Relationships

How To Save A Friendship from Sinking

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We rely on our friends, perhaps even more than our partners, in life – we expect them to be there for us when we reach the big milestones, and we’d do the same for them, right? But what happens when things actually change – can the friendship survive? “Relationships can often be based on shared interests, so when someone changes, for example by wanting to get healthy, becoming a parent or trying to save money, the dynamic also changes,” explains mindset coach and author Ruth Kudzi (ruthkudzi.com). So can you save your friendship? We turned to the experts to find out how to work with both your needs, and when to know if it’s time to say goodbye for good.

Accept change

As humans, we tend to dislike and resist change, but as life coach Carole Ann Rice (realcoachingco.com) tells us, change is our only constant: “I think the first thing to accept in life is that nothing stays the same forever, there are always going to be changes,” she says. “On our journeys, different things happen and it can lead to people taking different paths, whether they’re friends or partners. You must accept that people are 100 percent free to take responsibility for their own life. If it affects you, you must accept that you have your own agency, and you don’t have to be part of it or be included if you don’t want to. If you’re out with a friend who’s on a diet and you want a starter, order it. If you want a main course followed by ice cream, don’t feel that you can’t because your friend isn’t. Don’t be triggered by them if they’re pointing out what you’re eating. The solution would be to not go out for dinner together for a while, as you don’t have to please others. You can be an accountability buddy and be supportive of their new venture (whatever it is), but you don’t have to be drawn into it so much as be a great coach or cheerleader. It doesn’t mean that someone is rejecting you if they’re moving away from you. They’re doing their own thing, and it may inspire you to do your thing too. We’re all agents of change and we are able to move on with our lives and reach our potential.”

Navigate your new normal

“The first thing to do is to be honest about what’s changed,” says Ruth. “Things will change for both of you, so you will need to learn to navigate your new normal. Consider how you can support them with the change while also paying attention to your needs: for example if they are saving money, look at activities that you both enjoy that won’t cost too much.” Try to be sensitive as to why they’ve decided to make this change too – are they saving money because their partner has lost their job, or trying to get healthy because one of their parents has passed away? Being aware of why the situation has shifted can help you be a better friend.

Keep up communication

When things change, you might be tempted to reduce contact with your friend, but as Ruth explains, the most important thing is to continue to communicate. “If their circumstances have changed, ask them what they want to do and how you can support them. At the same time, make sure you are clear about how you want the friendship to develop. It’s important to listen and be listened to so you feel that there is an equal balance to the relationship.”

Life coach Claire Louise Adams (clairelouiseadams.com) agrees that being able to talk to each other is the main thing. “The dynamics are changing and most of us don’t like change, but unless you’re having an open and honest dialogue with your friend, there’s no point in talking to other people about it,” she says. “All that does is make you look for proof of why they’ve made you feel like this. If you feel that the relationship is strong enough for you to not have that conversation in the first place, then that’s case in point.”

Watch out for the green-eyed monster

When things start to go well for a friend, it’s natural to feel envious and that can cause friction. “Navigating relationships can be complex, trust and respect play a massive part in navigation but being able to respect a friend’s decision and choices is a test of our emotional resilience,” says Claire. “For example, the consequences of your friend becoming healthy is that it could potentially show you up for not being healthy or magnifies your own bad habits, which doesn’t make you feel good. If your friend suddenly starts looking good and is losing weight, it can induce feelings of jealousy and envy. Meanwhile, the friend who wants to save money may stop attending social engagements, which can create feelings of rejection and abandonment, not to mention the fact that once they’ve saved the money, whatever they use it for can make you feel jealous, too. There is a whole emotional web we create for ourselves based on relationships. A good dose of shame and guilt can help feeling that way about someone that we love, making us question ourselves and start blaming others when friendships and relationships change. It can bring a period of grief for what we have lost, but if you are accepting, it comes much easier to not feel left out.”

Examine the friendship

It’s simply a part of life that some friends will remain close throughout everything, while others come and go. Friends you might have made at school served you well then, but you may have grown apart now and actually, keeping up the relationship may be doing more harm than good. “We are pack creatures who gather friends around us as we go through life’s stages,” explains relationship counsellor Mig Bennett (migbennettrelationshipcounselling.co.uk). “Our friends are important at each stage, but it’s impossible to retain all of them at the same level of intimacy forever; some we lose, some we keep. When life changes, keeping that connection may become difficult. For example, a friendship based around alcohol and burning the candle at both ends stutters when one person decides to prioritise their health and fitness. Can you be in different life places and still be friends?”

Mig suggests assessing your friendship by looking at whether they listen to you, remember what’s going on in your life and enjoy your successes, or whether they focus on their own dramas and miseries, only call you when they’re in need, and let you down. “One big pointer is if you come away from a meet-up feeling dissatisfied or unsettled,” she says. “A good friend leaves us feeling connected, heard, warmer and lighter; that basic comfort of belonging, or as Orson Welles said, ‘We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through love and friendship can we create the illusion that for the moment we are not alone’.”

Change of pace

Whether it’s you or your friend going through changes in life, no matter what they may be, follow these tips to help both parties feel secure and significant

  •  “Manage your time effectively,” says life coach Michael Cloonan (michaelcloonan. co.uk). “Spend the right amount of time on yourself and on what you want to do but make sure you dedicate time to your friend, too. Even if it’s just an hour on the phone, don’t let them feel totally left out.”
  •  “Avoid making comparisons between what they are doing and attaching a value of judgement about this for you,” warns Ruth. “You’re both living your own lives.”
  •  “If you need to, say ‘no’,” Michael advises. “Many of us have a habit of trying to please others, but that can leave us feeling drained. Prioritise your goals first and don’t forget about your own needs.”
  •  “Remind your friend what they mean to you by showing them gratitude, be it tagging them in a memory on Facebook, posting them a small gift or just sending a ‘thinking of you’ text,” says Michael. “A small and subtle form of gratitude can go a long way in reassuring your friend that you are there for them.”

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