Break Ups

How to Respond When You Feel Betrayed

On a pretty regular basis I hear so many of us share how we feel betrayed by our friends.  Have you felt betrayed by friends? Disappointed by their actions (or inactions)? Here are some examples I hear pretty frequently:

  • "We used to see each other at work all the time... now she never even reaches out to me."
  • "I can't believe she's not coming to my wedding. She says she doesn't have the time off work but if she really cared about me..."
  • "After my divorce, she stopped calling and inviting me to things..."
  • "She knew how important this event was to me, but you wouldn't have known it by her actions."
  • "When I needed friends the most... she was too busy. Guess she wasn't the friend I thought she was!"

Does that pain tempt you to want to pull away and protect yourself? Do you tend to devalue the other person and assume they're phony, fake, toxic, or not a good friend?

In this video-- I share with you some big things that have been rolling around in my heart on this topic for quite a while.  I challenge you to listen to them, hold them with a non-defensive heart, and consider what might be done to help foster a healthier relationship! 

xoxo

Help! I Have Too Many Friends

Dear Shasta, I'm completely overwhelmed when I look at my schedule. Most of my scheduled events, in and of themselves, aren't things I would typically dread: coffee with a possible client, a call with someone who wants some advice, dinner with some friends from my husbands work, a lunch with a friend who's in town, dinner with my brother, date night, a quick happy hour with some girls I work with, weekly Sunday call with my parents, meeting a good friend for a walk; but collectively it is TOO much!

Honestly, after working with people all day, trying to stay in intermittent touch with my family members, scheduling the people in my inbox who "want to connect," and keeping up with all the networking... I don't even have the energy or time to call the people I actually want to feel the closest to.

How do I shorten the list? How do I say no?

--Sincerely,

Too Many Friends

Dearest Too Many Friends,

Let's start with the reminder that "people we're friendly with" and "people we've developed friendships with" are two different categories of people. This might actually be a case not necessarily of too many friends, but perhaps of too much socializing?

In fact, you even said it: the biggest problem is that you don't have the time for your close friends.

We have to figure out a way to say no even to people we care about, like, and consider to be friends, in some way or another, so that we have the energy to say yes to the relationships that we know sustain us,

So here's what I think we need to do:

  1. List the relationships you want to prioritize. Who are the friends you want to talk to often so that you really feel supported and not just scheduled with intermittent "catch-ups." Who are the relationships (including kids, spouses, parents, siblings) that are important to you to stay in touch with?
  2. Group them together by ideal consistency. In other words, who are the names on the list that you want to connect with daily? Weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly? Keep in mind that the more consistent we are, the more "intimate" those relationships will feel as those are the people who will really know what's going on in your life.
  3. Schedule them in first. If you can find the consistent blocks of time--driving home from work, happy hour after work, lunch-- to give those people, do it! Or at least block that time off with "Call one of my closest friends."
  4. Then comes the really tricky part: figuring out what relationships/types of relationships you have time or energy to add in.  For me, I have a second list of friends who I love and want to stay in touch with but with whom I haven't developed the intimacy/consistency that I have with my first list. I also want to leave a few slots a month for networking contacts, and a few slots for doing favors for others (i.e. a phone call for a friend of a friend).  What other groups/types of relationships do you need to pay attention to? I think for us to actually look at our calendar/life and see how limited those spots are can help us be more strategic with who we give them to and how frequently we give someone one of those slots.  The truth of the matter is that whether we end up feeling like we have 1 extra slot a day to give, or only one each week: we need to know it and offer it strategically and thoughtfully.
  5. Think through your strategy for how to decide with whom you give your extra space/time. If you don't decide then it will end up being the squeaky wheel (i.e. whoever asks the most or will be the most upset if you say no) or simply first-come, first-served. Which puts other people in charge of our schedule instead of us.  Some possible questions could be: Does this person interest me? Am I clear what the objective is of why we're getting together? Do I think I can be helpful to them? Do I think they can be helpful to me? Can this be scheduled with ease (i.e. without me having to travel far?) Is this the best way to connect with this person (or can I meet them at some event I need to go? Or can it be an email instead of a get-together?)

And then comes the hard part of learning to kindly say no to everyone else.  Which we simply have to do. (Here's a blog post I wrote last year about How to Say 'Not Interested' Nicely)

Our time is finite with only so many slots and its our job to make sure that the relationships that matter most to us are the ones with whom we are making time.

The most important other piece I can say is a reminder that you can't use whether it feels "good" to determine whether or not to be honest with them.  For most of us, saying no to someone, or disappointing them, won't feel good. But neither will it feel good to be overwhelmed, exhausted, or unavailable for the people who fill us up the most!

I am the master, not the victim, of my schedule, my calendar, and my life. Shasta Nelson

This is maturity at it's best: women learning that they aren't victims of their calendar, but are in fact, in charge of them.  So we if we don't like how it looks then we have the power to do life differently.  But the calendar won't look any different until our behaviors reflect what we say matters most.

Save

How to Say "Not Interested" Nicely?

I'm often asked "What do I do if someone wants more of a friendship with me than I want with them?" Or, "How can I tell someone, without hurting their feelings, that I'm not interested in spending more time with them?" Most of us need more community in our lives, but some of usShasta Quote need to say no to some people in order to say yes to others.

I'm not gonna act like this is an easy question to answer... I still struggle with it and sometimes find myself sitting on a coffee date simply because I found myself agreeing before I could figure out how to decline the invitation.

In romance, we tend to eventually find a way to say, "Thanks, but no," but rarely do we give that gift to other women.Most of us just play nice or just go MIA.  There has to be another way.

Simply ignoring women or continuing to act interested even when we're not isn't being honest with them, isn't leaving us feeling aligned, and it's contributing to our collective fear that if someone isn't reaching out to us that it means they don't like us, which isn't always the case.

Principles for Saying No to Others

Our goal in life is to live as aligned as possible: having our insides (feelings) match our outsides (situation/circumstance). Which leaves us with the options of either saying yes and truly being open to it, or saying no instead of just ignoring someone.

Here are my guidelines to practice saying no:

  1. Always affirm.  Affirm how much it means that they invited us; acknowledge how much you admire them.
  2. Then say no. Then check in with yourself so you can clarify your no. "Is it not now?" Or "Not as often?" Or "Not ever."
  3. End with thanks.  Thank them for having thought of us, for reaching out, and encourage them in any way that feels kind.

In most areas of life I encourage women to simply practice saying "no" more often as a complete sentence without needing to explain or justify. But because in these situations it feels like we're often saying "no" to a specific person and because everyone's greatest fear is rejection, I think we can err on the side of showing as much value to the other person as possible, while also gifting them with our honesty so they aren't left wondering in uncertainty.

Sample Scenarios

Of course this is a hard question to answer because there are so many levels of friendships and varied reasons why we're saying no, but hopefully if I can give a couple of examples of how I'd say it, that might help get the ball rolling.....

  • To someone we don't know well, but we don't feel like we have time for more friends.  "That is so sweet of you to ask me and typically I'd be quick to say yes as you are definitely someone I'd love to get to know; but unfortunately I feel like I am barely making the time to give to my current friends so I've been having to say no to other fun people in order to love those people well. But tell me what kinds of relationships you're trying to build and maybe I can help introduce you to people?"
  • To someone we'd consider a casual friend but we're not convinced we want to invest more time than we already are making.  "I'm always so impressed with you for reaching out and inviting me to things-- I know that's hard to do and I really respect that gift you've given.  And I feel like I've had to say no a bit, and while I don't see that changing anytime soon, I wanted to make sure you knew that I appreciate the friendship we do have when we see each other at x (church, work, MOPS). I used to think every friendship was supposed to become a best friend as though it had to be all or nothing, but I'm learning to really value that while I can't be close and intimate with everyone I like, I can still be happy they're in my life. Thanks for being such a positive person when we do see each other."
  • To someone we'd consider a casual/close friend but we don't really want to connect with much anymore. Basically if you're thinking about "breaking up" then I invite you to read these posts about The Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship, this post about how we can decrease the frientimacy in a friendship by decreasing consistency and vulnerability without having to break up, or this post helping identify if this is a friendship rift or a drift might help, too.  Because ultimately, we have to ask ourselves: is this a relationship I want to completely end (in which case I am a strong believer that we owe it to them to explain why) or is this simply a relationship I don't want to keep investing in a ton but am more than happy to still see her at parties or at the places we both frequent and keep up with her here and there? Knowing our desired outcome will help us shape that conversation where we can communicate the value of what we have shared and hopefully help establish expectations for both parties.

I often compare these conversations to going to the gym.  We don't get physically healthier by avoiding sweat, exertion, and stretching; and neither do we practice being our best selves (which includes honest communication and expressing value to others) without it feeling awkward, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable.

Let's become women who value each other so much that we'll line up our words to match our actions rather than just keep saying no or avoiding phone calls....

Have you been on the receiving end?  Do you prefer them just neglecting you or do you prefer their honesty? Have you had a conversation with someone you consider a success?  Share with us!

Advice: Drifting Apart: Give Up or Try Again?

Dear Shasta Request for advice! I read your advice on emailing a friend about a drifting friendship and am looking for help! I have a 'commitment' friend (15 year friendship). Our friendship has been drifting for the past 5 years, despite being in each others wedding parties and both having babies recently. The things I attribute the drift to are: - geographical separation (though, c'mon - 30 min is not that far!); busy lives (toddlers and full-time jobs); husbands with slightly different interests (her husband seems to have all the friends he wants). This last point is what I blame the drift on the most, with busy lives and kids I feel it's tougher to connect and I feel more resentful that they don't welcome my husband into their lives. Fearing that we are lost forever (my last-ditch effort to reconnect with our babies has officially failed), I need some advice. The sadness I feel from mourning her loss in my life (and jealousy of the new friends she focuses all of her efforts on) is on my mind constantly. I was a zombie of sadness (not at all like my old perky fun self!) at our last group gathering when I attended her son's 2nd birthday. I even feel that my daughter is getting pushed out. Do I email her? Help?!

Dearest Zombie of Sadness,

Oh my heart breaks for you! It is SO painful feeling like we're losing a friend.  Much like a break-up except sometimes worse in that we don't have the conversations that help bring closure and we try to keep up appearances for so long, unsure what the status really is.  It makes sense that you feel sad-- something feels lost and sadness is the healthy and appropriate response!

And in answer to the question you asked: "Do I email her?" My answer is a resounding yes!

Here's why:

  • You're commitment friends.  My rule of thumb is that the more we've invested in each others lives, the more I'm willing to do what I can to repair the friendship (or at least end well).
  • You still like her!  This isn't a drifting apart case where you two don't like each other-- you're both still in each others social circles and want to be closer!
  • You've both gone through a lot of changes.  Weddings and babies-- either one of those changes can be tough for us to even figure out, let alone all our friends who have to figure out the new normal, too!  It makes sense that it would feel different and a bit hesitant since neither of you have practice at this yet! Be gentle on both of yourselves, if you can!
  • You have a lot in common.  Besides all the history you have, it's actually amazing you both are married, had kids at the same time, and are choosing to keep working.

But.... my read on this (and granted I don't know what you mean by last-ditch effort failing OR how she's feeling and what she's noticing) is that if I were you I'd focus less on the problems right now and more on trying to add more positivity to the friendship.

My next book (Frientimacy) covers this big time because a friendship has to have a positivity:negativity ratio of at least 5:1 which means that sometimes we can't eliminate all the stressors (busy lives, disappointments, jealousy) but we can add more joy.  And as we get that number back up (enjoying each others company, laughing, playing) then we have more room to have tough talks.  It's not to say you can't have that talk now or that you have to keep it bottled up, but it is to say that ultimately what you want is to feel closer to her so the highest priority is strategically figuring out the best way to accomplish that goal. To feel mad at her for her husbands choices (which possibly causes friction in her marriage) or for her making new friends (which is actually healthy and normal and probably a good idea for you, too, no matter what happens with this friend!) may not lead to you feeling closer.

So what I'd suggest, in this case, is an email that isn't focused on the frustrations, but rather on your end-goal: more time together.  Your goal in this email is to solicit her help brainstorming suggestions for your time together-- you show care to her by reaching out and prioritizing her preferences and schedule, and depending on what she writes back you have more information as to what, if anything, she's actually willing to do to keep this friendship in her life.

“I miss you… and I was wondering what you feel like works best for us in terms of staying in touch? In your opinion is it easier/better trying to do more family time together with our husbands included or is it easier/better on you when it’s just us girls or do you prefer trying to include our kids more?  Does it feel better on your end knowing that we have something scheduled regularly that we can count on (i.e. meet for drinks once a month, talk on the phone every Thursday on the way home from work) or does it feel better to keep it organic and spontaneous and just both take on the responsibility of reaching out when we can?  So much in our lives has changed and I'm just trying to figure out what our friendship can look like in this phase of our lives. You’re important to me and I want to do what I can on my end to keep our friendship healthy!  I know it’s realistic that our friendship will ebb and tide, and shift as we keep going through all these life changes, and yet as I hear about so many friendships that simply drift apart, I also would hate for us to lose touch with each other or have our time together decrease in meaningfulness for either one of us…I look forward to hearing what feels easiest and most meaningful to you these days."

The good news with this approach is you're not opening a can of worms or starting a big fight.  You're not blaming or accusing.  You're simply saying that her opinion matters to you and that you want to be intentional about your friendship!

Best case scenario-- it opens up the door for you two to figure out how your friendship needs to change to accommodate your new lives. And hopefully you both feel more valuable to each other in the process!

Worst-case-- you have clarity that she's not going to make time for you right now (which isn't to say that next year couldn't be different.  Remember you have both gone through SO many life changes recently and are both just trying to do the best you can to adjust!) and you can set your expectations accordingly.

I have so much more I could say but I'm already above my word count (no surprise there! ha!) so hopefully that at least gives you my vote that I think it's worth you writing her.

My prayer is that someday you can write me back and it would be signed, "My old perky fun self." With or without her-- you WILL get there.

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s. What about the rest of you GirlFriends-- what advice would you give her? Should she write?

p.s.s. Want my advice? Fill out this form!

Question: How to "Fire" a Bridesmaid?

Today I am tackling a question that came in on Monday. We can all learn so much from each others questions, even if our circumstances are different.  Hope this is helpful!  (And if you ever have a question you'd like me to weigh in on, ask it here.)

Dear Shasta,

My relationship with one of my bridesmaids is feeling strained and I'm wondering if I need to fire her even if it causes a loss of the relationship completely? 

We've been friends for over 6 years and celebrated all kinds of things together, but since I was in her wedding in June, our relationship has felt strained.  I felt pushed out on a few of her wedding events (only bridesmaid not asked to give a speech at the rehearsal dinner, the last bridesmaid to find out a lot of important information about some of the parties, etc.) and she had a falling out with a mutual friend of mine who happens to also be one of my bridesmaids. Drama!

A few weeks ago I went to see her face-to-face and asked what was wrong and she basically said, "The wedding is over so I'm over it." I finally got her to admit that she was upset about overhearing me talk about my upcoming wedding at her wedding. (But it was her mom who asked me questions about it! Ugh!) We were interrupted and never finished the conversation. We've hardly talked for two months except for her texting me to find out about what dress she needs to wear, etc.

Do I fire her? How do I do that? Help me!

Thanks,

Bride Not Feeling the Bridesmaid Love

 

We all know how painful it is to fight with a friend... and the stakes go up when it comes to our weddings.

Dearest Bride Not Feeling the Bridesmaid Love,

Oh I am so sorry that you're feeling such angst! None of us like dealing with this stuff at any time in our friendships, least of all during a season of life where we really want our friends loving us up!

I'm so proud of you for dealing with this and deciding to not just take the easy way out by putting up with it. She sounds like she's willing to just go through the motions, but you both deserve way more than that. What we don't want is for things to just stay the same-- we want this to either get obviously better or blatantly not.

Why It Might Be Fixable

To that end, I wrote an entire blog post today with the 4-steps I'd recommend in firing a bridesmaid, but I had a knot in my stomach the whole time. While I think that advice might be helpful to someone who does in fact need to end things, my intuition says that for you: this is a relationship you can salvage, dear Bride.

    • Your willingness: You have proven by going to her house already that you have the skills necessary for healing this rift.
    • Your history: You have been friends for quite a while and it has been meaningful and fulfilling.  This fight doesn't sound like a chronic issue as much as one that is connected to specific circumstances and events. The fact that she is close enough to you to have been invited to be in the wedding says that this is a friendship that has mattered.  If people matter that much-- then they're worth any level of awkward conversation first as we do our dogged best to repair that which is wounded.
    • Her response: The fact that she tried to brush it off isn't healthy, but it's common and usually done out of her guilt for feeling the way she feels. My guess is that she wishes she weren't bothered by what bothered her. So while I wish she were more practiced at owning her feelings and sharing them with you... the truth is that she's probably trying to protect you from them.  Which isn't a crime.
    • The crime: Also, from what I can see, there was nothing malicious done, no screaming red flags saying that she's an awful person or that you have to protect yourself. She hasn't willfully or repetitively tried to hurt you. Rather, it appears that the relationship has suffered from hurt feelings on both sides (during an event that often comes with high emotions on both sides) and some miscommunication.  Those are fixable issues.

Lean In, First

So, I'm taking the time to re-write this blog post, without trying to think of all the possible scenarios in which a bride and bridesmaid can fight (and I've heard the gammut!), and instead praying for the wisdom to write just for you.  I'll have to trust that others will find their own truth.

I'll say it again that I find it so impressive that you went to her house and initiated a conversation, even willing to help push it past the niceties to hear hints at what the real issue was. Unfortunately, that step is all too rare in female friendships.  I admire that you did it.  But it doesn't sound like you were able to get far enough in that conversation to really bring peace to either of you... and in my opinion, it's worth you trying again.

We often make up a story about how "if they cared for us" then they would come to us or initiate. That's simply not true. The truth is that a lot of caring people out there hate conflict, aren't comfortable with their own feelings, or are so unpracticed at engaging in it that they avoid the awkwardness.  They don't yet understand that intimacy isn't developed between two people because they avoid what might feel awkward, but because they lean into it. Many people don't yet know this secret... but more important than knowing it right now is whether they are willing to learn it by showing up with you and engaging when you hold the loving space for it.

So my advice: if you're willing to risk losing the relationship anyway, you might as well risk it for honesty and hope first, before risking it to simply walk away.

You used the word "firing" her as a bridesmaid which helps us recognize that if we were managers firing an employee, we'd hopefully have several conversations with the failing team member about what they could do to improve their performance before we booted them. If we'd face up to tough conversations with employees, detailing what we need to see, and asking how we can better support them-- then don't our closest friends deserve at least the same amount of willingness?

The Conversation

The value of another conversation is that it will force one of two outcomes: increased intimacy and bonding OR increased friction and disconnection.  And it will do so in such a way that it is hopefully obvious to both of you. In this way, you're not so much firing her "out of the blue" as you are stating what is obvious to you both: "I need people surrounding me that day who are happy for me and excited with me; if you can't do that right now then it's not fair to either of us to pretend otherwise."

1)  Open a conversation, again: If possible, you should do it in person; if not, then definitely on the phone because the goal is a conversation (back-and-forth) as opposed to the two separate monologues that emails create.

I always encourage starting with the hope, being honest, and then leaving an open-ended question. So that could look like: "I was hoping we could talk some more about what has happened between us so that we can hopefully get back to the place where we feel ease and joy between us. Last time we talked you said you had felt hurt because you overheard me answering questions about my wedding while we were at yours. I so didn't mean to upset you... is there anything we, or I, can do to help make that feel better? What do we need to do to fix this?"

Then be quiet and listen.

2)  Keep leaning in.  If she brushes it off and acts like everything is fine, then come right out and ask, "So you feel like everything is good between us? You don't feel like anything has changed?"  Many of us feel guilty for feeling angry or disappointed so we're prone to try to swallow it rather than to talk about it. We can understand that fear and gently probe, assuring her that we'd prefer her honesty and that it's completely okay for her to have feelings.

If, on the other hand,  she shares what she thinks will help, then listen and see if you're willing to do what she's asking.  In most cases, she probably just wants to be validated and heard, so let go of worrying about whether you did anything wrong or not, and instead just try to hear her feelings.  The more she can share, the less angst she'll feel with you. And it's okay for you to share what hurt your feelings, too.  Just try not to dump that all at the beginning in a big opening monologue and instead share it only if the conversation gets off to a good start where you're both sharing and hearing.

Try to not cut this conversation short just because it's uncomfortable, but rather trust that greater intimacy could be on the other side of this conflict. (My book next April is all about the relationship between conflict and intimacy so I can't wait to share it with you!!!) Most of us aren't super practiced at tough conversations so we're anxious to pull away, but staying in this space (and trying to stay as loving as possible while there) is soul-growing and relationship-bonding!

3)  End well.  If you feel like you both shared honestly and have been able to answer the question, "What do we do now to rebuild the love?" then hallelujah!!! Schedule fun time together as soon as possible and intentionally add more positivity back into your friendship to off-balance the weariness.

If not, then ask the tough question: "Do you see us getting past this to a place where you sincerely feel like you can be excited for me and cheer for me at my wedding?"

Her answer will give you a lot of information and hopefully call her to either help offer a solution or agree with you that this isn't going to be repaired in time to stand up beside you in celebration.

If she expresses doubt then you're able to follow it up with, "I hope we can at some point, I really do.  I have so valued our friendship.  But unfortunately I want bridesmaids who are all in... excited for me and confident in our friendship. It's not fair to either of us to have you go through all the trouble of being a bridesmaid just to have us going through the motions."

Depending on how the conversation went, it may not feel super good right away since you likely both stretched beyond your comfort zones. (Like how we might feel sore the day after exercising!) But whether it fixes the issue at hand, or not, rest assured that you practiced a super crucial skill that this world needs more of-- the ability to show up with tenderness and be seen, even when hurt.

It is not wasted time or energy; it is not to no avail. No matter the outcome, this process will invite you both to increased growth, which whether it's the last gift you give each other as friends, or the next step to greater closeness with each other-- it is good.

And my gut says that you two can pull this off. She doesn't have to be perfect and all the other bridesmaids don't have to be close to her, she just has to be able to step back into loving you in a way that assures you that she's standing up there saying, "I've got your back." May it be so.

I hope that you are soon "Bride Who Is Feeling Lots of Love"-- you deserve it.

xoxo

Shasta

p.s.  Write me an update if you can! And congratulations on your wedding day!

Friendships Change: Growing More Comfortable with Endings

It hasn't happened suddenly, but from where I stand now I am noticing how many of my friendships have changed or dissolved in the last year or two. To be more precise, it's actually the structure of those friendships that has changed because it's not that we aren't friends anymore, as much as it's about that fact that we aren't practicing our friendship in the same way anymore.  The container has changed.  What wove us together has unraveled.  The routine has shifted. Schedules have changed.  Life got full of other things. Needs have fluctuated. Our time together looks very different and feels very different.

This isn't a post about friendship break-ups as much as it is about being aware and honoring that friendships change and shift over time.  I feel that it's important to put into words because so often women feel guilty, take it personally, or panic if a friendship drifts a bit.

Friendships Change. Frequently.

But the truth is that our friendships have to change; and by definition, when you have a change, it means there is an ending to one thing and the beginning of something new.  And sometimes there is a gap between that ending and that new beginning which can feel like a friendship fatality; and sometimes the new beginning doesn't feel as satisfying right away so there's an element of loss and grief that accompanies the change.

Since my book came out a year and half ago, and was written nearly three years ago, it's amazing to me how much my friendships have changed since then.  I want to own that publicly because I think it's normal and needs to be part of our conversation.  It's important, I think, for a "friendship expert" to voice how much friendships can drift and change and fluctuate even when everyone is doing everything "right."

  • Back then I had Tuesday Night Girls Night which for two years was five of us getting together every week. A little more than a year ago, two of the women no longer felt they could commit to the weekly commitment, (and I do want to say that how they handled that was amazing-- voicing their love for us, expressing

    womens hands and hearts

    honestly their need for evening time for other priorities, and their willingness to still get together even if less frequently) so our remaining group of three went through a process of "do we want to invite new women to join us?" or do we keep soldiering on just the three of us? We opted for the latter due to wanting to keep the intimacy that we had established, but an unforeseen consequence of that choice was that our gatherings were canceled more frequently than not due to the fact that when two people were traveling on the same week we only had one person left instead of three.  The ideal was still weekly, but the reality is that the three of us get together once a month. It took a while for us to admit that and come to peace with it. Ironically, it's more difficult to schedule something irregularly than it is to plan on something regularly, and we definitely aren't as aware of what's going on in each others lives in the same way, but travel has increased in all our lives and once a month is what we can pull off right now.  Still love all four of those women, but our time together has changed, our lives feel like they've sped up, and I miss the idea of a weekly get-together, even if I can't really commit to it.

  • Back then I also hosted "chosen family" dinners on Friday night whenever I was in town.  There were about 7-8 of us who got together pretty frequently, but needs change, and that ritual slowly dissolved. (In part, due to some intentional conversations about the desires from some for more alone time with us rather than group time, and in part due to life just getting busy and us not hosting as regularly.) We still see all those people, but at different times and in different ways.
  • And interestingly, along these lines, my monthly business women's group that we've had going for three years looks like it might be transitioning, possibly, into a quarterly group.  We have that conversation in two weeks as we all talk about what we each need and want going forward into 2015.  With some people having moved away, some people's commitments changing, and some people not showing up as frequently-- the questions needs to be asked:  1) what do we each need? 2) And what is the best way to get those needs met?

During the same time, several other groups have begun and other friendships have created rituals of their own, but in this post I really just want to honor that meaningful friendships have ended in some ways.  Sometimes it's been precipitated by something obvious: someone moving, or a job that requires more travel, or a life that just gets too full.  Sometimes it's just someone asking an intentional and thoughtful question like, "Is this still working for everyone?  Meeting everyone's needs in the best way?" And sometimes the reality of the ending only becomes clear later... after things have already started dissolving a bit, the recognition dawning slowly that somewhere along the line this form for time together isn't working anymore.

I get weary of feeling like "starting over" and sometimes I wish I could just freeze time and keep us all in the same place forever... I'm tempted to grasp, cling, or beg.  Letting relationships change isn't easy. I hate people moving away.  I want to hang on to what is meaningful. But life changes and so do people... so endings or perceived endings are part of the process.

Changing the Structure; Not the Love

There isn't a one of these situations where I don't still consider these people to be friends of mine.  There was no blow-up, no harm done, no fight, no break-up... just a container that wasn't working for everyone in the same way anymore. I still love them all.

In a super thought-provoking interview with Esther Perel at Slate.com on why spouses cheat, she makes a powerful statement about marriage that I think is applicable to friendships, too.

Most people today, for the sheer length we live together, have two or three marriages in their adult life, and some of us do it with the same person. For me, this is my fourth marriage with my husband and we have completely reorganized the structure of the relationship, the flavor, the complementarity.

Isn't that profound? In marriages-- who were are together (the roles we take on, the rituals we co-create, the way we interact) looks different at various stages of our lives.  To have to figure out who we are together at different stages in our marriages (i.e. with kids, when he/she becomes the bread-winner, when a new role outside the marriage takes one person in a new direction) becomes easier if we have the expectation ahead of time that we will continually need to be recognizing that some of our marriage structures will end, and new ways of being together will need to be formed.  For most of us it happens without conscious awareness... but how much more powerful to not take it personally when it happens, to see it coming, and to decide together to figure out what works best for each person now as opposed to trying to keep things the same.

The same is true of friendship. When only 1 in 12 friendships will be with people that we will stay in touch with over the course of our lives, and most of us seeing that about half of the people we are close to today are different from those we were close with 7 years ago-- there is much that is ending.

But the reality that my stories reveal today is that even with the women we still call friends through various stages of life, how we are together (i.e. how much time we spend together, the frequency of our get-togethers, what we do when we're together) does shift.  It has to.

Today I just want honor the reality that not only does every friendship not last, but even the ones that do often have to re-invent themselves, many times over.  And reinvention comes with some things ending as other things begin. We will ebb and flow. We will change what we share and how we share.  Our time together will look different.

My love for them doesn't change; but the container of how we practice our friendship right now may have to look different.

I can't stop change.  I can only be responsible for how I am going to respond to it.

I, for one, want to keep myself as emotionally healthy as possible so:

  1. I am prone to take less things personally and more courageous to show up knowing what I need;
  2. I can make sure that I am fostering enough friendships in my life so that when some become less frequent or intimate, that others are available for deepening;
  3. And so I can do my very best to show up in every friendship with eyes to see whether there's a structure that needs to be reorganized. No need to hang on to something that isn't working for someone within that relationship.  I'd much prefer that we become practiced at journeying through life in different ways, at different times.

For everyone grieving a friendship changing, or clinging with hopes of keeping it from shifting.... I pray for peace for all of us, that we can feel our love even if it comes in different forms.

p.s.  Here's a prayer I wrote about learning to let go of friendships that may be meaningful to some of you... Open Hands.

6 Suggestions for How to Email a Friend When Drifting Apart

I receive quite a few emails and comments from women who are left wondering what went wrong in one of their friendships when their friend stops responding or somehow indicates that the friendship is over, without explanation.  Their desire seems to genuinely be one of seeking a better understanding of why the friendship drifted apart; with a secondary desire often stated of seeking "closure." We've all wanted to write those emails... here are some do's and don'ts while you're crafting that note to your friend.

One such woman wrote me this week asking me to give her feedback on an email she had drafted up to send to a friend of hers.  In the spirit of helping us all learn from each other, I asked her if I could share it here, including my comments back to her.

But before we go there, I want to highlight a few steps I think should be taken before we get to the "email her our thoughts."

Before Emailing Her Our Feelings and Concern

Here are four questions to ask before moving forward with your email:

  1. What type of friendship did you two share? Honestly.  Look at the 5 Circles of Connectedness and objectively identify what kind of relationship you two created, not just whether she was your closest friend or not.  This is important because it helps us know how much effort, how vulnerable, and how significant this loss might be to each of you.  If you were Commitment Friends-- then, in my opinion, it's worth all attempts to heal the friendship; if it's a Common Friend, then it may be worth reaching out if we sense a rift or drift but we do so understanding that while this friendship was important to us-- we don't have the practice yet in our friendship of dealing with conflict and high emotions so we need to be mindful of not putting more on it than it can hold.
  2. Did any circumstances change around your friendship? If the friendship was held together by one primary way of being together (i.e. work, school, kids at same school, church, families on the same block) then it's possible that you were Common Friends instead of Commitment Friends and when that structure ended, you two don't have practice in maintaining the friendship in new ways, yet. When these relationships start drifting, it rarely is anything personal and usually is simply two people who aren't practiced at being friends with new circumstances. Any attempts to reach out should avoid blame and drama, and instead focus on "Miss you!  When can we get together?"
  3. Is email the best way forward? Depending on how you two usually interact, how long the friendship has been developed, and how practiced you two are at in handling each others feelings, will dictate whether email is the route to go. But the goal of this email shouldn't be to solve everything or to vomit our every feeling and thought on her.  Our goal should be to start the conversation on email, with hopes that it leads to a preferred method of validating, brainstorming, and sharing feelings.  If we want a response from her, then short and kind is the best invitation to dialogue.
  4. What is your honest and ideal goal for this email?  This is important... because if reconciliation is the goal, then now isn't the time to overwhelm her with drama, feelings, or blame.  If closure is the goal (hopefully that means you've already tried reconciliation already), then end well with thanks and apologies, as needed.

1st Draft of Email

Huge thanks to the woman who agreed to let me use her email as an example we could all learn from:

Hi,

I have gone back and forth for a long time now on whether or not to write you, and have finally decided to for some sort of closure for myself. It is clear to me that for whatever reason, you have chosen to end our friendship. I'm choosing to write to you in particular, because I feel like there had been some periods of time over the last couple years since we first met that we'd been pretty close. I know that had been much less so over the past year or so, but I (maybe naively) attributed that to the normal ebb and flow of friendships. It really saddened me to lose your friendship over the last couple of months without any explanation. If there was something specific I did, or even more so, something that was more of an ongoing pattern that 'caused frustration so much so that it made you not want to make room or time for me in your life anymore, it would have meant so much to me if you had been able to communicated that to me, even though that is hard, and letting something fade is so much easier. There are a lot of parts of who I am, specially in regards to social stuff, my sense of myself and my communication that could be improved upon (because I've let past baggage and experiences influence me), and I'm not trying to claim otherwise. Those are areas of myself and my life that I care a lot about continuing to work on and grow for the better. I'm not expecting or needing a response to this message, but it felt important to me to acknowledge what happened.

I hope things are going well for you.

6 Suggestions to Improving the 1st Draft

Without knowing any other context or back story that would help us each know what is most appropriate in our given circumstances, here is a summary of some of my feedback on the above email.

  • DO be positive in your Opening and Closing: This is where we set the tone. I always start and end with what I want for us in a way that affirms her and our friendship. Perhaps, “I miss you….I’ve been tempted to not tell you that because I've wondered if you thought our friendship had run its course, but the truth is that I really treasure our friendship so wanted to reach out to you to see if, at minimum, we could at least have a conversation about what happened?” since in this case her read is that the other woman views the friendship as over.  Otherwise, it would be more of an, "I miss you and would love to get together, but wanted to check in with you to see if everything was okay between the two of us, from your perspective?" And then I'd personally warm up the ending too, reiterating her value and my appreciation of our friendship.
  • DO Ask for your ideal: she says: "I'm not expecting or needing a response to this message..”  Is that true?  I’d tend to leave that out, hoping that it DOES create dialogue and that she is willing to engage?  I don’t know the circumstances but I’d even be inclined to say “I’m hoping to hear from you so that…”
  • DO Share honestly, but error on under-sharing. I applaud her for naming her feeling and expressing her sadness.  It's important to talk about what we experienced, but we don't have to explain it and give examples that risk placing blame.  She shared her perspective and confusion without getting overly-dramatic.
  • DO Avoid blame at this point in the game. She has one sentence "If there was something I did...  that it made you not want to make room or time for me in your life anymore, it would have meant so much to me if you had been able to communicated that to me, even though that is hard, and letting something fade is so much easier," that I'd change to take out the blame of what could have been done and keep the focus on what can still be done: "If there was something I did... I very sincerely want to know what it was as it was never my intention to hurt you."
  • DO Own what you can and be the first to apologize.  Whether the goal is closure or reconciliation, make sure you own anything that you’re not proud of…..  stronger for you to mention them than put all of that on her to do so. She does acknowledge her own baggage and desire to grow which would communicate to me that she is sincere, and capable of hearing why I pulled away. But she neglected to apologize.
  • DO Format for ease. And finally— I’d break it up so it’s not one big paragraph but actually flows in shorter pieces so it’s easier for her to take in…  Again, focusing on short and sweet, viewing it as the beginning of what you hope will be a two-way conversation.

Hope this helps you craft your emails... and I hope even more that the spirit with which you send them cares far more about communicating from a loving place than writing from the belief that you'll feel better if you vomit on her.  No matter how hurt and disappointed you are-- she is a woman who deserves to be treated with utmost respect and love.  Model to her how you hope the conversation can go....

xoxo,

Shasta

 

We're giving the wrong advice for "toxic" friendships!

When my Google alerts brought a recent Today Show article to my attention with the headline: Here's Another Good Reason Women Should Dump a Toxic Friend, I groaned, and then clicked. In short, the article highlights research showing that "as the amount of negativity in relationships increased, risk of hypertension [in women] also increased." two young girls in a fight

I do not argue against the research at all.  I know whole-heartedly that bad relationships contribute to an increase in risk of high blood pressure in women and can leave serious damage on our bodies.  In fact, we know that to be true of anything that is causing us stress.  I am a very big fan of healthy friendships.

But what I want to speak out against is the advice we dole out alongside this research.

When we plaster a headline that gives the directive to dump a friend on an article about how stressful relationships are hurting us, I am left asking, "Why does no one ever suggest figuring out how we can make this relationship less stressful?"

 

The Traditional Advice for Toxic Friends

For long time followers of this blog, you'll know that I am not a big fan of this trend in labeling each other toxic; nor the common advice that is given that seems to always be fraught with urgent and simplistic commands such as: "Kick her to the curb," "Dump her," "Detox from her," or "End it now!"

And seriously this stuff is on the rise.  It seems we live in a world where the advice is that you're healthiest or most mature when you simply eliminate all non-perfect people from your life. (But look at the most amazing people in the world-- Jesus, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi-- thank God they didn't hear this advice and instead chose to actually engage with and work alongside unhealthy people!)

It'd be one thing if we all had a plethora of amazing relationships, lived in meaningful community, and all felt tons of love in our lives-- then, by all means, I suppose you could get rid of the excess when it wasn't fun and joy-full.  But this advice is being given to an incredibly lonely world of women who are starving for meaningful friendships.  And we're neglecting to not only tell you that meaningful friendships come with some stress, but we're also not mentioning that the other way to eliminate unhealthy relationships is to show up differently and make them healthier!

An Alternative Approach to Toxic Friendships

I've mused about this before when inviting us to own that we are strong enough to be around unhealthy people, taught that it's not necessarily a person who is unhealthy, but an unhealthy pattern that has been developed in the relationship, and shown how I think we can decrease the expectations in unhealthy friendships as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach, but every time I see another expert using the fear of toxicity to encourage women to push each other away, I feel ever more convicted to be, what sometimes feels like, a lone voice continuing to offer a different perspective.

There are definite times when we must end our stressful relationships, or establish strong boundaries around them, so I'm not speaking out against giving women permission to break-up. What I am speaking out against is the popular tendency to make that ending as our first step, rather than as a last step. In most cases, we're at our personal "last straw" before we've ever even tried to improve it!

Step In Before Stepping Out

No one wants a stressful relationship in their life.  I get that.

But neither can we just go cutting out every relationship when it gets stressful!  Friction, disappointment, insecurity, guilt, jealousy, and crisis are a part of life (don't even get me started on how tired I am of this trend to "be happy all the time!") so therefore they are a part of relationships.

Rather than be shocked when our friendships aren't all laughter, cotton candy, and photo-perfect events, what would happen if we actually expected her to annoy us or disappoint us from time to time?  And then, more important than trying to avoid angst, we focus instead on figuring out how we want to respond to it when it does come up?

My invitation to anyone struggling in a friendship that has mattered to you is to make it a practice to step closer to that person, before stepping away.

In other words, acknowledge that some friendships get stronger after talking something through, and choose to play the odds that it could happen to this friendship. It might not, but it could.

I view my friendships as investments-- sacred containers where I have stored up time, energy, love, memories, and vulnerability.  Anyone who has started a business, or made an investment of some sort, knows that there will be times when it would definitely be the easy thing to just close up shop or walk away.  But you only do so after you feel you have done everything you could do to make it work.  We understandably want the investment to pay off.  I want that for your friendships, too!

It takes a long time to foster a friendship.  It doesn't happen overnight or easily.  So when the inevitable disappointments and frustrations show up, I have a commitment to put in as much energy in the saving of these relationships as I feel I have put in to the development of these relationships.  So for a new friend, someone on the Left-Side, someone I haven't invested a ton of time and energy with, I probably won't extend a ton of energy into saving what may barely be built.  But with long-time friends, or intimate and close friends, I am willing to step up, lean in, show up, and give it my all to see if we can find a place of mutual love again.

Awkward?  Probably.  Stressful? Indeed.  Unsure how to do it? Likely.

But it's also courageous, life-building, love-practicing, and emotionally deepening for us to figure it out.  This is where we get to practice being the loving people that we are!  This is where we either make a more beautiful relationship or grow because we tried!

Anytime there is a fight, an unmet need, a slow-boiling frustration, and repeated judgment in one of our friendships, we have the sacred opportunity to try to fix it, repair it, enhance it, and grow it before we end it.

So if I were the expert on the Today Show giving application to the research, I'd be quick to say, "This is awesome that we have this research that reminds us how damaging our stressful relationships can be on our bodies.  Hopefully that incentivizes us to practice our relational skills to see if we can make these relationships not only less stressful, but also more life-giving. Staying in relationships without establishing boundaries, stating our needs, or sharing with honesty isn't serving anyone."

When did trying to fix something that is broken turn into such rebellious advice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Do You Need to Forgive?

This week, in the midst of holiday shopping, travel plans, kids' programs, and parties I feel compelled to bring our attention to what could arguably be the most important action on your to-do list this season: forgiveness. Forgiveness.  images

Take a moment and observe your body as you say the word.  What happens?  Does something tighten? Does your breathing change? Does anything feel heavy?  Does life feel expansive and joyful when you say that word or do you feel dread and constriction?  It's definitely a loaded word for most people.

We shy away from it because we feel a little guilt about the grudges and judgment we hold.  We want to roll our eyes at people like me who are calling for us to let go of this thing that feels impossible to relinquish.  Living with the ideal in mind and choosing to stay where we are creates such an exhausting dissonance that to close the gap requires us to either forgive or decide it's not important. So if we can't picture letting go then our only other obvious choice is to convince ourselves we don't need to.

Why Forgive?

Why I'm choosing to write about this today is because I want you to make room for what 2014 can hold for you.  And it's hard to invite more love, connection, peace, creativity, intention, health, and joy into your life when judgement and anger are taking up space, consuming your energy, holding your subconscious hostage.  It's hard to sincerely say to God, or the Universe, "I want a more abundant life", when our very actions are showing that we want to sit here and hug this rock of anger a little longer.  It's hard to show up with love for the new people we meet when the story we play in our heads sings an unforgiving tune of "People disappoint me.  I should be wary.  I need more protection."

There are many motivations to forgive people, but the one I care about today, for you, is that I want you to have more amazing connection in your life in the year ahead.  I want for you more love, more laughter, more revealing, more play, more touch, more understanding, more empathy, more affirmation-- all the things that come with being truly connected to others.  I want that for you so very much.

But you can't move forward with both arms open wide for more connection if you're still looking back, trailing a bag of rocks behind you.

Who to Forgive?

  • Forgive yourself.  Forgive yourself for what you didn't do that you wish you had done; and for what you did do that you wish you hadn't done.  Forgive yourself for playing too small because you were afraid and for dreaming too big because now you're disappointed.  Forgive yourself for the actions you took that don't reflect the person you want to be.  Forgive yourself for acting out of insecurity and fear.
  • Forgive the obvious other.  This is the person(s) who we know off the top of our mind that we're mad at. We were hurt and deeply disappointed by their actions.  Just thinking about them makes us sick to our stomach.  We feel like we lost a piece of ourselves in that event.
  • Forgive the subtle other.  This one can be slightly more difficult to admit because, as I talk about at length in my book, we often feel guilty admitting we need to "forgive" the people we love because the things that cause us angst aren't "wrongs."  We might be mad at her for getting married, jealous that she gets to retire with plenty of financial security, hurt that she moved away, or frustrated because she whines about her marriage but doesn't do anything about it. But remember-- if you feel angst then forgiveness is the answer to peace.
  • Forgive life.  It sounds silly, perhaps, but we have to forgive God, too.  Again, we're not forgiving because wrong was done, we're forgiving to bring peace to us.  I've had to forgive God for letting things happen to me, for not creating a "fair" universe, and for not answering prayers.

How To Forgive

There are entire books on this process (and re-read chapter 9 in my book for more ideas and context) so far be it from me to summarize all that wisdom here, but here are three steps I go through this time of year to make sure I'm processing what is being felt and stored in my body.  By admitting all this we are only acknowledging what is already there in us, and bringing it to consciousness is the only way we can access the wisdom from those experiences and choose to eventually move away from the pain of them.

  1. Be Clear Where There is Angst.  Start with yourself.  List every area of your life where you feel any angst at all-- romance, finances, body, etc.  Now write down every thought that comes to mind when you answer the questions: What do I wish I had done differently? Why am I disappointed in myself? Where might I be blaming myself? This is an exercise of reflection so you don't need to filter yourself or talk yourself out of putting something down. To list something doesn't mean it was wrong, it just means you feel some angst and we want to listen to that.  For example, in the area of tight finances-- I might list things like "I have to forgive myself for not making more money," or for "Choosing to be self-employed." It doesn't mean I shouldn't be self-employed or that it was a mistake-- it simply means that I acknowledge my role in where I am, and that I still need to come to peace with something in that area.
  2. Glean Any Wisdom or Information that Could Be Helpful. Keeping with that example, once I see my thoughts on paper I can then ask myself-- are these things I wish I had done differently? Is there wisdom to learn here?  What information can I take with me that might help me in the future?  What could I do, if anything, to feel more peace in this area?  Is there an action I want to take right now? Is this a circumstance that needs to be/can be changed or is it more important that I change how I look at it?
  3. Lean Into Willingness.  Sometimes in journaling, I'll sit with the pain and it's just as clear as day that I am ready to let this go and feel peace.  It can be that quick.  It can be this ah-ha that has been waiting to happen and my body just knows that I have now harvested the best from that situation and that there is no more value in bringing it with me.  But sometimes I am so not there. The very idea of letting it go scares me and feels way too big.  Sometimes I feel like I'm letting myself or someone else off the hook and that something in me will die or be lost if I do it. In those moments, I lean into that very still and small voice that knows that forgiveness will ultimately bring me peace and all I ask myself to do is say "I am willing to come to forgiveness."  It may not be today.  But I'm willing.  I'm willing to get there.  And that's enough for now.

After you process your own angst... continue your list by doing the same steps for the others in your life that you feel some angst with.

Maybe schedule an evening or a weekend early-morning to just sit, sip a favorite drink, and journal.

The goal is to get to a place where we continue to whisper to life "We are willing to let this go so that something more abundant can enter my life."  For that is so very much what I want for you as you go into this new year of your life.

And it truly is the biggest contribution you can make to your life and to others this Christmas season.  Be the gift of one more person showing up with love.

 

The Ebb & Flow: Friendships Move in Both Directions

While teaching a Friendship Accelerator last weekend (sign up here if you're interested in me coming to your area to teach/facilitate) I made a note to myself, while standing at the whiteboard with marker in hand, that I wanted to remember to blog about how friendships move in both directions. Mental note remembered.  :)   We often talk about ending a friendship or drifting apart from friends as though they are being, or have been, "removed" from our lives.  But that's not usually the case.  Most frequently, our friendships aren't as cut-and-dry as someone simply being "in" or "out", bridges aren't always burning behind us, and there isn't always this declaration of the friendship ending permanently. The truth is, that for most friendships there is simply a shift that happens, often without intention or awareness.

I want us to visually see what that shift can look like.

Increasing Frientimacy with the 5 Circles of Connectedness

If you're a long-time follower of this blog, a past attendee of one of my workshops, or a reader of my book, then you know that I teach the 5 Circles of Connectedness as a visual tool for helping us see the movement of our friendships from those circles on the Left-Side to those circles on the Right-Side, from Contact Friends to Commitment Friends.  From the most casual of our friendships that depend upon a specific context for us to be connecting (i.e. work, association meetings, children's school) to the most intimate of friendship where we are confiding in them regularly, there are steps along the way.

5 types of friends image

For example, during my workshops, I find that the majority of women long for more Committed Friends when they find themselves wishing for more connection in their lives.  For them, it's not just knowing more people that appeals to them, but actually experiencing Frientimacy (the intimacy between safe and known friends) with a few of them that matters most.  Seeing where their current friendships fall on this continuum helps them assess which friendships could be moved to the right (from other Circles) to the far right where they want them, with an intentional increase in consistency, interaction, and revealing.

To be clear, all friendships start at Contact Friends.  We never meet someone and put them in any other circle, no matter how much chemistry there is, how much we like them, or how many things we have in common with them.  All friendships start on the left when they are new and then move to the right as we put into place the repeated positive behaviors that will become our friendship with that person.  Only as we get to know each other more (in new areas and in deeper ways), which comes with time together, will we move friendships to the right.

Decreasing Frientimacy with the 5 Circles of Connectedness

But most of that isn't new to you.  :) What I talk about less, but am determined to start talking about more, is that friendships go the other direction, as well.

This is huge for us because it gives us more options than to just ending friendships!  We now have a visual that illustrates for us that we can decrease vulnerability, time together, and ways of interacting to move friendships from the Right-Side to the Left-Side.

For example, women will often say to me a variation of "I'm going through a break-up right now... my friend is x (fill in the blank with any number of circumstances that aren't some obvious friendship failing but are exhausting the woman who has long called her a friend: having an affair, obsessed with losing weight, going through a divorce, dating some guy I think is horrible to her, or letting her entire life be run by her kids) and I can't take it anymore so, unfortunately, it's over."

But with the above Circles of Connectedness, we can mentally say, "X makes it hard to be close right now, with the amount of time we're spending together (or the limited amount of time I want to spend together right now), it's important for me to no longer see this friendship as a sustaining, meaningful, and supportive Community or Committed Friend right now so that I have appropriate expectations and boundaries with her.  With the decrease in time and pulling back of confiding in her right now-- she's probably more accurately in X Circle."

Moving someone to the left does two important things for us:

  1. First, it helps us acknowledge that something has shifted and the friendship isn't going to be as close and safe as it has been.  That means I don't need to feel guilty for not giving as much and I can definitely be more gracious to her as I won't be expecting as much. It means that we don't have to refuse to ever see her again, but neither do we need to pour energy into staying in touch with her as much as we have previously.  Now, just getting together once a month during this time is fine.
  2. And second, it helps us recognize that we need to make sure we have the close and safe friends in our lives that we need for right now.  It's not her fault for not being everything we wanted her to be as much as it is our responsibility for making sure we have the friends we need in our lives.  So if she left a vacancy when we moved her left, then we need to look for other friendships to nurture.  We need to start investing that extra time and energy into other friends.

This works for all kinds of circumstances-- even if it's a behavior of hers that isn't linked to a circumstance or isn't likely to change (i.e. talking about herself all the time, not opening up with you, gossiping about others, one-upping you).  Technically someone with behaviors that we can't stand shouldn't have made it over the Right-Side of our Circles, but if they did, then we can just as easily move them back to the Left-Side if we feel like our attempts to repair or enhance the relationship haven't worked.

There are many reasons to keep these women in our lives.  Just because she tends to squirm when the conversation gets too personal doesn't mean she isn't still a fabulous and thought-provoking museum date.  Just because she can get insecure and jealous doesn't mean she's not a super fun addition to your mom's night out group.  And just because she's not the person who responds without judgment to your secrets doesn't mean she can't keep you inspired as a fellow artist. In short, we can move the relationship back to where we're not over-sharing with someone we don't trust or spending too much time with someone who exhausts us, without having to let go of parts of them we do enjoy.

Our friendships don't have to be all-or-nothing.  This isn't "find one to be all to us" as much as "find several who can each meet different needs of ours." The most important thing being appropriate and healthy expectations of each other.

Relationships ebb and flow, wane and wax, drift and shift.

And you never know... someone you move Left today, may move back Right this time next year in a super meaningful way.... All things are possible on this Continuum!

___________________

Other pertinent blog posts:

Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship

Friendship Break-Ups 4: Holding On or Letting Go?

This Friendship Is Going Negative, What Do I Do?

Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship

Not all friendships last forever, in fact only about 1 in 12 friends end up being lifetime friends.  And even those friendships have to change and become something new many times over as we all go through various life stages and moves.  But all friendships are meant to enhance our lives and teach us new ways of loving people even if they don't last forever so we want to learn how to leave people better for having spent time with us. Very few people are actually "toxic" (a word we're throwing around waaay too easily these days!) but that is not to say that the friendship we co-created with them might not be meeting our needs anymore.

If we're starting to entertain the idea of our friend being toxic, then it is a good time to pause and answer the 5 questions below.  In many cases we're not so much mad at her for obvious "wrong-doings" she's done as much as we are disappointed at the unspoken expectations we have of her that she didn't live up to. We're just as likely to call a friend "toxic" for not calling us enough: "I always have to do all the work in our relationship!") as we are for a friend who calls too much ("She's insatiable!  She makes me feel guilty that I have a life and can't talk every day!

Seeing that it often has less to do with their actions and more to do with our expectations and current needs reminds us that there is room for mature conversations to help grow the friendship into something that brings joy to both individuals!

The Five Friendship Threats

The five friendship threats that I highlight in my book Friendships Don't Just Happen! are: blame, jealousy, judgment, neglect, and non-reciprocation.

Those five threats are the umbrella that every specific story of friendship frustration falls under, whether the judgment stems from us thinking she's dating the wrong guy or that we interpret her canceling our plans as "selfish."  And, unfortunately, they can't all be avoided.  The truth is that we're human, we have expectations of each other, and we have needs we want filled so we're bound to experience these threats from time-to-time.

What we can do is be aware that some frustration and disappointment is normal in relationships, that we're just as likely to be the subject of her annoyance as she is ours, and that the most important thing in these moments is deciding how we can best respond in ways that grow our friendship.

Five Questions to Ask Before Letting the Threats Lead to Demise:

Here are five questions that maturity invites us to ask before getting so frustrated with someone that we're at risk of walking away from them instead of being willing to repair a friendship to something more meaningful than we've ever before experienced:

  1. How can I show up a little more thoughtfully? Let’s first assume there is something we could do to enhance this friendship even if we feel she is the problem—what comes to mind?  In other words—she may be jealous and we don’t want to play smaller to avoid her jealousy, but could we affirm her more?  If we feel neglected, can we write her an email and say, “I miss you.  Can we schedule some time together?” Go past asking if she deserves it, and just simply brainstorm what could be done if you had to do something?
  2. Have I asked her what she needs?  While the next two questions are super important in helping us articulate what we need, I sometimes find that providing space to ask her what we could do in our relationship to bring her more happiness is a fabulous way to often change the dynamic. If we sense she's jealous or that she expects too much of us, sometimes simply allowing for that space to ask her can diffuse the problem, helping both of us navigate a path where we both feel more heard.  Maybe some form of, "I'm sensing that you're pulling away a bit (or feeling frustrated when we talk).. maybe I'm imaging it... But, I wanted to check in with you to see if there was anything I could do differently in our friendship to make it more meaningful for you right now?"  We often skip this step out of fear of hearing that we're not meeting a need or fear that we can't, or don't want to, meet the need we'll hear, but I've found that there is way less anger on both sides after she feels like we care enough to ask.  And it's completely acceptable to respond with a "Oh how I wish I could be that for you, but honestly I can't give that kind of time right now.  I am so sorry! Does it help that I'm still willing to x?"
  3. What is it I actually want from her?  For example, if we feel that we’re always the one giving more than the other (non-reciprocation), then pause and ask ourselves—what is it I actually want or need?  If she just noticed what I gave and thanked me, would that be enough?  Or is there a specific area I need her to give to me more?  Or do I need to know what I do for her that means the most so I don’t waste my time or money giving to her in ways that aren’t all that important to her? When I'm upset that I'm over-giving, is it because she's asking for too much or because I'm simply giving too much? What do I think I really need from her?  And try to answer it with specificity, but also with knowing the root reason.  In other words, instead of just saying ,"I need her to be there for me more," try to say, "I need her to call me at least once a week... because what I really need is to know that I matter to her and that she's thinking of me...."
  4. Have I already asked her for what I need? We so often end friendships without taking the time to let the other person know what we need or how we feel.  It doesn’t always have to be some big and difficult conversation as much as just some guidance where we can tell the other what’s more meaningful to us. If we feel frequently feel judged when she gives advice or opinions, then it’s appropriate to say, “I just need a friend to listen right now.  I don’t need anyone to try to fix this.”  If we feel like she's jealous of our activities and feels left out, then we can follow-up her silence or passive-aggressive statement with, "Are you okay? I just had this feeling like maybe I've upset you somehow?  I'd be so open to talking about it!"
  5. What could forgiveness look like in this situation? Sometimes, forgiveness means letting go of how we want someone to be in our lives and learning to love and enjoy them just as they are, trusting that they’ll keep growing and maturing along the way.  But sometimes forgiveness also means setting boundaries or limiting our exposure to those who have hurt us.  In this case, if it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, what kind of friendship might we still be able to enjoy?

If we feel we've owned our part, shown up with compassion and love for her own needs, and asked for what we've needed from the other and not gotten it-- then it may be time to let this friendship drift apart a bit.

This Friendship Is Going Negative: What Do I Do?

So my last blog post obviously hit a nerve. It is now the #1 post of the last 3 months, beating out popular posts--such as Reflections on my Katie Couric Interview and What Do I Do with My Toxic Friend?-- two posts that have been up for months.  We are apparently very interested in this subject of how to respond to the negative people in our lives!

Two Different Frameworks for Evaluating the 'Negative' People in Our Lives

So, as promised, I am going to share with you two frameworks of how to deal with the friendships that feel negative in our lives. This is a long blog, but I really wanted to cover at least two different paradigms and examples... hope it's helpful!

While we feel so much more mature than we were as children, the truth is that we still get on each others nerves.  Now we use language like toxic, negative, and un-healthy to label each other. *photo from irisclasson.com*

Just so we're clear-- I'm not writing about criminals, drug abusers, mental issues, or those who are willfully hurting us; but rather the vast majority of women that we've called friends at one time or another but now tend to use words such as toxic, negative, or selfish to describe them.  While we can all point out that there will always be a very clear "black and white" to the two extremes of who we can each have in our lives at different times, my desire here is to challenge us to look at what Kathy, in her comments on the previous post called, the "gray area."  The gray area being people who may not be un-safe to us, but certainly may be annoying, depressed, insecure, self-obsessed, distracted, or negligent.

1.  FRAMEWORK 1: Know the Different Types of Relationships So You Create Appropriate Expectations

I don't have room here to cover the entire 5 Circles of Connectedness which highlight the 5 different types of friendships, but basically our most casual of friendships are on the far Left-Side (Contact Friends) and the most intimate and consistent of our friendships are on the far Right-Side (Commitment Friends). I cover this in the most depth in my book but a quick overview can be found on this blog.

5 types of friends image

What's helpful about understanding the various types of friends is that when we do an honest assessment of whether our friend is truly a Committed Friend (someone we've built up meaningful history with over a long period of time, they are active in many areas of our lives, we are as transparent as possible with them) or perhaps is a Common Friend (maybe someone we've only known for a couple of months, someone we are only close to in one area of our life, etc.) it helps us answer the question: Do I have unrealistic expectations on this friendship?

I've observed many women not having a strong Right-Side of close friendships who then place those needs onto friendships on the Left-Side.  In other words, just because she's one of your closest friends doesn't mean you've developed the friendship that warrants the expectations and demands.  A good question to ask: "Am I blaming her for x because I want her to be a Committed Friend but in reality we are still Common Friends?"

Furthermore, it helps me see my commitment to the relationship.  If she's in a dark and needy space and she's my Committed Friend then I am truly committed to going through that phase with her even if she doesn't act healthy, positive, and supportive for a long season.  I can do this because we have a history together that reminds me that this isn't who she is permanently and I know that this is the call to relationships-- to be there for each other, even when it comes with some drama and emotion.  But if she's a Contact or Common Friend acting this way then a)  it may seem more like a red flag because we don't have enough history for me to accurately assess how she's acting now from how I know she's capable of acting, and b) we, quite frankly, don't have the same obligation/commitment to each other to be there for each other in the same ways.

Being clear what type of friendship the two of you have developed helps you better see how invested you are in this relationship and what expectations are fair. What you are willing to give, or put up with, in a Committed Friend might be different from what you are willing to do for a Common Friend.

For me, if whining and complaining is the grievance, for a Committed Friend it would be completely appropriate (though maybe not enjoyable or energizing-- so I need to make sure I'm getting enough of that in other close relationships during this season) for them to call me any time of night or day and sound like a crazy person sobbing and saying irrational things.  But while that would not be acceptable behavior for any friend of mine on the Left-Side, I would be willing to give them the space to monopolize the conversation during a scheduled lunch get-together and I'd give them a pass on complaining... for a time.

Does that differentiation make sense? It means we don't have to cut everyone out of our lives when they are needy and depressed and hurting, but neither does it mean that we're expected to put up with everything from everyone.

2.  FRAMEWORK 2: Know the Definition of Friendship so You Can Repair and Assess

This evaluation method also helps us decide which relationships to move along the Continuum so that you are choosing to nurture the friendships that are healthiest, minimizing the chances of having high-drama and unhealthy behaviors in your Right-Side friendships.

The definition of friendship, put out by Dr. Paul Dobransky, that I highlight in my book on pages 128 & 129 is  that friendship is "consistent, mutual, shared positive experience."  He says that when a friendship is failing it is because one of these four required qualities is missing.  I have almost an entire chapter devoted to each of those concepts but basically a friendship needs to have repeated time together, be seen by both as a friendship, include increased vulnerability, and ultimately add more joy than stress to your life.

For our purposes here, how this definition helps me is to realize at least two things:

1) These are not simply qualities that she possesses or not, but they are behaviors that we together have either developed or not. Here, we are evaluating the friendship-- the pattern and dynamic between the two of us-- not the person.  We're recognizing that something doesn't feel good between us-- but that's not the same as saying that every relationship this person has in their life is identical to our experience.  While we may find that they do something annoying, it's also possible that had we been more honest up front or set different expectations, that this dynamic wouldn't have been created. We hold for that possibility by assessing the interaction, not the individual. Which means it's possible we could do something different and shift the experience of the relationship.

2) It also informs me that if there are relationships that don't meet those requirements then it doesn't necessarily mean that I can't have those people in my life, rather it just means I don't want them to be on my Right-Side.

How These Frameworks Inform My Response

Knowing these two frameworks (both in greater detail in my book) helps us:

  1. Assess the current relationship experience-- what type of friend is this and which of the 4 qualities are most lacking?
  2. Figure out what needs be repaired so we can show up differently to see if that helps.
  3. Identify the investment/depth of the relationship so we can decide if it's worth an honest conversation (confrontation though awkward can be the best gift we learn to give to friends on our Right-Side where we should be willing to try "everything" before letting the friendship just dissolve.
  4. Decide if we can just move these relationships to the Left-Side (see them less often, confide in them less, have fewer expectations) rather than cut them out of our lives.

That's all I have time for today (You'd think I was writing an entirely new book with as much as I have to say! Ha!) but I'll keep writing on this-- next time I'll share 5 questions you should ask before ending a friendship.

Have a great weekend!

Are these helpful? What jumped out at you? How have you seen these concepts play out in your life? How could these have helped your past relationships? I love hearing your feedback so it's more of a conversation.  Jump in!  :)

 

 

Today is National Reconciliation Day!

Oh I wish this holiday had been on my radar last week so I could have given you plenty of notice to start thinking about what action you wanted to take today toward reconciliation! Watch the 30 minute HuffPo Live panel regarding Reconciliation by clicking on the link to the left.  (Featuring: Alvin, going through a divorce, Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess, and me-- all sharing our experiences and wisdom.

But, alas, it was only when HuffPost Live contacted me and asked if I'd be on a live panel this afternoon on the topic of reconciliation that I was made aware that there was such a day.  Apparently Ann Landers decided back in 1989 that every April 2 should be celebrated with everyone picking up the phone to call with whom we may have had a falling out with, hence it's become the Day of Reconciliation.

I was honored to share on the panel, but here is a more comprehensive post about what reconciliation can look like.

The Two Types of Break-Ups

First, there are two types of fall-outs that I speak to: Rifts and Drifts.

Rifts are when something happens to undermine the relationship; whereas, Drifts are when nothing specific happens to the relationship yet we find ourselves slowly drifting apart.

You undoubtedly have experience with both.  Reconciliation is possible and necessary with both, but they may look quite different.

Reconciling Rifts & Drifts

Let's start with defining reconciliation.  Reconciliation can mean reestablishing the close relationship, but it also means simply the ability to find resolution, or acceptance. In other words, when we speak of reconciliation, it doesn't automatically mean that the goal should be intimacy, trust, and connection with the person we felt hurt by.  Certainly, to come to peace, to forgive the other person, might mean that we'd be open to that re-engagement someday if growth had occurred on both sides.  But more often than not, forgiveness might just mean finding our own peace, reconciling what is real with our expectations of what we want.  The discrepancy between those two causes unmeasured angst.

In my book, knowing whether we're dealing with a Drift or Rift helps me know what path of reconciliation to seek.

Drifts....

If there is Drift in a relationship, the invitation is for us to not only recognize it is happening, but also to check with ourselves about whether we want it to happen.

In one of my recent Drifts, I knew that it was only busy-ness and distraction that was putting distance between us.  In my gut, I knew I wanted this friendship to last.  I didn't need to know whether I needed it as often or as deeply in my life as we had co-created before, but I was clear when I checked-in with myself that I didn't want to lose the friendship. So in this relationship, I wrote her a note and said,

"I miss you! I know we've both been so busy, and I'm so sorry that on my end I've not been as present or available. I know relationships ebb-and-flow, but I definitely don't want to let us get too far from each other since you mean so much to me!  Any chance you're up for scheduling a catch-up call next week?  I'm flexible Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday evening, do you have an hour anytime in there you'd be willing to give me?"

Reconciliation in this case was reaching out with a sorry I've neglected the relationship (it doesn't matter if she has, too, our apology is still true) and a stated desire to re-engage. She was honored and grateful.  Neither of us had meant anything malicious and neither had wanted to put any pressure on the other. But we all like to know that the other misses us and naming it helps us both take it less personally. (Because if you ignore it here, this is where we're more likely to get our feeling hurts with unmet expectations that can then turn into a Rift, all because we didn't address the Drift.)

To contrast it, another Drift in the last couple of years was a relationship where I checked-in with myself and realized that reconciliation actually meant being okay with letting the relationship take a backseat.  I was at peace with it happening because I sensed that both of us were going different directions, our energies pulling us into other relationships and experiences.  To try to re-engage here would have been simply out of guilt, the voice of "you should..."

In some cases of Drifting, it's possible that the two of you simply call less and less and it slowly dissipates.  That's okay, but if possible, I'd still prefer  a little communication if possible, out of respect for what we've shared.  Obviously every situation is different, and is largely determined by whether we sense both people are at peace or if we feel she is still pursuing while we're retreating.  But in my case, in response to her reaching out to me via email to set up a time for dinner, I wrote,

"Thank you so much for thinking of me!  You are someone whose relationship has meant so much to me over the years.  Let's definitely get a dinner on the calendar, and hopefully we can make that happen every couple of months even though I know we're both so busy! I hope that no matter how much time and distance ever separates us, that we can always call each other a friend.  I so admire you."

Reconciliation in this case was two-fold: me being at peace with letting the relationship be something other than "all-or-nothing," and making sure I communicated to her how much I admired her.  My goal is to leave relationships with people feeling better about themselves for having known me.

Rifts...

Rifts, can be a bit trickier, in that our hearts have likely been more bruised and our expectations more unmet.  Her disappointing actions have left us frustrated and questioning the friendship, which is almost impossible to do with out us feeling both defensive and judgmental.  Those two feelings make it hard for us to even want to reconcile.

The second-to-last chapter of my book highlights healthy options for responding to the five friendship threats, but for these purposes today, let me just get on my soapbox for a moment and say this:

GirlFriends--as a rule of thumb, treat your friendships that experience frustration and disappointment with the same courtesy you give to your romantic relationships: consider a mature conversation.

I've yet to hear of the dating break-up where someone disappointed you and you just cut off contact without ever having a single conversation about it! No! We may dislike confrontation, but we step up to it for romance.  We say, "We need to talk..." and then we tell them what we need, how they hurt us, what's okay, what isn't, what we hope for, etc.  Sometimes it turns into this awesome conversation where we both feel heard and we can move into a more meaningful and trusting relationship.  But even the times it leads to a fight, we always expect a follow-up conversation, knowing we need to either make-up or at least facilitate as healthy closure as possible. Sometimes we break-up, make-up, and break-up again.  We give them multiple chances, because we "love him" (or her), or because we know "he's trying...", or because we've "invested so much already."  All valid excuses we should be giving to our girlfriends!

So off my soapbox, while I know full re-engagement of the relationship, recovering from whatever caused the Drift, isn't always possible, I am an advocate of at least trying before a friendship break-up.  Too many of us walk away, unwilling to try again, claiming the other person isn't healthy, doesn't know how to be a friend, or  can never be trusted again.  All of which may not necessarily be true.  As any of us who have been a long-term relationship can attest, we will hurt each other, and that doesn't mean we can't also still love each other well.

Your Invitation:

Since you're getting this blog post so late in the evening on this Reconciliation holiday you may think you're off the hook from having to reconcile with someone?  No way!  In fact, they say the best way to let yourself off the hook is to forgive, to come to peace, to accept, or to resolve.  Who can you reach out to tonight or tomorrow as your way of stepping into a holiday that we should really be practicing 365 days a year?

------------------------

More relevant posts:

  1. Friendship Break-Ups 1: A Drift or a Rift  (Defining both, and going into more detail about causes for Drifts.)
  2. Friendship Break-Ups 2: Saving a Drift, Avoiding a Rift (3 steps to help prevent our Drifts from becoming Rifts)
  3. Friendship Break-Ups 3: Was She Really a Friend, Anyway? (Speaking to when we get our feelings hurt because a friend wasn't there for us...)
  4. Friendship Break-Ups 4: Letting Go or Holding On? (How to decide if the friendship is worth pursuing.)

 

 

 

 

What Do I Do With My Toxic Friend?

I've so loved doing the book tour as it's given me such a fabulous opportunity to meet so many of you in person.  Love it!  (A few more are scheduled in SF, Southern Cal, and Seattle.)  At every signing I've met amazing pairs and groups of friends who have emphatically said, "We're friends because of GirlFriendCircles.com!" What joy it has brought my heart! Isabel and Deirdra became fast friends after meeting each other at a ConnectingCircle in the LA area!

My second favorite part of doing the book readings has been the Q&A part that follows after I read a few excerpts from my book Friendships Don't Just Happen!  I love the spontaneity of hearing what questions people have about friendships, in general, or about challenges in one of their friendships, more specifically.  Some questions get asked repeatedly, so I'm going to dedicate the next several blog posts to answering them. (Happy to take more questions too-- what do you wish I had included in the book that I didn't?  What questions were you left with after reading a certain section? What area of your friendships would you like my advice? Leave any question in the comments and I'll answer it in an upcoming blog!)

One question that is asked at nearly every gathering is about a toxic friend.

I Don't Know What To Do With My "Toxic Friend"

In asking me this question, a woman usually starts with some sadness as she says, "I don't know what to do..." that is then followed by a litany of annoying behaviors that she's putting up with in a friend, and then usually ends with a statement like "I don't think I can put up with this toxic friend anymore."

My first response is always the same, "Have you talked with her about this yet?"

Their response is typically some version of no; followed by their seemingly valid reasons about why a conversation would simply not work. Sometimes the reason is because "she" wouldn't be able to hear it.  Sometimes it's because it's too awkward.  And sometimes, the defensiveness comes with a version of, "I don't know if it's worth it.  I just don't need this kind of drama in my life."

The Three Parts of a Friendship

SO much to say... and fortunately I say much of it in my book in the 9th chapter on forgiveness where I teach various healthy ways to share our feelings and needs with others and in the 10th chapter where I talk about the damage done to us and others when we label people as toxic.  But there is always more to say!  :)

Today I want to talk about the third entity that is created when two people become friends.  There is always an "us", a "them", and the "relationship".

They are NOT the relationship without us.

In other words, when our needs aren't being met, we're quick to assume that it's "her" fault.  But in actuality, it may be the responsibility of the relationship to actually show up differently.  And that relationship-- made up of both us and them-- can't look any different without us showing up differently.

Let me give you an example.  Last week one girl-- let's call her Karen was just so upset her friend, a former roommate, was consistently "insensitive, selfish, and unable to understand her life." All signs of toxicity, according to Karen.

The crime being committed?  Continuous invitations to late night concerts since the friend could get those tickets through her work.

Those of us not involved in the situation might look at this and think it petty.  But this, my friends, is how it happens to so many of us.

From Karen's point of view, this behavior meant:

  • That the friend didn't respect Karen's demanding job and how early she had to wake up every day.
  • That her friend was needy since she kept reaching out.
  • And, that the friend was self-absorbed since the only invitations she offered had to do with her job where she could get those tickets.

Those are no small feelings.  If we feel like we have  friend who doesn't respect our job, is too needy for what we can give, and is self-absorbed-- then it becomes all too easy to label her as toxic.

But this is a perfect example for pointing out that the behaviors we're frequently upset about aren't typically some obvious wrong-doings or friendship betrayals.  Other people looking at just the facts, as we are here in Karen's situation, might look on and say, "It's not that bad!"

Indeed, we're mad because of the meaning we've assigned to those behaviors.  In other words, we interpreted them through a lens of unmet needs and concluded more-often-than-not that she must be such things as jealous, selfish, needy, and judgmental. We guessed motive and made assumptions about how she was feeling. From Karen's vantage point it, the assumptions were right.  As all of us know from personal experience how justified we feel in our frustrations.

I didn't have the privilege of talking to Karen's friend in this situation, but what if she just misses her friend that she used to live with and doesn't see as much anymore?  What if she thinks she's giving a gift by always giving Karen the first chance to go see a concert?  What if she's just scared she's losing a friend she cares about?  I could see someone having very good motives thinking that they are being amazing to keep reaching out even though they know their friend is busy.

And what if Karen's reaction comes more from just being tired at her job, exhausted at the long hours, resentful for not getting to go out with friends, and feeling bad that she doesn't have the time for this friend?  Sometimes instead of acknowledging we feel some guilt, it's easier to blame the other person for being insatiable or needy.

Maybe it's the Friendship that Needs to Change, Not the Person?

So if we have three entities in a relationship-- Karen, the friend, and the friendship-- is it possible that neither person is toxic, but that their friendship isn't currently working. Maybe they are just two women--presumably neither wanting to hurt the other-- who haven't figured out how to have the conversation in that friendship that would help transition them from being roommates to being friends that don't have as much time anymore?

Maybe it's not her that's toxic, but the friendship--the two of them together-- that needs work?  And that requires both of them doing something different, but actually then needs to start with Karen since she's the one who's feeling frustrated.

My suggestion to Karen, who wasn't sure she wanted to salvage this friendship because she was pretty resentful by this time, was to give it the chance to grow since so much time and love had already been invested. I always think we owe it not just to the people we've loved, but to ourselves--who have to keep practicing these skills of forgiveness, honesty, vulnerability, and conflict management-- to have a conversation that allows us to express our needs.

What if we assumed the best about the friend and just said,  "I'm so sorry I'm always saying no to your repeated invitations.  It's not that I don't want to spend time with you.  I miss you, too. Thank you for not giving up on us.  Unfortunately, I just can't do late night concerts with this current job so is there another time we can set up to see each other next week?"

Easy? No. Pain-free? No. Guaranteed to fix everything? No. Comfortable? No. But Karen was willing....

Who are you tempted to label as toxic where it may be a situation of two good people who actually both have good motives but have fallen into a pattern that isn't working for one or both people?

 

 

Friendship Break-Ups 4: Letting Go or Holding On?

There are two extreme responses I see women consistently make when it comes to responding to the Drift in our relationships.

One is to hang onto every friendship "no matter what." They feel guilty if they don't make them all work, hitting their heads against the wall of unhealthy relationships, or connections that are no longer meaningful.

The other extreme is to always make new and current friends that reflect only who you are right now, letting go of people from the last city, the last job, and the last relationship.

Regardless of which path tends to be your default: we are called to learn how to do both.

The Gift in the Drift

Unlike a Rift where we feel that some painful grievance occurred that demands a decision about whether our mutual acts of forgiveness also means a willingness to stay engaged in improving our friendship, a Drift doesn't require a big obvious yes or no decision.  The gift to us in a Drift is that it doesn't have to be all-or-nothing.

When we see the spectrum of relationships displayed in our Circles of Connectedness, we can see immediately in our relationships that there is a movement, a pipeline, a progression of consistent time and shared vulnerability among our friendships.  And just as we can move friendly people from the Left-Side into friends that matter on our Right-Side, so can we move people the other direction, too.

I've had friends who I would have, at one point, placed in Right-Side of my closest girlfriends.  But life changes--that ended up impacting our dynamic, our time together, the presence we showed up with, and the needs we had--soon alerted me that we were possibly experiencing a Drift.

Reversing the Drift: In one of those cases, I knew instantly that I didn't want to lose the friendship we had invested in just because she seemed consumed with different things in life now than I did.  So while our friendship may have become less consistent for a few months (moving back toward the Left on the Circles of Connectedness), when I saw what was at risk, I was able to write an email saying, "I miss you!  Our friendship matters to me.  I know we're both going through such different life phases right now, but that doesn't diminish how much I love you and want to be a good friend to you. What do you need from me right now in this phase of life?  How can I support you?"  In that note I was able to 1) call our attention to the possible drift 2) state how much she means to me and 3) ask what she needed from me. It prevented our Drift from being permanent and we landed back in the Committed Circle.

Letting the Drift: In another case, as much as I adored my friend, I had this quiet peace about our friendship having served its purpose.  Our time together had been less vulnerable and less consistent--ultimately making it less meaningful.  And I had several other really amazing friends in my life so I wouldn't be left with a sense of alone-ness. I was at peace with letting that friendship Drift.  But even here, it isn't an all-or-nothing invitation.  I can whisper a little prayer for her, "Keep her safe, surround her with friends, lead her to joy," and look forward to still seeing her when I see her.  It's not ending something, but letting it become something different.  She moved from my Right-Side to my Left-Side-- still someone I will meet for coffee every couple of months and cheer for when I see her or hear about her.

How To Know Which Way To Go?

We often feel that Drifts "just happen" to us, like we're a victim to changing circumstances.  While I do think that often it takes our consciousness some time to see what we've already been doing, feeling, and responding to subconsciously, it's really important to realize that we have a voice in the process.  Taking a victim mentality increases our chances of blaming the other and feeling defensive-- two reactions that never lead to peace.

So that we don't go through life reacting from the two extremes-- hang on to every friend with a tight fist no matter how little joy we still share OR to let go of everyone because life changes and they're no longer just like us--we have to consider each friendship separately.

There are no hard-and-fast rules.  Here are questions I ask first:

  1. To the best of my knowledge, what provoked this possible Drift? Is this a permanent change or temporary?
  2. Why do I think I started pulling away?  Was it from listening to my inner wisdom or was it from my wounded ego voice? Did I get my feelings hurt or did I just sense a peace with not being as close?  Am I reacting to something else here-- am I possibly jealous? Am I judgmental? Am I scared?  Is this really about her or is there information here for me about my life?
  3. Is this someone who I deep down still want to be good friends with even if I can't see whether we can make something new or whether it would yet be meaningful? Is she someone I can enjoy? What side of me does she bring out? How has she fed me in the past?
  4. Is one of us in pain or crisis-- possibly calling me to a less meaningful season of our friendship, but not necessarily giving me an exit strategy yet?
  5. Is this a situation where if we were to talk about it (no matter how awkward!) that there is the chance for an enhanced relationship?  Are there scenarios I can at least imagine where we might not only keep enjoying our friendship, but actually improve it?
  6. Do I tend to leave too easily?  If so, what scares me in this situation?  What is getting triggered in me? Am I projecting my feelings on her?
  7. Do I tend to stay too long? If so, what am I hoping will happen? What does us staying connected represent to me? If we let go of this, what am I scared of?
  8. Do I have other friendships in place or am I at risk of letting go of something, that while not ideal, is still supporting my life? Would I be better served investing more vulnerability and commitment here where we have a foundation?
  9. If I give permission to let this relationship Drift-- what am I still willing to do to show up in her life occasionally?  How can I make sure I'm not choosing all-or-nothing?  How can I love her best as we move forward?

Maybe it will help you journal out your answers?  Even if you think you already know what answer you want to hear... sometimes the best information for our personal growth comes from going through the process rather than simply jumping to the conclusion we want.

I have found that after processing some of the above questions, I then just need to get quiet and check in with my own inner voice.  In those moments there is usually a clarity.

And if there isn't-- if you feel like you don't know which way to go-- I vote our default should always be to improve the current relationship we have.

---------------

Previous blog postings about Drifts & Rifts:

Friendship Breakups 1: A Drift or a Rift?

Friendship Breakups 2: Saving a Drift, Avoiding a Rift

And, a previous blog posting about friendship drifts and rifts that pertain to the Circles of Connectedness: "Was She Really a Friend, Anyway?"

 

Three Things I Wish I had said To Kathie Lee and Hoda on the TODAY Show

We Interrupt this Programming I'm currently in the middle of a series about friendship drifts and rifts with so much more to say (and I know I specifically  committed myself last week to writing another blog about how adultery can impact our friendships-- I won't forget!) but in honor of our 500 new members in the last week, I'm interrupting my own series.  :)

My Trip to the TODAY Show

Last Thursday I was sitting in a plane on the tarmac at the JFK airport at 9 am-- the exact time I was supposed to be arriving freshly showered to the TODAY show green room for make-up and prep.  The production team had arranged for me to fly from San Francisco to NYC on a red- eye because I had a commitment the evening before that I didn't want to break. My plane had been delayed over 2 hours and my chances of arriving at the studio in time for my 10:14 am segment were diminishing rapidly.I had stopped caring about looking under-slept and un-showered on national TV and instead just hoped I'd even make it to the studio with five minutes to change out of my jeans! Sitting in Manhattan gridlock en route to the studio, I whispered the serenity prayer-- the part about giving me peace about the things you cannot change-- and then simply hoped for the best.

Two minutes before we went on air--I hadn't gone to the bathroom, sipped any coffee,  been prepped by any producers, or checked myself in a mirror--I stood as ready as I was going to be.  Three minutes later we were done. With four women sharing moments of rapid fire conversation, one simply cannot say much or say it all the way they wished they had.  Even if I had been more fully awake!

today show clip

Here are Three Things I Wish I Had Time to Say:

1)  Confirmed Friends: When Kathie Lee asked me if it was common to have a wonderful friend that she only talks with once a year since they can pick up where they left off, I wish I could have said, "Yes!  That is common.  And incredibly meaningful. Those friends from our past (Confirmed Friends: the middle circle on my Circles of Connectedness), who we may have intimacy with but lack consistency, play a significant role in our lives with many benefits.

But they are only one of the five types of friends. If we don't realize that, then what else can become too common is a sense of not feeling known, supported, and connected if we haven't also built up the Community and Committed Friends on the right-side of the Continuum--the friends who we consistently make time for and share vulnerably with.

2)  Where do women go to make friends? Way more important than where we meet each other is how we turn our friendliness into a friendship.The truth is we can meet people anywhere.  And we do.  But without starting the five steps of friendship with them-- they risk simply becoming a nice person we meet, rather than a potential friend.

The first two steps of friendship are to 1) be open and 2) initiate contact repeatedly.

The importance for us to be open to new friends cannot be underestimated.  We all too often dismiss people if we can't see us having big obvious things in common-- like both being mothers, both being retired, or both being single. But in the book Click-- the Brafman brothers say that the quantity of things in common is more important than the quality we assign to those commonalities:

"Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful of a predictor of attraction as favoring them same political party."

In other words, if we find out we both enjoy hiking, turn our noses up to Top 40 music, and love to eat kale-- those three "smaller" things will actually increase our bond more than any of those biggies we think we just have to have in common.  We can be so much more curious and open-minded about people than most of us are. (In fact, we need to be since it takes a little longer for kale to come up in our conversations!)

And the second step of building a friendship--repeated initiation--is where many possible friendships get stopped in their tracks.  We like each other, or are at least open to getting to know each other more, but if we don't make those next few connections happen sooner, rather than later, we lose any momentum we could have had together.  We simply have to be the ones to email and say, "So great to meet you-- I would love to get to know you better, maybe we can connect for dinner after work one night next week.  Any chance you can do  Tuesday or Wednesday? If not, let me know what dates work for you and I'll schedule in the time!"

My best friends aren't always the ones I simply liked the best initially, rather they were the ones I saw regularly, giving me the chance to feel comfortable with them and fall in love with them.

3). Is it okay to let go of some of my friendships?  I stand by my answer on this one but wish I had more time to explain how friendships shift.  My gut reaction to this question is that we are all getting a little too trigger happy in ending friendships before practicing ways of showing up differently.  Our tendency is to get more and more annoyed with certain people for their behaviors until we can't take it anymore so then we just cut them out of our lives and justify it with a "they were unhealthy or toxic." Whereas most of our friendships could not only be saved, but strengthened, if we learned the skills of asking for what we need from each other, withholding judgment, working on our own self-esteem so that jealousy is inspiring, not frustrating, and learning to forgive each other.

While Kathie Lee joked that usually "it's not us, but them" who is at fault, I actually disagree.  Yes they can be annoying, insensitive, and selfish.  But who among us isn't those things? (And how easy is it for us to interpret their actions with those words when it simply means they just make different choices than we do!)  The truth is that when we can't stand someone-- it's usually showing us something about ourselves.  In those moments of blame we can see more clearly what skills we need to learn in order to best hold our peace and joy no matter what they are doing and figure out to practice showing up with different responses that might yield different results.

With that said, friendships do shift.  In my 5 Circles of Connectedness, just as people we meet can move from the far-left with Contact Friends (the least intimate) to the far-right with Commitment Friends (the most intimate and consistent) so can our friendships move the other direction.  There are good chances that several of the women we feel closest to now might someday shift to circles where our friendship isn't as vulnerable or consistent.  That is normal.  Our lives do change.  But even then, we don't need to replace all our friends with every baby, divorce, marriage, annoyance, frustration, or move.  Our call with some of those women is to figure out how to show up in those awkward transitions, hold what we've shared with an open hand, and work at co-creating something new together.

So until they make time for me to give at least a 20 or 30 minute interview-- I'll just keep blogging!  :)

-----------------------

A most sincere welcome to all our new members who joined after seeing me on the TODAY show last week or read about us in the New York Times style section.  Blessings on you as you courageously connect with new women, consistently choose to show up with honesty and positivity, and as you turn the friendly people you meet into friends who matter in your life.

Pre-order my Book: Also, my forthcoming book is all about how to meet people and turn them into friendships that really matter, including the skills of forgiveness, asking for what we need from our friends, and how to appropriately increase our vulnerability.  You can pre-order it now on Amazon!

Help! Should I Tell My Friend that Her Husband is Cheating on Her?

I'm adding to my Friendship Break-up Series with a real life example sent to me by a reader of this blog.  I don't know her or the situation so this is by no means advice to her specifically, as much as it is an opportunity to talk about a taboo subject that affects our friendships even though it's primarily about our marriages-- that subject is of adultery. Help! Should I Tell My Friend that Her Husband is Cheating on Her?

While we don't have to deal directly with our friends cheating on us, we'd probably be aghast to see the numbers of how many friendships have ended over the subject as it's played out in our romantic relationships. It's appropriate that in talking about friendship break-ups-- we get right down to the nitty, gritty, and painfully real truth that has ended many a happy friendship.

This post is about when you have knowledge about your friend's significant other cheating on her.  I think it's also worth my time to do a separate post about what to do when you find out it's your friend who is doing the cheating.  Way too many friendships end over both scenarios.

You might expect a friendship advocate to champion "Always tell your girlfriend the truth! Our loyalty is to each other!" And while I agree with that second sentence-- I don't think the first sentence always leads to that result.

How we tell that truth is often what matters most.

Principles To Consider Before Confessing News that Could Ruin Her Life

Every friendship is different, every marriage is different, and every affair is different. There is no one answer to the question that will fit everyone, all the time. Some of us will have added complications if we also feel loyal to the person we know is cheating, if we all hang out together regularly as couples or families, if we know she's had painful history with this subject, if she thinks her relationship is perfectly fine, if she's pregnant or has young kids, or any other number of variations to why this is a very difficult question and answer.

Here are some things to consider before you tell her what you know about her husband or boyfriend that could devastate her.

  1. First, Know that Your Burden Isn't The Priority. Yes, it feels like the worst secret ever.  And you're sick to your stomach with what you know. Unfortunately, that is not our biggest concern here. What you are feeling is nothing compared to what she will feel. Your feelings are big and scary, but if you're thinking of confessing the truth so that you feel better-- that is the worst reason to do so. Even if it is causing fights in your own marriage or keeping you up at night-- that is not her fault. Vomiting the truth so that she hurts and you feel better is not friendship. Maturity means we learn to find our peace in the midst of painful situations. So if you do tell her, don't breathe a word about how it's impacting you, what you would do in this situation, or how mad at him you are.  As much pain as you are in-- don't make this about you. This is her nightmare.
  2. Women Know When They're Ready to Know, Usually. I've talked to many women after they have found out that he was cheating on them and almost all of them had warning signs and red flags when they look back. We might act like we don't know, for a while, because we're not ready to face the truth, or because we're not ready to have it called into question. So think long and hard about whether you think your friend doesn't already know.  In the coaching world we say,"Don't have their ah-ha for them." It's usually more life changing for her to come to her own truth, than for us for force feed it to her. So if you do tell her, I'd start with the least amount of information you need to give.  Being loyal to her doesn't mean telling her everything you know, it means telling her enough so that she can try it on and make her best decisions. It's usually best to tell her what you know with a little bit of doubt... allowing her to save face if she chooses denial a little longer. Don't force some long conversation or some intervention now, just move on.  You can know she'll undoubtedly keep thinking about it.
  3. You Need to Know that Most Women Stay. I think it's worth reminding you that most women stay in marriages even after an affair.  And unless you've been there-- you can't judge it. Sometimes there are higher values at stake, other needs being met, and alternative priorities that she chooses.  That is not a choice of weakness; to stay is hard and it takes tremendous strength.  But you need to know this because it's not a given that she's going to thank you for the information and leave him tomorrow. Supporting her means supporting her relationships, choices, decisions, and timing. Supporting her means accepting her no matter whether you approve. So if you do tell her, then be sure you tell her that it's okay if she stays, wants to try to work it out, and that you can still understand what she loves about him. You should feel no invested stake in what choice she makes (even if it affects your ability to go out on double-dates or something-- that is not the highest priority right now!), when she makes it, or how-- that you will fully support her and journey with her any direction. And you'll support her if she changes her mind down the road, too.  Life is a journey, let her take hers.
  4. Women Don't Want to Have to Defend Their Family. Even when we know our mom is impossible-- we don't want someone else to say it.  Even when we know our children are trouble-makers-- we don't want everyone else to think less of them.  Even when our spouse makes us madder than mad-- we don't want our friends to not admire him.  In fact it's common that most women will blame the "other woman" more than they will their own spouse-- its how we react to people we love. Like a mama bear with her cubs, chances are high that she will defend him-- it's partly how she defends herself.  So if you do tell her, be very, very careful to still speak highly of him, to only share the bare minimum, and never speak poorly of him or their marriage.  Even if she reacts with anger toward him-- tell her you understand the feelings, but don't agree with her or express your own opinion. What he did was a hurtful thing, but he is not a bad man.  Even if she leaves him eventually, she will heal better if people around her aren't devaluing him or feeding her anger.
  5. The Messenger Can Become the Threat. If she's defending him (or herself since we all want to believe that we chose the perfect person, are worthy of their love, and have a great marriage!), that risks you being seen as the threat.  At her very healthiest she would be able to separate you from the message, but when we're scared, we don't always react rationally.  She may accuse you of lying, see it as evidence that you've never really supported her relationship with him, or simply be so ashamed she can't face you anymore for what you come to represent to her.  If it comes out later she may not want to face you and feel the embarrassment of an "I told you so," and if she decides to stay, she may feel like she can never talk about it with you. So if you do tell her, know this distance is normal and a likely consequence of telling the truth. The best way to minimize this is by never placing yourself against him; rather just keep expressing how much you love her and will stick by her no matter what. Express deep regret for having to tell her, but simply tell her you would regret it more if she someday found out you knew and didn't tell her.
  6. Be Ready and Willing to Handle The Grief.  If you're not close enough to her to be someone who is ready to go through the grief cycle with her, you may not be close enough to her to tell her this news. She will likely need to grieve whether it ends her relationship or not; there is still some loss. The stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, and depression-- all of which she may take out on you. All of which are healthy and normal stages. Pray for the courage and tenacity to not take things personally.  So if you tell her,  you need to be committed to showing up in all those stages, reminding her how much you love her and support her. That might mean doing all the initiating for a while.  That might mean being her place to vent or her person to ignore.  No matter what she does-- you just keep saying to her, "You have a right to be mad. I would be to.  That's okay.  But I'm going to still be here no matter what.  You can yell at me, but I still love you."  It means being ready to clean up the vomit that was spewed. Because that's real loyalty.

You've been put in a tough place knowing this information.  But you can handle this choice.

Loyalty may mean protecting her from this news for now if you feel that's the best option.   Loyalty can also mean helping her face her feelings, no matter how reactionary they are.

Either way, you can love her and help her see her best self so that when she goes through phases when she can't see it herself-- she can see herself through your eyes.

 

Friendship Break-Ups 3: "Was She Really a Friend, Anyway?"

The other night I was out with some new friends and, as often happens when someone finds out that my work is all about female friendships, women I barely know start to tell me their friendship woes. One very friendly woman in her mid-forties was explaining to me that she doesn't have time for friends anymore now that she's a mom. (sound familiar? read this post.)  She went back-and-forth between defending her perceived reality and also sounding incredibly wistful. Like many of us in denial, we try to convince ourselves we're fine while simultaneously wishing things could be different. But then, her closing lines were, "Well I found out most of my previous friends weren't real friends anyway or they'd still be around.  So who needs them, right?" She tried to laugh as though she didn't care.

A Refresher on Shasta's Circles of Connectedness

One of my favorite things to teach in workshops, which is also a big part of my upcoming book, is about the Five Circles of Connectedness.  It's most often put to use when it comes to evaluating our current friendships or figuring out how to add new ones or deepen others.  Today, I want to talk about it in the context of break-ups and unmet expectations.

You'll want to go catch up on the abbreviated definitions of Shasta's 5 Circles of Connectedness if you're not familiar with them already: Watch YouTube or Read a Previous Post.

But basically, the friends on the Left Side in the Contact and Common Circles are friendships where we more-or-less have one way of being together, one commonality holding us together. That is to say our friendships are largely dependent upon the fact that we both attend the same church, are part of the same mother's group, are both single, or because we work together.

To move someone over to the Right Side in the Community and Committed Circles means that we have added new ways of being together (i.e. brunch on the weekend in addition to whatever our original commonality was), have spent considerable one-on-one time together, and have increased our intimacy.

Confirmed Friends in the middle are for the women who used to be in our Committed Circle of best friends, but we no longer have the consistency with them that our Right-Side friendships require.

If we mistakenly believe that all our friendships are more-or-less the same then we may not have realistic expectations in place.  Unmet expectations lead to disillusionment, and possible blame and anger toward the friends who aren't "there" for us.

There are SO many applications to our friendship Rifts and Drifts in these 5 Circles, but in the sensitivity of article length, I'll just mention the two most common misconceptions that can disappoint us if we don't understand our different types of friendships.

Two Common Misunderstandings in our Circles that Lead to Disappointment:

1)   Assuming a Common Friend is a Commitment Friend. We can feel so close to someone at work, church, or our mothers group and mistakenly believe that they should "be there in big ways" for us just because we both really like each other, get a long well, and see each other consistently in that common setting.

But the truth about Common Friends is that unless we have co-created a friendship that extends beyond that shared commonality-- when that commonality ends, the friendship will inevitably Drift apart if someone doesn't intentionally try to create a new way of connecting. And that doesn't always work due to time, priorities, interests, etc. These friendships don't end because we don't like each other, but because we haven't yet practiced being together in new ways, outside of that commonality.

We get our feelings hurt when we stop attending church or change jobs and no one calls us anymore-- but if that place was what we had in common, then no matter how close we felt, we're the ones who left that friendship structure. If the thing we have in common is getting our families together on the weekends to go camping, but then we go through a divorce, unless we had another way of being together just as women, we risk Drifting apart when it's our ex-spouse who has all the camping equipment.

It's not her fault, even if the changes were in her life.  In a friendship-- when we blame, we risk a Rift; if we decide we want to initiate consistently, we may be able to avoid a Drift.

If we can be honest in these moments and see them for what they are-- losing structures or commonalities that connected us-- then we can either find more peace in the Drift without us taking it personally or we more clearly see that we'll have to co-create new ways of being with that person. Which doesn't happen automatically.

2) Not realizing a Confirmed Friend is no longer a Commitment Friend. The other misunderstanding that can get the best of us is not realizing that just because we used-to-be-best friends, that while we still love each other so much, we no longer live near each other, talk regularly, or are present for each others lives in the same ways.

And if we haven't fostered new Commitment Friends where we now live, we're likely to make the mistake of wanting those Confirmed Friends to act like them.  We'll be hurt when they don't know what's going on in our lives, forgetting that it is our responsibility to build up local friends who can care for us on the consistent basis.

Because of the intimacy and trust we've built with these women back in college or in a previous life phase, we certainly make decisions to call our Confirmed Friends to stay in touch with them better to support us through a season or to tell them honestly what we need.  But hopefully they've developed close local friends that they are giving to so we want to be careful to not blame them for not reading our minds or knowing how to help us.

If we don't have strong relationships on the Right-Side, it becomes so easy to look to our other friends in the other Circles and begrudge them for not "being there" for us. It's so easy, when our life changes, to want everyone to be there for us that we sometimes forget that we never practiced that with each other beforehand or had yet built up to that Circle of Commitment.

If "she" wasn't "there" for you, was she really your friend?

To the beautiful woman who wondered aloud, "Well I found out most of my previous friends weren't real friends anyway or they'd still be around.  So who needs them, right?" and to all of us who ask a variation of that rhetoric question, I say this:

I am so sorry that you were hurt and disappointed by what you hoped someone would be for you.  That sucks. However, we don't have to devalue who they were or what we shared together.  It's entirely possible they were a "real" friend, even if they weren't the Committed Friend we had hoped they were.  Furthermore, the answer to previous disappointments isn't to give up on friendships altogether, but rather, to be sure to take responsibility for co-creating even stronger--more consistent and intimate--friendships this time around.

 

If you have questions-- ask them in the comments.  It's sometimes impossible to be comprehensive on such a big subject in one posting! Hope the outline at least helps though?

 

 

 

Friendship Break-Up 2: Saving a Drift, Avoiding a Rift

Friendship break-ups can be so hard. And painful. And sad. And, oh, ever so complicated! In the last post we looked at the two main types of friendship break-ups, with most of the focus being on The Drift--a more slow and unassuming process of two people drifting apart.

A Rift is often a more easily defined reason (than simply chalking it up to not having as much in common) for why we want out of the relationship. It almost always involves us feeling disappointed or hurt by the other-- as though they messed up, aren't healthy, or owe us an apology.

A Drift Can Turn Into a Rift

In a drift it might be because life either changed for them or for you (i.e. you retired, she went through a divorce, you moved away, she changed religions, you got pregnant) and while you may feel some resentment, there is a piece of you that understands the shift was nothing personal. We know they didn't leave the job because of us or get married to spite us. And we usually start off thinking we're still going to stay in touch... a Drift most often happens slowly... over time.

Both Drifts and Rifts have their valid reasons and times... but sometimes if we don't see the Rift coming, or don't understand how easily it can sneak into our relationship uninvited, it can turn into a Rift with hurt feelings and unmet expectations.

What brings the wounding in these situations is often expectations that didn't get met in the midst of the change. You felt sad that she was getting married when you liked being two single gals together, but you also didn't fault her.  However, when we interpret her calling less as loving us less or not making time for us anymore, we may start to feel she is to blame.  We miss her and don't know who to call to go out with so we resent how her life change is affecting our friendship. As our needs escalate, our insecurities get provoked, and our sadness feels more complicated; it becomes all too easy to feel like they're navigating it all wrong.

And they probably are.  As are we.

When you have two people in transition, trying to figure out a new way of being together-- it's almost guaranteed that it can't become something new without disappointing one of us along the way.  It won't just immediately arrive at some new pattern that we both like.

Preventing Drifts from Becoming Rifts

To prevent a Drift from turning into Rift-- there are three things I have found helpful:

  1. Tell her you value her. The very best thing we can do in those moments is to tell the other person that they are important to us. That their friendship matters to us to go through the awkwardness with them. To verbally commit that we intend to get through this change as friends, if possible.  I've said, "I just want you to know I love you and want our friendship to survive this change.  It may be hard at times, but you're worth it to me to figure it out."
  2. Acknowledge that it will change us. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves and others that there will be a change in our relationship.  We cannot have a baby and show up as though we haven't.  We cannot go through a divorce and still show up as a couple at parties.  We cannot leave our jobs and think that not seeing each every day won't impact how close we feel.  To try to pretend otherwise only seems to hurt feelings.  Instead, say something like, "I know it's going to take us some time to figure out our new normal... but I'm committed to that process." Saying out loud that we know things will change (what we talk about, how often we talk, how we spend our time together, etc.) helps normalize it for everyone.  It also acknowledges that we aren't likely to slip into a perfect pattern automatically.
  3. Be as generous as possible. Both of you are still trying to figure out your own lives, let alone know exactly how to incorporate the other in meaningful ways. How fabulous to say, "Let's just both try to be as generous with each other as possible while we figure this out.  Let's try to always assume the best of each other, even if we don't always do it perfectly. We know we don't want to hurt each other."

Almost every time we hear that someone we love still loves us and wants to make it work-- we're more likely to feel generous, gracious, and hopeful about the other.  Those two statements can come from either person-- the one who is experiencing the life change or the one who is feeling left behind.  Both of us have the opportunity to help give this gift of clarity to the relationship.

It Takes Two to Show Up Differently

It's rarely only the responsibility of one person to be open to the change--even if you think it's her fault. It takes two people willing to let go of how it was and willing to practice what can become. But one can always be the first and help invite the other into this new space.

  • If I leave the job we both used to hate together-- it may take practice to learn how to share with her my new business in a way that doesn't leave her feeling stuck there or pressured by me to leave; and it may take some getting used to when she stops sharing all the company gossip since I no longer work there and I am no longer invited out to company happy-hours.
  • If she starts dating a new guy while I'm still single-- it may take practice for me to get used to him getting all the attention I used to get and it may take some intention on her part to still make time for just us girls.
  • If I have another baby after her kids are all in school-- I will have to acknowledge she may not want a baby around every time we get together and she may have to practice showing the excitement for my life that I deserve even if she feels like she's past that point.

And I've found it so much easier to give that grace to each other if I have already built up a strong circle of other friends.  It means I make less demands of her.  It means I don't need her life to stay the same in order for me to love her.  It means I take responsibility for my own joy and health, rather than hold her to blame for my loneliness.  It means I have support from others when she's consumed.  It means I can love her for who she is, even if we don't have this big thing in common any more.

Every relationship change requires two people willing to hold the relationship with some kind of an open hand-- a willingness to let it become something new. It cannot stay the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendship Break-Up 1: A Drift or a Rift?

A TV producer called me last week because her afternoon TV show is hoping to interview some women who are currently going through BFF break-ups. She said that when the show idea was discussed, nearly every woman around the table had a story. As do we all. Changing friends is normal.

If you're a faithful reader of my blog, you'll recall that I often remind women that research suggests that we replace about half our friends every seven years.

To see if it's true in your life, list the five to seven women that you'd invite to stand up with you at your wedding if getting married today. Now think back to where you were seven years ago and see how many of those same women would be standing up there with you?  Most likely, with perhaps the exception of family members, two or three of the women might have been different if chosen back then.  And chances are that two or three of them might be different if chosen seven years from now.  Our lives do change. And with that change comes some movement in our inner circles.

The word replace speaks of two directions-- new friends coming in and old friends going out.

Many of my posts have to do with how to start new friendships since there are few platonic pick-up lines, winking seems inappropriate, and there aren't bars for female friends.

So in honor of the fact that we aren't just making new friends, but also having to let go of them, I'm going to write a series (number of posts still TBD) about friendship break-ups.

The Drift vs. The Rift

Friendship Break-Ups typically fall into two camps: The Drift and The Rift.

The Drift is when two people have less in common due to life changes or personal preferences.  There's typically no big break-up or blow-up, it's just two people moving apart.  That's not to say it doesn't hurt or that you're not aware of it though!  On the contrary, we often carry guilt, anger, or fear as these relationships drift.  We sometimes feel betrayed that they are leaving the job, moving away, having a baby, or going through a divorce that we feel threatens or changes our friendship. We know that our relationship is shifting.... even if we don't know yet whether it will survive or what it will look like.

The Rift is when an event or behavior causes damage to our relationship leaving us hurt, angry, or confused for what we'd consider a grievance or mistake.  I differentiate a Rift from a Drift when we feel that there is a behavior or action that would need to be discussed, forgiven, or changed in order to continue to be friends. Our pain can come from unmet expectations (i.e. she didn't ask us to be her bridesmaid and we thought we were close friends), blatant mistakes (i.e. she gossiped about our failing marriage to other friends, betraying our trust), or what we might call character flaws (i.e. she never calls us and we're tired of being the ones who always have to initiate). A Rift is when we feel justified at being mad at her.

I'll talk about the Rift in an upcoming post. This post is about the Drift.

The Common Causes of a Drift

One of the reasons we replace, or need to replenish, our friendships is because our lives all happen in different ways and in different times. Often, we drift apart. While there can be a hundred variations of why we no longer lean toward the same people, most of those reasons fall under these six common categories:

With so many of us switching jobs or starting companies comes the obvious fact that we are losing the friends that were associated with those specific workplaces.

If there was an era where we all followed a similar path: get married out of college, have kids two years later, live in the suburbs, etc.  We're definitely not there now. Now you're just as likely to be new mom at twenty-one as you are at forty-one.  We're not doing life in the same order or at the same pace as our friends which leaves us often wishing for new friends in our new stage of life.

On location alone, with Americans picking up and moving every five years it's no surprise that not all our friendships can survive the distance. Even if you stay planted, chances are high that a friend will move away in the next couple of years, forcing you to either drift apart or be incredibly proactive and intentional about staying connected.

And in that last sentence is where you'll find what I think is the most important choice in a Drift: decide whether this friendship is important enough to you to go through the transition.

Responding to the Drift

  1. Relationship Changes Are Normal. Every change-- in her life or yours-- will likely require the friendship to shift.
  2. Awareness is a Strength. The worst thing is to lose friendship unknowingly! Or to have to deal with anger down the road because you didn't take the time to see it coming or to do the work of readjusting your expectations. Don't live in denial!  Seeing it coming gives you time, wisdom, and increased generosity.
  3. Feel Your Choice. There are two kinds of Drifts-- the ones where we simply let it happen to us and the ones where we chose to let it happen. I don't believe we need to hang on to every relationship; nor do I believe we should simply let-go of relationships with people we love simply because life changes. While the actions of both choices may end up looking similar (i.e. call less, hang out less, slowly lose touch), one happens out of negligence, whereas the other happens with our blessing. There's a big difference.

We are called to learn how to hang on to some relationships, even when awkward; while also letting go of others, hopefully with intention and eventual peace. The trick is to know how to make that choice.

Leave your comments: How do you know when a friendship is over? What helps you decide? How have you handled friendships drifts before? Do you tend to "hang on too long" or "let go too soon"?