When one friend hurts another, it can be hard to have an honest conversation about it. But some friendships are even less touchy-feely or emotional than “normal” — there are friends who don’t hug, for example, and that’s ok — making it especially hard to talk about feelings. Even if your friendship isn’t based on deep, feelings-focused conversations though, you can still tell a friend they hurt you and preserve the friendship.
Practice your “I” statements
You likely learned this in elementary school and it probably seemed kind of silly at the time, but “I” messages are a great way to convey your feelings simply while centering your experiences.
Here’s what it looks like: “I feel __________ when __________ because __________.”
For example, if a friend of yours continually cancels your plans to go hang out with someone else and you want to explain that you’re hurt by it, you can fall back on the old “I” statement to make your point. Say, “I feel unimportant when you cancel our plans last-minute because it makes me feel like our friendship isn’t a priority.”
That’s really all there is to it. You lay out how you feel and why you feel that way. Your friend will then have the opportunity to think about what you said. Maybe your friendship isn’t a priority to them and they will realise they need to make it one — or end the relationship if they’re not enjoying it anymore or aren’t committed to making it work for both of you. If your friendship is a priority to them — and, of course, your feelings are, too — they’ll need to reevaluate how they show you that it matters.
Focus on next steps
One variation of the “I” statement, from GoodTherapy.org, includes a fourth fill-in-the-blank prompt: “What I need is __________.”
Telling someone they hurt you is a big step, but an equally big one is making clear what can be done in the future to move past what happened. Let’s stick with our existing example scenario. Once you tell your friend you feel neglected when they cancel plans on you in favour of plans with other people, say, “What I need is consistency and a commitment to our plans.”
You can add, “I’d appreciate it if you kept our plans intact going forward or gave me more notice when you need to cancel them. I take time out of my day for them, too, and when you bail on me, I end up wasting the time I set aside.”
That being said…
Don’t be too aggressive with the blame
Yes, your friend hurt you, and while you should be firm and clear about that, you also want to remember that this is a relationship you’re trying to improve and maintain. Insulting them, being too aggressive with your blame, or approaching this without a willingness to have an open dialogue won’t work.
To avoid going into this with too much anger, give yourself time to cool off before having the conversation. Make sure you have organised your thoughts, done a little self-evaluation on your feelings, and feel comfortable with your position. Be open to hearing them out.
Oh, and don’t forget to check yourself. Be honest about if any of your actions (or inactions) might have contributed to the fight or whatever it was that hurt you. You can be hurt and have not been entirely in the right. Both are possible. Don’t shirk responsibility if you share some of it.
Don’t have the fight all over again
Even the best “I” statements can go awry. You might be open to a dialogue and working hard on keeping this conversation fair, but there’s no guarantee your friend is going to be receptive. If they get too defensive, insult you, or reject your honest explanation of your feelings, don’t give in to the urge to go round two in the existing fight.
Walk away from that. To prioritise your mental health and maintain the friendship — if you want to — you need to back down from a fight sometimes. Your responsibility was to share that you were hurt and what you need in the future. Once you do that, the other person’s response is on them, so don’t stress about it. You did what you were supposed to do, and you can feel good about expressing yourself honestly and fairly.