Confronting Conflict with Friends

It can be difficult for some of us to get up the courage to confront a relationship issue, so it is important for these individuals to remember that friendships are relationships of choice – unlike family relationships that are relationships by blood or law. For most of us, this implies an expectation of some level of reciprocity in the relationship and when you feel like you are being consistently shortchanged, remind yourself that it’s okay to share your feelings with your friend.

When you decide that it is time to address the friendship, some basic rules of communication and conflict mediation should be in place:

  • Let your friend know that you would like to have a discussion about the relationship. No one likes having this kind of conversation “sprung on them,” so give your friend some advance notice.
  • Choose a time and place that is agreeable for both of you and be sure to choose as neutral a place as you can. You might feel awkward sitting on her couch and drinking her wine when you are trying to address feelings that she isn’t as invested in the relationship as you feel you are, for instance.
  • If you choose a more public place, like a park or restaurant or coffee shop, it’s also likely to keep the conversation more genial and less likely to result in strong emotional responses – whether it would be raised voices or tearful outbursts.
  • Use “I statements,” ALWAYS use “I statements.” It’s important that you focus on how YOU are feeling or what YOU are thinking in response to her behavior.
    • And an important reminder – Throughout the course of a friendship, ALWAYS own your feelings! If it’s not okay that she always cancels out on plans after you’ve already picked up the babysitter, don’t spend months seething inside while telling her, “It’s okay, I understand. Maybe next time will work.” If you save up all your frustration over time, it’s likely to get the best of you once you finally get the courage to share your feelings!
  • Listen to what your friend has to say once you’ve opened up your own concerns. She may not have realized the effect she was having on the relationship.
  • Work towards a compromise. Unfortunately, some people believe that a compromise means a “Lose/Lose Situation” because each person has to concede something. While this is true, every healthy relationship usually involves compromise and adjusting to others’ needs or wants. Friendships are no different – for a relationship to thrive, it really takes two to make it work. Be willing to “give a little” in order to allow your friend to “get a little.”
  • If your friend is not buying into your perspective, you may want to take a step back and see if your own assessment is as objective as it should be. If you reach a stalemate, you will need to decide if the friendship’s value is high enough to accept the relationship’s limitations.
  • Remember, too, that there are always going to be multiple realities at play – what you see and believe is your reality, but the same is true for your friend.

If the “real issue” is a problem behavior – she drinks too much, parties too hard, is always needing to borrow money, or some other challenging behavioral issue – and she has no interest in changing, you need to recognize that your wishes won’t make changes happen. You can change no one but yourself. Not everyone wants to be what others want them to be and you may have to decide when it’s time to draw the line and walk away..

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