Illustration: Lifehacker (Graphics: Apple)
Perhaps even more so than romantic relationships, friendships are vitally important to our health and happiness. Research tells us strong friendship bonds can help us live longer, healthier, and more interesting lives. But a friendship can have all the ups and downs of a marriage: We laugh, we cry, and we break up sometimes. When that happens, it’s natural for us to miss our former partner-in-crime and hope to reconcile and mend the relationship. But how do you know if the friendship is salvageable?
According to Dr. Cara Goodwin, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, the choice of whether it’s worth attempting to revive a friendship starts with you. “If [you] feel strongly that [you] want to repair the relationship, then [you] should take the steps to do so,” she says—provided there was no physical, mental, or emotional abuse involved. “If there was, it’s best to move on,” Goodwin says. “Toxic relationships are usually never worth saving.”
If you believe your friendship is salvageable, or at least worthy of an attempt at reconnection, but you’re not sure how to reach out to someone after a major fall-out, here are some tips to help it go more smoothly.
Consider the events of the breakup before you reach out
Before speaking with your friend, Philadelphia-based therapist Hannah Guy, suggests carefully considering the events that caused the rift between you, and reflect on how they made you feel.
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“Let’s just say your friend promised to come to your birthday dinner and then flaked so she could go out with her girlfriend,” she says. “This probably makes you feel hurt, angry, disappointed, and maybe even disrespected. The issue isn’t actually about your birthday. The issue is about how your friend’s actions made you feel less of a priority, and that hurt your feelings.”
Guy suggested asking yourself what the friendship brings to your life: “Does being around them make you a better person? Do you genuinely enjoy being around them? Or are you feeling relieved that you don’t have to be around them as much?”
When you do reach out to your friend, she says, try not to get caught up in the details of what happened; concentrate more on the emotional undercurrents, which can tell you what the breakup was really about.
Connect as calmly and honestly as you can
Once you decide to reach out to your friend, Goodwin says, to do it calmly and rationally, and in a public place if that will help. “Be sure to listen to what your friend is saying before speaking. Honesty and transparency are good communication tools, so be sure to tell them how you truly feel, and then accept their reaction,” she adds. “Don’t dwell on the situation. Once the [argument] can be buried, there’s no use in bringing it up in the future if a resolution was made. Apologize if needed. Once apologies are out of the way you can begin to work on repairing the friendship.”
It’s about more than your own gestures of reconciliation, too. As Goodwin noted, it’s up to the aggrieved friend whether or not to accept the apology, should one be offered, and that you’ll both need to decide if the friendship is worth repairing and consider the reason for the breakup.
What to do if your friend doesn’t want to make up
While your intentions might come from a good place, the reality is your ex-friend might not want to patch things up. So how do you make peace with a friend who doesn’t want to make up?
“This one is always hard,” Guy says. “It’s important to understand you can’t force anyone to forgive you or be your friend. All you can do is focus on your own actions. If you feel like you’ve done everything you can to salvage the friendship and they’re still uninterested in making up, it’s time to move on.”
Acceptance doesn’t make moving on any easier, of course. It’s common to go experience some type of grieving process—the same you’d experience in response to any sort of loss. “If you find that after some time you continue to struggle to make peace [with the end of the friendship], seeking support from a therapist is always helpful,” Guy says.
How to repair your friendship the second time around
If you and your friend have agreed to move forward and become friends again, it’s normal to feel a little awkward at first. This is why Guy believes it’s crucial to focus on the bigger picture. “Communicate with each other about why your friendship is important,” she says. “When things get difficult, come back together and remind each other about the importance of your friendship. When we just focus on the nitty-gritty of things we can tend to start feeling resentful and unhappy.”
Adds Goodwin: “Communication skills are important in any relationship, just like honesty and transparency. If both parties are willing to apologize and move on, the foundation will be set for a stronger relationship moving forward. Honesty and transparency are good (if not the best) communication tools.”
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