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?