The pandemic tested us in many ways, and sadly one of the most difficult was keeping our distance from the people we care about. Despite our best efforts with video chats and planning virtual hang outs, many of us are emerging from the fog of the pandemic feeling less close to our friends.
When it comes to building and strengthening relationships, nothing can replace face-to-face interactions. As we reenter the world, the question on our minds is: What can we do to reconnect and repair our friendships?
To learn more, we spoke to top mental health experts. Here are their tips.
Start with an open discussion around the struggle of the pandemic and your honest experience. This will help you establish common ground and break the ice.
“Addressing the elephant in the room regarding the shift in a relationship can be scary, but it will likely be followed by relief,” says Erin Dierickx, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate. “Ways to initiate conversations might include something like ‘Things have been weird this past year, and I wanted to check in on our friendship. Do you feel like things have changed?’ or ‘Things have changed between us and I’d like to rekindle our relationship.’”
See where the other person is coming from
It’s important to understand the other person’s perspective and see where you can compromise. Dierickx recommends asking yourself the following questions:
- If she or he needs more in-person or phone dates or more texts, how many is she or he expecting or wanting?
- How much would you like and where can you meet in the middle?
- What kinds of things do you both like to do or would you prefer to do when you spend time together?
- How can you both prevent a breakdown in the future? And how can you respond to each other when and if conflict happens again?
Set up dates or hangouts with your that work for both of your schedules.
“Whether they're weekly, monthly, or something else, those consistent and reliable meet-ups can provide security for your friendship and prevent future breakdowns,” Dierickx explains.
What part did you play in losing touch with your friend? “As appropriate, apologize for mistakes you made or regrets you have regarding how the friendship was addressed (or not) during the pandemic,” Dierickx states. “Taking responsibility for your own actions often lends a hand to others doing the same, or at least making it a safer place to do so in the future.”
Ask for what you need
This isn’t always easy, but it’s a crucial component of any healthy relationship.
“This goes for any relationship, but being able to communicate what you need from the friendship can set you both up for success. It helps your friend know what you find helpful and supportive, further strengthening your relationship and preventing conflict,” Dierickx explains.
Figure out what you are most comfortable with doing first and start with that.
“You can build up from there and take your time,” says Dr. Nicole Lacherza-Drew,, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist in New Jersey and owner of Vici Psychological Care, LLC. “If you are not comfortable yet seeing people in person, try to increase your phone or video calls with them. If you are only comfortable seeing people in small groups, those that are vaccinated, those wearing masks, etc. start there. Once your comfort level increases, you can change it up.”
This seems obvious, but communicating openly and honestly is the only way to connect with someone in a meaningful way.
“Let your friends or loved ones know where you are coming from. Don’t just assume that they will know what you are feeling,” Dr. Lacherza Drew states. “Talk to them about what might be barriers for you making the phone or video call or the upcoming event. If possible, suggest an alternative.”
Boundaries are something many people struggle with. Setting and maintaining boundaries is on you.
“Once you set the boundary with a loved one, it’s your job to reinforce it when it is pushed,” says Dr. Lacherza-Drew. “If you couldn’t devote the time for phone or video calls during the pandemic, that’s okay. Now that restrictions are lifting, set boundaries on what works for you and stick to them. If your friends know what to expect from you, it might decrease conflict.”
Go back to the familiar
What fun activities did you two used to do together? Think about what you both enjoy and what bonds you as friends.
“If you are comfortable with going out places, suggest to your friend that you grew apart from that you go back to your old stomping grounds. Literally, start over and see if you can make it work,” Dr. Lacherza-Drew explains.
Try not to avoid
Avoidance only makes the situation worse. “Have an honest, open, and civil conversation with the friend or loved one you grew apart from during the pandemic and catch up,” says Dr. Lacherza-Drew. The more you avoid it and the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to come back from it.”
When it comes to reconnecting, remember that chances are your friends feel the same way as you—and we all deserve a pass after such a hard year. So, don’t hesitate to take a leap of faith and initiate contact. They will probably be excited to hear from you.
Are you going back to an office soon? If so, how are you feeling about it? Share your thoughts in the comments below! And while you're at it, make sure to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today.