Rebecca Sperber, MS, MFT May 2019
Friendships are more complicated than most people realize. They are often simplified into categories of best friend, close friend or peripheral friend. However, all levels of friendship deal with expectations that when not met creates conflict.
Close friendships have endured over time through varied experiences. Through the passage of time, trust, loyalty, and love occur. A best friend has that special feeling of family, and of being the person you trust the most, enjoy the most, and share the most intimate information with. However, as people mature and experience inner shifts in values, interests, and needs, feelings between all the levels of friendship can shift.
These shifts present confusion about how to communicate thoughts and feelings about the change in how the friendship feels. It is confusing as to how to behave towards our friends who we are beginning to feel differently about. It is easier if the shift happens because of an egregious act. In such a situation, it becomes clear that breaking off the friendship is justified and necessary. But when the shift relates to a decrease in connection based on different interests, priorities, feelings or needs, it is more difficult to know how to approach the conversation. Finding motivation to work on the issues is also difficult when the connection has been broken.
Figuring how to communicate the “shift” without making it a personal judgment or attack on the other person is a challenge, but it is essential. If done with sensitivity, there is a chance the shift can be better tolerated and understood. The shift does not have to be a complete break-up of a friendship. A best friend can become a close friend by slowing down the rate of contact and depth of engagement. Sometimes such a shift occurs organically over time and does not require a sit down confrontation. However, when the shift is having a negative affect on you or the relationship, it is important to confront it.
If the person causing the shift takes responsibility for their need to change the relationship, (and does not blame or judge the other person), these friendship “shifts” can allow people to stay in each other’s lives if the changes are acceptable to both parties. Once the grieving of what has been lost occurs, it becomes possible to accept and enjoy what remains. However, if the shift causes one to feel constant sadness, resentment, or disappointment it could be a sign that letting go of friendship and any contact with that person is necessary. Closure about a friendship shift is possible when there is acceptance of the changes by both friends. Sometimes closure will mean an agreement to end the friendship.
Having the opportunity to explain, change, apologize, or peacefully say good-bye will allow for the friendship to be remembered as a positive experience that is now part of your past.
Rebecca Sperber, M.S., MFT