Relationships… we were created to desire, seek and be enriched by them. When they thrive, the joy is intense. When they break, the pain is devastating. But as difficult as it is, there are steps you can take to get over – and get through – a broken friendship.
Let me introduce you to Cindy and Lisa, who met each other at work and soon began developing a very close friendship. They spent time together on the telephone, hiking, taking their children on outings, and playing tennis. They encouraged, advised and comforted each other and trusted one another with their greatest hopes, dreams and fears.
Five years into the friendship, Cindy sensed that Lisa was beginning to pull away. The telephone calls decreased, invitations to dinner became infrequent and the usual warm greeting exchanged in the office began to feel awkward and forced.
At first, Cindy shrugged it off by telling herself that Lisa was just busy with her family and other commitments. When several weeks passed without any contact, Cindy asked Lisa to lunch. Instead of hearing that Lisa was incredibly busy and overcommitted, Cindy was met with an unexpected barrage of anger and harsh accusations. The lunch was a disaster and Cindy left feeling shocked and confused. Despite several attempts at reconciliation, the friendship could not be restored and Cindy was left to pick up the pieces of a broken friendship.
When a relationship ends unexpectantly, it can leave you feeling rejected, unloved, inadequate and angry. Guilt may also creep in as a result of thinking that you have failed in your role as a friend or partner and that you should have done more to keep the relationship together. But when you have exhausted all attempts to reconcile the relationship without success, it is important to direct your attention toward healing the hurt, letting go, and moving forward.
Healing the hurt of a broken friendship
Enlarge your perspective
The first key to healing from the pain of a broken friendship is understanding that pain, loss, failure, disappointment and anger are part of the human experience. No one is exempt and no one is guaranteed to be treated fairly at all times. This can be a good time to turn to your spiritual beliefs or someone you trust for comfort and perspective that transcends the way you feel in the immediate situation. We tend to focus inward when feeling hurt, but widening the lens helps.
Your ability to move forward in the aftermath of a broken relationship also involves your willingness to take personal ownership of the role you may have played in its demise. Is it possible you held any destructive attitudes or initiated any negative actions that played out in your relationship? We can all be neglectful, insensitive, selfish or inconsiderate at times. To be closed to the possibility of having contributed to the relationship’s problems to some degree is to create a greater vulnerability for resentment and anger. A “victim mentality” weakens you. Ownership is empowering because you can identify and avoid mistakes in the future.
When you have been seriously wronged by someone who claimed to care about you, you always have a choice when it comes to holding on to the offense and allowing bitterness to develop. Ironically, this decision is extremely self-defeating in that you are the only one who is likely to be seriously harmed by it.
To be truly liberated from your pain, choose to extend grace to the offender no matter what they have done. You will not only be emotionally freed through the act of forgiveness, but you will be setting an example to others of how you wish to be treated. This will improve your future relationships in the long run.
Express the pain appropriately
There are many ways to process the pain associated with a significant loss, but few are as destructive as silencing its voice. Unacknowledged and unexpressed pain can easily become a hidden source of stress as well as a barrier to future relational intimacy. Don’t pretend you don’t care when you do! Give yourself permission to constructively and privately talk about your experience with a trusted friend or family member or perhaps your pastor or professional counselor.
Take the high road
Benjamin Franklin once said, “I will speak ill of no man, and speak all the good I know of everybody.” Old Ben could not have imagined the importance of his words in the context of social media! To speak poorly of a person who hurt you only serves as evidence that you have not forgiven him or her and that your goal is to get even. To combat this temptation, you must deliberately discipline your thoughts and words. Make an honest effort to practice compassion, humility, cooperation and integrity with others. The old adage says it best: Keep your words sweet because some day you may have to eat them!
Focus on the positive
When a relationship breaks it is normal and natural to think about what has been lost. However, it will always serve you well to also try and focus on what you gained or how you benefited from the relationship. The memories of the fun, laughter, companionship, support and intimacy do not have to be lost along with the friendship. Acknowledge the blessings received and do your best to maintain a grateful and thankful heart.
Embrace those who still love you
When suffering the loss of a relationship it is important to embrace and appreciate the people in your life who have not turned away from you. These relationships will provide you with the comfort and hope you need to move forward in sharing your life and love with others.
Live and love courageously
Even when you’ve done your best to choose good friendships, you may still experience times of rejection. If someone has wounded you, it’s natural to want to construct a protective shield, insulate your emotions, and vow never to be vulnerable again. This strategy may remove the threat of rejection, but at the high cost of loneliness and the loss of the potential rewards of another relationship. Don’t pass up opportunities to make new friends out of fear that they will hurt you. Keep your own side of your relationships healthy, muster your courage and take a chance. More times than not, it will be worth it!
Live, Work & Relate Well!
Dr. Linaman is a psychologist and executive coach providing counseling and professional development services to individuals, couples, work teams and organizations.