The pandemic gave us an opportunity to press pause, take a step back and gain greater clarity on all aspects of our lives. As we re-enter the world, many of us are contemplating which friendships are feeding us and which ones are draining us.
“Through social distancing, people were able to evaluate friendships—really relationships overall—to determine what they actually bring to the table as well as what they take away from the table,” says Dr. Markesha Miller, licensed psychotherapist. “When we are within our normal routines, we provide the environment for relationships to function. Sometimes, this means perpetuating unhealthy relationships.”
For instance, if you are the type of friend who always reaches out, makes plans, and offers emotional comfort and support; the pandemic interrupted the normalcy of that routine.
“Since there were no social gatherings and you may have been carrying your own emotional weight therefore unable to sustain the typical characteristics of the relationship,” Dr. Miller explains. “The pandemic may have given you the opportunity to realize that the relationship takes more from you than it provides.”
How to have a difficult conversation with a friend
Speak your truth with kindness and compassion
“In general, there is nothing to be gained by being hurtful if you don’t need to be, but it is fair to say, ‘we have grown in different directions and I feel like this friendship isn’t healthy, fruitful, or happy-making for each of us, so I am going to take some distance,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and host of the How Can I Help? podcast.
On the other hand, often you don't need to have a direct confrontation at all—which may come as a relief.
“Instead, simply create some distance and let a friendship fade. If fading doesn’t work because the other person directly asks what is going on (they may not because they may be happy to let it fade too) then honestly mixed with kindness is the better route,” Dr. Saltz adds.
It's important to have a clear mindset of the message that you want to deliver. “Make sure that you are fully aware of your thoughts and feelings in order to express them appropriately,” says Dr. Miller.
Timing and location are everything. “Identify the right time to have the conversation as well as the proper place. A busy sports bar while having cocktails may not be the best time and location,” Dr. Miller states.
Stay on topic so the main point is conveyed
In other words, don’t create a laundry list of issues. “We are taught in school to identify the ‘main idea.’ Well, that's important when having tough conversations, too: What is the main idea of what you're saying, and how do you support it?” Dr. Miller explains.
Remember that language is important
Use "I" statements. “This allows you to own your feelings and removes room for your friend to feel attacked or blamed,” Dr. Miller explains. “This approach may help in allowing the conversation to run smoother.”
For example, you can say, "I feel that there are things I need from you in our friendship that are not present. During the pandemic, it seemed as if we were out of touch, so I felt that I have taken on a huge part in keeping our friendship active. I would like for it to be more balanced.”
Prioritize your own wellbeing over people-pleasing or avoiding conflict with others
Oftentimes, people are so focused on the other person’s feelings that they neglect their own. “You owe it to yourself by having this conversation. Being loyal to yourself is self-love and our relationship with ourselves sets the example for all of our relationships,” Joyce Marter, licensed psychotherapist and author of The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life, explains.
Remember that you have control over your boundaries
This includes the amount of time, information, or frequency of contact, communication, behaviors and responses, Marter states. You cannot control the other person or their responses.
Do your part by speaking honestly, assertively, and diplomatically to express your feelings and set healthy boundaries
It is then up to them to change or not. You get to decide if you want them in your life. “If you find yourself repeatedly expressing the same needs and setting the same limits over and over again to no avail, seriously consider relationship counseling or ending the relationship altogether,” Marter explains.
How to make new friends
If you feel like you're coming out of the pandemic wanting to make new friends, that's great—this is an awesome opportunity for that. Here's how to get started.
Don’t be afraid to be straightforward in your approach. “Invite someone you like to do something and make it clear you’d like to become a friend,” Dr. Saltz explains. “When you are honest and authentic in who you are, that is always the best basis for friendship. Allowing yourself to be both vulnerable and supportive are also very important in developing a friendship.”
Be clear on what you are looking for
Dr. Miller recommends asking yourself: What do you want in a friendship? Clearly communicate your expectations of a friendship.
Spend time with like-minded people with similar interests
Allow yourself to be social in environments that are of interest to you (i.e., professional groups, gym groups, particular hobby groups, etc.) Dr. Miller says.
“Sometimes we state that we want friends and we want to be involved, but yet we find ourselves more inclined to be in our own bubble,” Dr. Miller explains. “If you want to make friends, you have to let that be known.
Commit to being social at least one night a week
Whether your goal is to meet new people or strengthen existing relationships, Marter recommends being proactive and set this goal for yourself. Consider using sites such as meetup.com to find events in your area.
Commit to a weekly club, class, or meeting of some kind
This can include trivia or game nights, book clubs, or intramural sports. “Challenge yourself to chat with at least one or two new people each week,” Marter states.
If you are limited to virtual connections, Marter suggests online support groups, watch parties, social gaming or connecting with friends and making new ones on social media apps for fitness such as Peloton, or business apps like LinkedIn.
Join different groups, make posts and find like-minded people!
Plant the seed for some follow-up interaction
Suggest exchanging information and connecting in the future.
“I know this can feel vulnerable and be anxiety provoking, but it’s worth temporary discomfort or even some rejection to hopefully find some relationships that provide lasting support,” Marter explains.
By following the tips above, you’ll naturally develop more meaningful connections and surround yourself with people who lift you up and bring out the best in you.
How are you feeling about your relationships right now? Share your thoughts in the comments below! And while you're at it, make sure to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today.