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:
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.