Did you ever have a really good friendship where everything was just rolling along until one day you hit an impasse that you couldn’t seem to get past? I’ve been hearing a lot of stories like this lately and have had my fair share as well. So let’s take a look at what could be happening and the options for resolution.
Many of us suffer from the faulty assumption that others — particularly those we befriend — are “just like me.” We think that because things go smoothly between us they must therefore think like us, process their emotions like us, and share our most cherished beliefs and values. Not so! And therein lies one of the biggest challenges in friendships. Coming to terms with the “otherness” of your friend — especially those parts you find undesirable — can be the hardest, yet most rewarding part and the source of some of life’s greatest lessons.
I’ve learned that when a big problem surfaces in a friendship, I need to raise my consciousness above the level of “I said, they said” where I am blaming and judging one of us — usually the other person because that’s the territory of the ego. I want to lift to a higher place where I have enough altitude to see the bigger picture we find ourselves in. That’s where I can find compassion for us both struggling to find some solid ground and where it is possible to remind myself what has been good and abiding between us. That’s where I can see that we all just want to be loved and to matter to each other. When I get to that place, I can usually let go of my judgments and hurt feelings and figure out how I want to move forward in terms of the other person. It is also from this higher perspective that I can see and learn from whatever life lessons the situation has brought my way. However, it can take me a long time to get there because my ego can be quite tenacious at times.
Here are some guidelines for getting through the territory of the ego:
- Whatever level your discomfort is on (mind or emotions), go to the other level to work it out. For example, if your mind is saying, “She has some nerve suggesting I would ever…” then ask yourself, “How does this make me feel?” Alternatively, if you find yourself feeling really sad and bewildered by what has happened, ask yourself, “What do I think happened here?”
- Fundamentally, these stalemates usually boil down to hurt feelings, misunderstood motivations, or seeing something in the other person’s behavior that doesn’t fit your idea of who they are. Ask yourself which of these three you are dealing with and be ruthlessly honest with yourself about your thoughts and feelings around what has happened.
- Take some time to be present with yourself and pay attention to how the disturbance reverberates within you. Don’t be too quick to try to resolve the outer problem with the other person when you haven’t first figured out what is going on inside of you. Talk to yourself first before attempting to seek resolution with the other person. Ultimately, our relationships with others are reflections of our relationship with ourselves, so it is essential that we seek clarity and peace within ourselves before trying to heal the outer situation.
- Consider the pros and cons of talking about the situation with your friend. It’s not always the best answer. Sometimes there is just too much emotion to be able to consider the other person’s point of view yet. Talking might only polarize you further as each of you tries to force the other to see your point of view. Remember that at first we are not seeing the other person’s point of view because we can only see our own. If you need to talk about the situation to try and gain some perspective, pick someone who is neutral and doesn’t know the other person, or talk it through with a professional. Don’t talk about it with mutual friends, where you are likely to be seeking agreement rather than insight and opening up a whole new can of worms.
- Recognize — as humbling as it may be — that the situation is not all about you and how you think and feel. There are many levels to healing a broken friendship. Each participant goes through his or her inner process of seeking to understand what has happened and what to do about it. Usually, each is looking at the situation from an entirely different point of view within a larger context of his or her own personal and shared history. We tend to be biased in our own favor, blinded by our own way of seeing things. Yet, any true resolution requires having a large enough perspective to encompass the reality of both individuals and their respective points of view.
- Consider your options regarding the future of the friendship. Either it will end or limp along unhealed or evolve to a better place. You and your friend might not agree as to which fate is likely or desirable. Do your best to heal the discord that you hold within yourself and give your friend the space to do the same. You may need to take a break from each other with no definitive resolution for a while. If you do talk the situation through and agree to disagree, be careful if there is a lingering issue of trust or respect. Be honest about that with yourself and each other.
- Judgment is the territory of the ego and is never the ultimate answer. Challenge yourself to move past that and to seek the higher ground where you and your friend might reach into that which is stronger than your judgments and hurt feelings.
- If ultimately you decide to leave the friendship, let it be because you see no other way to love, honor and respect yourself moving forward. If that is your choice, go in peace wishing your friend every happiness you seek for yourself.
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