be the most loving verb for your own health and for the health of your friendships.
  4. Prove Repeatedly that Their Pains/Joys Still Matter: When I went through a devastating divorce years ago, multiple friends stopped sharing their lives with me, brushing it off with statements like “Nothing compares to what you’re going through.” They worried that everything sounded like complaining over nothing or bragging about what I didn’t have, whether they wanted to complain about their spouses or be excited about their upcoming wedding plans or family vacations. When we’re in pain–any kind– we have to be the ones who keep giving permission to others to have their lives still matter. We have to stop talking and say, “now tell me all about you” and assure them that they still have the right to be happy and to complain. If they don’t feel like they can complain about gaining ten pounds or having a headache– just because we have it worse– then we can’t be a safe place for them in the long-term.  We have to cheer for them, waving off any of their guilt or concern for our feelings, and mourn with them, even when it seems to pale in comparison. Just because we lost a big part of our lives doesn’t mean they should too. We will tap into the feeling they are expressing, instead of judging the circumstances.

Blessings on all of us as we continue to develop healthy relationships even in the midst of unhealthy bodies or circumstances….

 

Posted in Difficulty & Challenges, Health, Loss & Grief, Our Mistakes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 7 Verbs for Better Sex, Works for Friendships, Too

To say that I am impressed with the work of the acclaimed “sex therapist”–Dr. Esther Perel— would be an understatement. And seeing that she’s a New York Times bestseller and viral Ted Talk presenter, I clearly am not alone in my esteem.  She is known for her research and work around sex, infidelity, marriage, and the difference between desire and love.

Esther Perel

Dr. Esther Perel, reminds us that good sex is more about the big picture of intimacy, which can teach us truth for all our relationships!

While I am constantly reminding all of us that we need to expand our understanding of the word intimacy to be about more than sex (we all need far more intimacy in our lives than any romantic relationship–or act within that relationship–can provide!), that’s not to say that the principles of healthy romance can’t inform healthy friendships!  Intimacy– the act of being close and feeling bonded– might look different in specifics with a romantic partner, but the general values are similar in any relationship.

Esther Perel’s 7 Verbs for Better Relationships

Sitting in the audience of one of Esther Perel’s talks this last Sunday night inspired me in many ways, but one idea I knew I had to share this week with all of you was her 7 verbs to healthier relationships.  Similar to how we might learn the same core verbs when learning a new language (e.g. to have, to want, to be), she offers up 7 verbs that she feels are core to sustained love.

Obviously in a sexual relationship, the verbs might be more specific to how you behave in the bedroom, but those same verbs can be incredibly powerful and convicting when we think about how we practice them in any realm of life, including our friendships.

When looking at these seven verbs, ask yourself: How comfortable am I at practicing this verb? How hard or easy are each of these actions for me?

  1. To Ask: What do we need? Do we ask for it? Instead of telling people what we don’t want or being hurt when they don’t meet our needs– are we becoming more practiced with requesting what we want and need? This is so crucial– I talk about it a lot in Frientimacy because so many friendships experience misunderstandings simply because we didn’t ask for what would have felt good.What do you need to ask for from your friends?
  2. To Give: Are we generous? Do we enjoy bringing pleasure and joy to others? Can we give without strings attached? Do we notice opportunities for giving and then take them?  My guess is that most of us do this one pretty well– at least most of us report that we feel like we’re the “givers” in our friendships, but maybe an inquiry is whether we are doing it with joy and generosity? What do you need to give to yourself and/or your friendships?
  3. To Receive: Are we quick to receive what is given– be it offers to help or compliments? Do we say thank you, instead of brushing the gifts away? Do we let others give to us without fear, score-keeping, or feelings of inferiority? Can we sit back and take in the generosity of others? Again, in Frientimacy I have a whole chapter talking about this because for those of us who feel like we give so much, the answer may not be that we need to give less, but that we need to receive more? Women, especially, find this one hard because we like how it feels to be the giver and we’re afraid of having needs or being seen as narcissistic or arrogant. What do you need to receive from yourself and your friends?
  4. To Take:  Can we take what we need without needing to wait for others to grant us permission or offer it up? Are we empowered to identify what feels good and pursue it? I LOVE that this is a different verb than to “receive.” For many of us, we need to say “yes” to help or “thank you” to an affirmation, but there are so many things we need to “take” that we can’t wait for someone to offer.  Some of us need to take more days off, some of us need to take control of our work, some of us need to take the time to have a courageous conversation, and some of us need to take the initiative.  What do you need to take that would matter to you and/or your friendships?
  5. To Imagine:  We don’t talk about this one much, but what do you need to imagine in your relationships? How comfortable are you at thinking outside the box? How willing are you to fantasize about what you could experience? How willing are you share your dreams and hopes with others?  Obviously in a sexual situation, to be able to share one’s fantasies with a partner looks different from sharing our dreams, ideas, and hopes with a friend– but they both take vulnerability as we risk sharing “bigger” and “more” with another.  Where do you need to imagine? What imaginations might want to be shared with another?
  6. To Share: hmmmm…. this is a powerful word, different still from giving and receiving, huh? Whether it’s the picture of a child who is sharing a toy (not giving it away) or the idea of sitting on a couch and sharing stories with a friend, the idea of sharing is that we are doing something together, not just doing it beside each other as we each do our own thing. The dictionary defines it as “having portion of something with another.” How well do you share with your friends? How does sharing look different from giving to you? What could you share that would feel bonding?
  7. To Refuse: Esther made the statement: “If you’ve never had the freedom to say no, then you’ve never had the permission to say yes.” Wow, let that one soak in.  Are you comfortable saying no to your friends? Are you willing to refuse what doesn’t feel good? We often feel like we have to always say yes “because they’re my friend” but I actually teach the opposite: It should be with our friends that we can practice this verb most safely! We need to practice saying no and trust that our friends will trust us more when we say yes because we’ve proven we can say no. What do you need to practice refusing? Where do you need to say no?

Aren’t those powerful? Which one is the one that is most difficult for you or the one you do the least often?  Which one do you need to practice more within your friendships?  Which one is calling out to you say “Pay attention to opportunities to act on this verb!”

Improving our friendships, and feeling greater intimacy, might not be doing “more” of what comes easiest to us, but it might be doing “more” of that which feels the most difficult?

As your muscles get more practiced at all seven of these verbs– I hope primarily for more meaningful platonic friendships, but I would also be thrilled if it led to better sex, too.  May you develop greater intimacy in all the relationships you crave! xoxo

 

Posted in Books & Movies, Maintaining Friends, Personal Growth/Spirituality, Vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

In Sickness and in Health: 5 Things I Wish My Friends Knew About Friendship and Illness

Several months ago, I received a thoughtful email from a reader of this blog who asked me to write a blog post that helped people like her– people who have chronic pain or illness— to figure out how to make and keep friends when their energy and health often feels limited, challenged, or uncertain. Not entirely sure I felt qualified to give tips to this heroic population, I asked her if first she’d be willing to share, from her perspective, what she wishes the rest of us understood about our friends (or potential friends) whose health issues might impact how we befriend each other.  With nearly 1 in 2 of us suffering from some form of chronic (often invisible) illness, we all want to become far more sensitive and thoughtful in how we interact with one another.

Thank you Lucy Smith (pseudonym) for taking the time and energy to share with us what you’ve learned since being diagnosed a couple of years ago with a debilitating neurological condition.  Her ability to participate in the activities she used to do with friends became very limited and the challenge of maintaining and making friends while also dealing with major illness has been difficult. She knows she’s not alone as she’s found some connection with others in similar situations and I’m so grateful she’s excited to get a conversation started with this blog post.

When struck suddenly with a debilitating neurological condition a couple years ago, Lucy Smith's (pseudonym), ability to participate in the activities she used to do with friends became very limited and the challenge of maintaining and making friends while also dealing with major illness has been difficult. She knows she's not alone as she's found some connection with others in similar situations. So she's excited to get a conversation started with this blog post.

When struck suddenly with a debilitating neurological condition a couple of years ago, Lucy Smith (pseudonym) watched all her friendships shift and far too many of them end when she could no longer give and show up in the same way.  In this post she answers my question: What do you wish we understood? What tips can you give to us as we each commit to show up for our friends who suffer health limitations?

We welcome the stories, tips, and encouragement from others who have found their health or pain impact their friendships–  we all have much to learn from each other. — Shasta

In Sickness and in Health: 5 Things I Wish My Friends Knew About Friendship and Illness

When serious illness or disability strikes, especially at a relatively young age, your whole world gets turned upside down.  Unfortunately, at a time when you need the most support, many people–both family and friends– don’t know what to say or do and, in the wake of uncertainty, err on the side of not reaching out.

After several years of dealing with debilitating illness that completely changed how I was able to interact with friends, here’s what I wish they knew:

  1. Let’s Talk About It!  It is ok to not know what to say, how to act, or what would be helpful.   But I’d wish we could have a conversation about it instead of wondering how my social circle could evaporate almost instantaneously.
  2. Please Keep Reaching Out: I still need friends, actually more than ever.  However, I may not be able to do what we used to do together at all or I may not be able to do it if I am unwell that day.   It is tough enough to lose the activities that I once enjoyed.   I hope that doesn’t mean that I lose you too because I can’t do them with you.   Additionally, I need friends who understand that I may not be able to initiate as much (or at all).  Friends struggling with illness may not have any energy or brain power left to initiate and organize but often are feeling lonely and isolated, so initiate more than you might otherwise, even if you’ve gotten turned down several times.   It is really nice to be thought of and included, even if I don’t feel well enough to attend a particular get-together.   If we do plan something ahead of time, I may not be feeling well when the time comes to get together, so I need understanding about adapting plans or canceling.
  3. Practice Empathy, Instead of Sympathy or Encouragement. Empathy is really helpful for maintaining connection.  Brene Brown has some great work on how empathy is different from sympathy.  Empathy fuels connection, while sympathy drives disconnection.  It is a “me, too”, rather than “that’s too bad”.  This 3 minute video gives a great overview: 
    As she mentioned in the video, rarely does empathy begin with “At least…”.  Well-meaning friends often want to cheer you up by essentially saying “it could be worse”, but sometimes that just makes you feel like you haven’t been heard or understood.
  4. Small gestures mean a lot. A. Lot. This can be as simple as offering to help with some chores as part of hanging out – for example, maybe cooking some good food together so I have healthy meals that are easy to reheat when I’m exhausted and in pain.   Or it might be a call to ask when you could drop by for a quick visit.  Or it might be noticing that a friend couldn’t participate in something and asking if any modifications could be made so she could join you next time.
  5. Keep on Sharing Your Life! I really want to hear what is going on in your life – both the difficult parts (even if they seem not to be as difficult as mine) and the successes.   I still care about you and want to celebrate your trials and successes.

An upcoming blog post will feature more of Lucy’s advice (and maybe yours too if you leave a comment below!) speaking to those who suffer from chronic pain or illness.  May we all be willing to practice connection even with people who’s lives don’t mirror our own. xoxo

 

Posted in Difficulty & Challenges, Guest Blogs, Health, Loss & Grief | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Amazing Moms Make Time for Friends

What memories do you have of your mom doing things with her friends?

Years ago, in a specific friendship workshop I used to lead, I would ask adult women to write down everything they could remember about their moms and the topic of friendship:

  • Who did she hang out with, that you remember? Did she have her own friends or was it more about getting together with other families?
  • Do you remember her going away for weekends with friends? If so, what did she say to you about those weekends away? Do you remember seeing photos?
  • Do you remember her going out for girls nights often? What would they go do? Who went with her?
  • Can you remember any advice or comments she ever made about friendships?  Hers? Or yours? Or just in general?

I was somewhat shocked the first couple of times when I gave that exercise as more women in the room, than not, would shake their heads, wrinkle their foreheads, and murmur something along the lines of, “I don’t really remember my mom doing stuff with her friends,” or “I’m sure she had friends, but I couldn’t name any of them,” or “She would talk to her sister a lot but that was about it.”

At first I was alarmed that so many moms didn’t have good friends, but the more I talked about it with other women, we started wondering if, in fact, the bigger issue was simply that the mothers tried to do friendships when their kids wouldn’t notice.  In other words, were the moms more likely to hang out with their friends when the kids were in school or soccer practice, thinking it was best to spend time with their friends when it wouldn’t “take away” time from their kids?

This week I sat in a cafe and wrote love notes for Mothers Day to a handful of my girlfriends who are mothers… I never want them to doubt how much I admire them as they raise incredible human beings!

It makes sense on some levels, doesn’t it?  Whether it’s guilt from not spending enough quality time with your kids, frustration from the spouse at having to parent on their own while you’re off “playing,” or crying from the kids who insist you’re the only one who can put them to bed– it can be hard to schedule time with friends in the evenings and weekends.

And yet… it’s imperative that we do.  Our daughters, and sons, need to see how much friendships are valued. For their health and happiness, they need to see us put into action the values of being connected to others.  They need to be able to one day answer the question “What kind of friendships did your mom have?” with a list of memories and details.

Inspiring Ways Some Moms Still Prioritize Friendship

I want to shout-out to some of the amazing moms who I am lucky enough to call my friends, with hopes that perhaps one of the ideas inspires your own path to prioritizing friends:

  • For over 10 years, Sherilyn and I have talked on the phone every single Wednesday for almost an hour.  She has three kids who are frequently told, “You’ll have to wait… I’m on the phone with Shasta” and she often has to say to me, “Will you hang on just a second?  Sorry.”  She juggles all of us, no matter the ages of her kids over the years.  They will one day be able to say “My mom had a best friend she talked to all the time.”
  • My friend Daneen, who at one point was the only mom in a weekly small group of us who got together every Tuesday evening, had two babies and both times showed back up for weekly girls night as soon as she could get them to take a bottle of her breast milk.  Was it stressful on her husband? Oh yes! But Tuesdays became Daddy and Daughter night and they figured it out.  Her daughters will definitely remember that mommy went out with friends often.
  • A few of my dearest far-flung friends– Karen, J’Leen, Valerie, and Krista– have had 6 kids (and added 2 step-kids) over the years and not a one of them has ever missed our annual girls weekend. Never once. That means they’ve missed a soccer game here-and-there, left Dad with sick kids, and had to pump up a storm before boarding the plane.  Their kids will long remember that their moms come back smiling and happy and excited for the next girls weekend.
  • One of my friends Kat is busy cooking her oldest son’s favorite dishes every Sunday and planning awesome family vacations this year as she prepares for him to go off to college in the fall.  She knows her time with him is precious and she wants to soak up every second she can as a family.  And yet, not only does she drive over an hour to come into the city for a monthly women’s group at my house, she also is going to turn it into a slumber party so she doesn’t have to drive home so late. She won’t be there for dinner or breakfast, but in her absence she’s teaching them just how important friendship is.

I could go on and on.  My friends are kick-ass women who feel like there are never enough hours in the day to be the rock stars that they are in their careers, spend as much time with their husbands as they would ideally want, and be the kind of mom that their inner critic tells them they need to be…. but they don’t let those become reasons to not keep up their friendships.

If you’re reading those examples and thinking they’re crazy– then you haven’t yet heard or absorbed just how important friendships are to your health.  All healthy relationships–including the ones with our parents, our spouses/romantic partners, and children– add value to our lives. But it’s primarily with our friends can we get the benefits of love without as much arguing about money, negotiating chores, scheduling their doctors appointments, or feeling like there is a never-ending to-do list attached with them.

But hopefully you’re reading those and thinking “okay how can I start saying to my kids something like ‘Just as you played with your friends at school today, now Mommy is going to go play with her friends because we all need good friends!'” Your kids will benefit, you will benefit, and your friends will benefit!

To all the mama’s out there– we love you and consider ourselves lucky to call you our friends! xoxo

 

Do you have a friend whose a mom that you want to give a shout-out or thank you to? Go for it!  We’ll love her up with you!  What do you appreciate about her?  Or, if you’re a mom– share with us something you’ve done to prioritize friendships and let us give you virtual high fives!

Posted in Best Friends, Maintaining Friends, Moms, Travel & Friends | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

2 Ways to Respond to Friends Who Annoy or Frustrate

While these two steps won’t fix every friendship, they are certainly the first two steps we should practice in our attempts to repair or enhance a friendship that isn’t feeling super meaningful.

All too often we become increasingly frustrated or hurt by the actions of a friend– albeit that she only calls us when it’s convenient to her, that she talks too much, that she isn’t vulnerable enough, or that she hangs out with a mutual friend and doesn’t invite us.  In almost every friendship, there will be certain things that we believe could improve the depth of our friendships IF that one action were changed.  Certainly it’s our responsibility to examine what meaning we assign that behavior, where that need comes from, and recognize it’s our responsibility to get the need met as opposed to someone else’s job to automatically know how to meet it… but there is also room in there for us to learn how to ask for what we need.

Having a need isn’t the problem… we all have needs.  How we go about getting that need met can be what hurts us and our relationships.

In this video blog I share what I think should be the first two steps to having our needs met and I apply it to three different examples to help us see how we can apply these steps to our own friendships.

 

Posted in "Toxic" Friends, Conflicts with Friends, How To?, Maintaining Friends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments