I love my friends, but what do I do when things go wrong?
It’s important to remember why having good friendships is essential. Friendships are important relationships for us all to have. Good friends are beneficial to your mental health and well-being. They can be your chosen family because you can specifically choose who your friends are versus your family.
Having good friends means needing to put time and energy into these relationships because they need as much commitment and dedication to maintain and sustain, as much as you’d do with your romantic relationships. Every relationship that you have needs work and your friendships are no different.
Benefits of healthy friendships
Having good, emotionally safe, and trustworthy friendships will have the following long-lasting benefits for you.
- You can increase your sense of belonging and purpose through your shared experiences.
- You will feel happiness and stress can be reduced because you will feel supported and understood.
- Your self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth can improve from your close connections with your friends.
- Your friendships can help you cope with your traumas, such as divorce, relationship break-ups, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one. They will be there for you by being emotionally available to you, through their encouragement and support.
- You will be helped and supported to make healthier lifestyle changes and choices, like avoiding unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise.
- Your friends can be a good sounding board for you to bounce your ideas, thoughts and future plans, if only to get a second opinion and different perspective on your life choices. This can help you to know and feel reassured with making your own decisions and choices.
A good sign that you have positive friendships is when you feel good about yourself when you are together with your chosen friends. However, that may not always be the case. Your friendships will be impacted by both of your life circumstances over time, and this means there will be challenging moments to work through together as with any relationship. If there is a consistent negative feeling over a longer period where you are not feeling positive about your friendships, then it is time for you to reflect on what is happening for you and to decide what next to do.
Signs your friendships are unhealthy
- When your friends don’t take responsibility for contacting you and planning things to do with you like having meals and spending time together.
- When they disrespect your boundaries, like when they flirt with your partner or they break your privacy and confidentiality by sharing information with others.
- When you perceive that your friends always need something from you, and you may feel that there is no mutually shared ‘give and take’ within the friendship.
- When they disagree, argue, or are in conflict with you on a contentious issue and they can’t agree to disagree with you. They may use their struggles as a weapon to manipulate your thought process in favour of their argument.
- When they are critical towards you and it doesn’t feel fair/justified to you, they may be trying to make you feel guilty for spending time with other people or they are not getting what they want from you.
- When they dismiss your values and it starts to make you feel unhappy and low because you don’t feel recognised for who you are anymore. You may even start to question yourself.
- When they ignore your efforts of wanting to be a good friend to them which then makes you feel unwanted and rejected.
- When they are envious of you, and it shows through in their negative comments and negative behaviours towards you e.g. they can be perceived to be controlling with you.
- When they make put down comments on your life choices because of their vulnerabilities pertaining to your career and life successes compared to their own.
- When they humiliate you in front of a known or unknown group of other people which can make you feel ashamed and unhappy about yourself.
- When their behaviours are in contrast with your moral values and principles, like if they steal or are being deceitful for their personal gain, and they may encourage you to do the same.
- When they discuss controversial topics like current affairs and political issues in relation to humanity and maybe hearing their thoughts and opinions may be harmful to your values and belief system.
- When they make definite comments about your shared values which may not be true but it’s when you’ve been used to back up and voice their views and opinions rather than theirs alone.
If you are experiencing any of the above or similar from your friendships, try not to take it personally that there’s something wrong with you. Sometimes we all can go through tough life experiences which make us unhappy within ourselves, and it can leave us unaware of how to deal with things.
If we don’t work through our difficulties for ourselves, it can show up in our behaviours towards those closest to us. You can work through issues that arise with your friendships and this will need dedicated space and time to plan out your thoughts with how to approach them.
What you can do to handle conflict within friendships
Dealing with conflict is hard, especially if you’ve not been taught or encouraged how to handle conflict safely through emotional discussions with your parents or the people who looked after you. It may not have felt safe for you to handle difficult situations and therefore you may not want to face dealing with such a situation within your friendships. This is especially true if you have fears about them not liking you or wanting to be your friend if you do try to talk to them about it.
The truth is that real friendships are ones where you can be yourself with each other, during the good times and the bad, and it means having real and honest conversations at every step of your relationship. You need to check in with each other regularly about how your friendship is growing and developing, and if it feels good for all involved.
Conflicts in friendships can feel like ruptures that can’t be fixed. Experiencing a rupture in your friendships can make them stronger and that means having deeper, more meaningful connections in the long run.
Everyone has expectations of what they want and need to be cared for, but when this is not communicated or worked through in our friendships, it can show up in our behaviours and can cause miscommunications. Expecting others to know what we want and need without first communicating how we feel is not what loving friendships are. Sharing with each other what it means to be cared for is really important to fully understand each other and to keep working with each other using understanding so that friendships can develop further in a healthy way.
With a lot of things competing with everyone’s limited time and energy, there is an absence of dialogue on how to work through conflict with friends. Some believe that friendships shouldn’t make you uncomfortable and that if that happens, they should be cut off at the first sign of trouble. Relationship experts agree that this is not how real friendships are.
“We tend to put friendship in this box as this trivial, second-class relationship,” says Marisa G. Franco, a psychologist and author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends in an interview with Shondaland. “In doing so, we say things like ‘Friendship should be good vibes only’ or ‘It should be all positive.’ Some of these narratives really don’t leave space for things to go wrong and for conflict to happen, so when it does, we think, ‘Oh, maybe this is a sign the friendship should end,’ rather than it just [being] part of intimacy.”
Five tips to help you handle conflict in friendships
Here are five tips on what to do when you have reflected on your friendship for yourself (like listing out all the positive reasons why you want your friendship to work) so that you can make a start to work through the issues.
1. Advise your friend that you need to talk about something important with them and that it has to be in a private neutral space with dedicated time.
2. Pre-plan all the points you would like to talk about and speak from your own experiences so that you own and take responsibility for how you feel.
3. If you need to write a letter to your friend to show them when you talk, instead of raising the issue via verbal communication alone, you can do this so long as you give your friend time to respond in a way that works well for them (verbally or if they’d like to write their letter as a response back to you). Or maybe you could think about doing writing exercises when you are together so that you both can think through and write your responses for each other with more thought and care.
4. Your self-care is important whilst you are working on this. Remember to do all the things you need to for yourself, like taking space and reflecting on yourself and what you need from friendships, relaxing in a way that will help you to de-stress, whilst preparing for this difficult situation.
5. Depending on the context of the situation, try to prepare yourself for any eventuality following your meeting. It may not always be possible to work through the issues with your friendships, especially if there are concerning behaviours where your friends may not want to change. Think about what this would mean for you, would you be able to agree to disagree? If that is not possible, then maybe the best solution for all of you would be to part ways.
Experiencing conflict in your friendships does not mean that your friendships need to end. Working through it together can show you how committed all parties are to the relationship. It’s understandable that it’s a scary process to deal with, especially with thoughts of losing your friendships.
Withholding uncomfortable feelings surrounding an issue can manifest itself in other ways, whether through withdrawal or resentment. You would be doing the right thing to try and resolve any conflict in a safe way first, as that would be helpful and healthy for all of you. If it isn't able to be resolved, you know you did your best to try and reach a workable solution. And that is what counts most, that you were willing to work on the friendship whilst being truly honest with yourself.