At some point, we all find ourselves in a friendship that causes more anxiety and pain than all the good, productive emotions they’re supposed to elicit. When that time comes, we have a choice: cut and run, or try to steer the relationship back to healthy places. Sometimes it might be appropriate to end things without any attempt at repair, but a vast majority of the time, our friendships are worth fighting for.
All good relationships are meant to thrive, and our friendships are no exception. But to do that, they need active investment. If we don’t put intentional thought into our friendships, they can end up stagnating or taking a turn for the worse.
We’re used to having “state of the union” talks in our romantic relationships when things aren’t going great, but we don’t have as much of a grid for these conversations in our friendships. So here are some steps to take to make sure you’re having a positive and productive conversation to get back on track with your bestie.
1. Express how much the friendship means to you
We will fight for what we care about. Because you’re about to have a hard conversation, it’s important to start by telling your friend why you’re having it: because you actually really care about their presence in your life, and you’re willing to do what it takes to make sure that continues, even if it’s hard and awkward. Think of and express some things you really appreciate about them or how their friendship has enriched your life to sweeten the pill.
2. Share how you’re feeling
Take time to rehearse this part. In order to have a productive conversation where your friend won’t shut down and get defensive, it’s important to focus on how you’re feeling rather than blaming the other person for their behavior. In ‘therapy-speak,’ this means using “I” language rather than “you” language. For example: “I feel like I’m not a priority to you” rather than: “You don’t prioritize me.” It’s also important to watch your tone and body language, since they make up 93% of what you’re trying to communicate. Think relaxed posture, keeping your voice fairly even, and going down at the end of your sentences.
3. Give space for their reaction and thoughts
You want your friend to be part of the conversation so that they feel like they’re co-creating your relationship alongside you. It’s also an opportunity for you to hear any important explanation or perspective you might not be aware of. The tone of the conversation should be less: “This is how you suck as a friend,” and more: “Let’s talk about how we can be better friends to each other.” In this way, you’re showing them that it’s not “you vs. me”; it’s actually “us vs. the problem.”
To do this effectively, ask curious questions, like: “How are you feeling about what I’m saying? Does it make sense to you, or is it surprising?”, “What has your experience been of our relationship?” “Is there anything I can do to be a better friend to you?” Be prepared to potentially hear something that stings. If you’re dishing it out, it’s only fair for you to take it, too.
4. Have asks to change the situation
Having concrete, measurable suggestions will help your friend know your needs and be more likely to meet them. It’s much easier to know what to do with: “I’d love for us to plan and prioritize catching up on the phone once a week” than “I wish we talked on the phone more.” This also allows your friend to be honest about whether they can meet your asks, and if not, it allows you both to problem-solve these things together.
5. Normalize regular check-ins
It doesn’t have to be that often or that serious every time. But normalizing check-ins about your friendship will keep your relationship a healthy place of fun, safety, and growth, even if it temporarily goes off course.
Conversations like this are rarely easy, but they’re very much worth it. Not only because they help relationships grow and change for the better, but also because how your friend reacts to them is information on the quality of your friendship. Do they listen and make efforts to change? Or do they get defensive, blame, or say they care but make no effort to do anything differently? You only have so much emotional capacity to go around – having conversations like this are essential for you to know where to invest your energies.