How To Handle Friendship Conflict + Grief
As you likely know (and now you do if you didn’t), I’m a relationship coach that coaches around ALL types of relationships, not just romantic ones.
I personally believe that our society has severely undervalued friendships and community, and placed an unhealthy emphasis on romantic partnerships being our sole source of joy and fulfillment.
Friendships are a very important relationship to cultivate and show reverence for in our lives.
I have recently gone through the ending of two of my closest, multiple decades long friendships within the last few months. These were friends who were bridesmaids in my wedding and I considered them to be family.
I know firsthand how much grief conflict amidst our friendships and friendships ending can cause.
So today I want to explore two elements of friendship: first, how to handle conflict within your friendships, and secondly, how to be with your grief process over a friendship ending.
Conflict In Friendships
The unique twist I often find with friendships is that because they don’t tend to hold as much relational “weight” in our society, it makes it a breeding ground for lots of assumptions, resentment, and lack of communication, which can then lead to relational fractures.
How often do you hear of friends having an open, honest conversation about their expectations and needs in their relationship?
Likely not a lot. (And it it’s up to me-we need to change this and normalize having difficult conversations in our friendships!)
Intimacy of any kind requires skillful handling of communication and conflict, no matter what type of relationship it is.
Tangible Tips For Handling Conflict In Your Friendships:
Have A Conversation
- Describe the situation (the facts, without any judgment thrown in)
- Express how you feel about the situation, using “I feel” statements. Avoid judging + blaming. Be mindful of your tone and body language.
- Ask for what you want
- Describe the benefits of getting what you want (for example, I think this will help us both feel more fulfilled in our friendship and have better communication)
- Be willing to be curious and open about their side and perspective. Assume good intentions. Be willing to compromise.
Are You Forcing It?
- If you’ve already had a conversation (or maybe perhaps several), ask yourself if you’re trying to force someone to meet your needs who either can’t or doesn’t want to?
- It’s so important to honor ourselves and be kind to ourselves by no longer expecting people to meet our needs who have demonstrated that they can’t or don’t want to. When we consistently try to force it, it puts ourselves in a position to be let down regularly and only experience more hurt and pain.
- When we are trying to force something that the other person has demonstrated with their actions they aren’t available for, this is a form of not accepting reality as it presently is.
Know When To Let It Go
- I think it’s important to feel that you’ve tried all that you can, and that “your side of the street is clean”, so to speak. Have a conversation (or a few), if you feel they’re needed. Make sure everyone involved is heard. Apologize and make repair, if necessary. And, at a certain point, if you feel you’ve done all you can and you have peace of that, it may be time to let it go, as hard as that is.
- I think it can be a powerful question to ask yourself: If I was respecting myself, and acting in alignment with my values, what would I do in this relationship? For me personally, I want know that I’ve done all that I can and that my side of the street is clean. Simultaneously, once I’ve done that, there comes a time when I’m not respecting myself if I continue to put myself in a situation where things feel one-sided, or where my needs continue to go unmet.
- It’s self-respecting for me to have clarifying conversations, to make repair, and be honest about my needs, and at a certain point, it’s also most self-respecting to let the friendship go. This requires so much nuance and is highly specific to both individuals as well as the circumstance.
- Get honest about what you want and what you need, and if this person is able to provide that
- What frequency of communication do you prefer?
- Do you want things to be kept light? Go deep? Both?
- How do you feel the most loved and appreciated in friendship?
- How often would you like to be able to see each other?
- What do you have to give to your relationship right now based on your life stage?
- What do they have to give right now?
Grief When a Friendship Ends
“Grief is the honour we pay to that which is dear to us. And it is only through the connection to what we cherish that we can know how to move forward. In this way, grief is motion.”-Toko-Pa Turner
The grief over a friendship ending is both real and deep. It can honestly feel similar to a death, and I honor that.
Allow Yourself To Grieve.
- We have “sanitized” grief in the Western world to be just shedding a few silent tears and moving on with our lives. I invite you to involve your body with the grieving process. Scream. Cry (loudly if needed). Punch pillows if necessary. Move your body along with your feelings with music that mimics what you’re feeling. Return to your nature and don’t stuff it or try to make it more palatable. (Have you ever seen tribal people grieve?)
- What would allow *you* to create and feel closure for this chapter of your life? A ritual or ceremony may be helpful for you.
- You can write a letter to the person expressing your heart, and either not send it, or burn it afterwards as a releasing ceremony.
- Visualize a cord between you and them being cut, while blessing them and wishing them well, and asking all parts of yourself to be returned back to you now.
- Light a candle, say a prayer, and set your intention to release this relationship, and open up space for a more aligned relationship(s) in its place.
What if this wasn’t anyone’s “fault”?
- What if there were just different desires, preferences, needs, life stages, and ways of relating at play?
- It’s so easy when something ends to need to assign blame. Blame is only necessary if there is fault. But what if there wasn’t any fault?
- Along with this, be careful how you’re talking to yourself when a friendship ends. It can be so easy to slip into judgment, blame, guilt, condemnation, and speak very unkindly to ourselves (which only further amplifies our pain!) Feel the pure pain of the emotion from the friendship ending, but don’t slip into the “dirty pain” of the judgment you are heaping on yourself.
What does this person exiting your life make space for now?
- Allow yourself to dream a little. What would feel like the most deliciously aligned, fully able to be yourself as you are right now kind of friendship? I fully believe that it’s only once there’s space in our lives can these desires be fulfilled.
Know that not all friendships grow with you in the ways that you may have expected. Grow anyway.
- “We outgrow relationships when we outgrow a version of ourselves” (Lacy Phillips). Know this is a normal and natural, albeit painful, part of the process. Not every relationship that we thought would be in our lives forever will withstand the different and evolving versions of ourselves, our values, our desires, and our life stages, and that’s OK.
- Allow yourself to feel and move through the grief process without judgment, shame, and guilt. You aren’t alone in your grief over the loss of a friendship, and it’s normal and natural to grieve it. You deserve friendship, connection, and community. This is a human need!
How can you honor who the person was to you and the role they had in your life, while also holding the tension of who they are *now*?
I know this is a tender topic, my friends. I hope that this has helped you on your journey, and please know that you’re not alone on it. Please feel free to comment and share your experiences with friendship conflict or grief below.
So much love,