2017-04-20 / Healthy Living

Finding a balance in our friendships

“I heard you were out to dinner with the Blacks and the Smiths Saturday night. We would have loved to join you. I’m surprised you didn’t invite us.” Although Kelly’s voice was calm as she said it, Laurie knew by experience, and from the look on her friend’s face that Kelly was hurt, and probably, angry. Laurie and Kelly had been friends for years, ever since their youngest had been in pre- school together. Both had been new to the neighborhood and hadn’t known many other people. They became fast friends, sharing many activities and confidences. As time passed, though, Laurie had begun to branch out, expanding her social life to include friends she had made at work or on the tennis team. Although Kelly had made some other friends, she largely relied on Laurie for social plans. Kelly could become quite possessive and territorial about how Laurie spent her time. Laurie hated the way Kelly put her on the defensive whenever she made plans of her own. Sometimes, Kelly was subtle, and would casually ask Laurie how she’d spent her weekend. Other times Kelly was more blatant and would put Laurie on the spot. Laurie did not believe she was obligated to include Kelly in all of her social activities, nor that she owed Kelly an explanation, or an apology. Laurie wanted to confront Kelly but knew how sensitive her friend was and worried that things would never be the same.

Exclusion always hurts, but especially so when we’ve been hurt by a person we trusted and counted on to be considerate of our feelings. Is it fair for friends to have expectations that we include them in most of our activities? Are these expectations fair or reasonable? Are there limits and parameters to guide us?

How do we define a friendship? Most of us look at our friendships from very personal vantage points. Unfortunately, we may set ourselves up for tremendous hurts and misunderstandings because we may have very different belief systems about what a true friendship entails.

Yes, we count on our friendships to be positive, affirming additions to our lives. Granted, we may enjoy very different kinds of connections with varied groups of people. Sometimes our relationships are superficial, but fill a need or purpose — parents of our children’s friends, tennis teammates or collegial co-workers. We share common interests, and may keep things cordial and light. We are not likely to share important confidences.

Other relationships are grounded with deeper connections and purpose. With these treasured friends, we may speak the same language and have shared value systems. We know in our hearts that these people have our backs and come through for us consistently over time. Because of a gratifying history, we may trust these people and feel safe enough to confide very personal matters, reaching out for advice and emotional support.

Most of us have learned to balance and share our friendships. We understand that our friends will have other loyalties and bonds, and are secure enough to give them the breathing room to have activities without us — no questions asked! We know our friends wouldn’t like the feeling of being held hostage to obligations they never intended to sign onto.

We also have to remind ourselves that no friendship is perfect. We often grow in different directions, and must be flexible and open to these changes if the relationship is to thrive over time. Sometimes when friends pull away, it has nothing to do with their feelings about us. Rather, it may be a reflection of a change in their lives or their desire to take a different course.

When we refuse to make allowances for these changes or some lesser transgressions, we may create conflicts and compromise the comfort of the relationship. Just like with Laurie, in the fictionalized vignette above, our friends may become resentful if we vigilantly follow their comings and goings or castigate them for perceived slights.

We must be careful to step back and try to consider the situation from a less emotional stance. Sometimes when close friends don’t include us, they may not have intentionally meant to hurt us. In their minds, they may have made choices apart from us and don’t feel an obligation to explain themselves. To be fair, they may have misjudged the impact of the exclusion, and might have navigated the situation differently if they knew the exclusion would have hurt as badly as it did.

It’s not unreasonable to count on “friends” to be attuned to each other’s feelings and to do their best to be considerate. There are many ways to soften the blow to others when we disappoint, or don’t include them. Offering alternate options keeps the door open and shows sensitivity.

It’s an especially painful betrayal to learn we misjudged the character of a person we valued.

Healing from hurts is a very personal, ongoing process. Our vulnerability to slights may point to fundamental insecurities we may hold. And, how we respond and conduct ourselves in the face of the hurt speaks to our own character and sense of self worth.

When we stay stuck too long in a resentful, vengeful place, it’s often much tougher to move forward. Reaching out to others for emotional support is often validating and might lessen the sting of a rejection. Cultivating new interests and endeavors can also be a means of deflecting the hurt. At the same time, enthusiastically immersing ourselves in new friendships and projects can make an important difference. ¦

— Linda Lipshutz, M. S., LCSW, can be reached at (561) 630- 2827, online at www.palmbeachfamilytherapy.com, or on Twitter @LindaLipshutz.

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