Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationships—with romantic partners, family members, coworkers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]!
Q: How do you move forward after a friendship has broken down? Especially if the friendship broke down due to a mistake you made, and you no longer have any control over the outcome? —P.K.
A: Friendships are hard to navigate and you’re definitely not alone — what you’re feeling is very normal. We have all had friendships end and it’s tough since we are social creatures who crave connection. I’m guessing from the way you worded your question that the friendship is over. However, if there is any way to reach out to this friend with an apology for the mistake you made, there’s always the chance that person could forgive you and rekindle the friendship.
We’re all human and we all make mistakes, and sometimes an apology can make all the difference in mending a broken relationship. Be genuine and vulnerable with a true apology in which you take responsibility and accountability for your actions. The key is to not only make the apology, but also change your behavior so that you are not continuing to do the thing that got you in trouble in the first place. This will be a sign to your friend that you are a safe person they can trust.
Safe people can admit their mistakes, they have empathy and act on that empathy, and they follow through on their commitments. Be sure you are acting in a safe manner and that you are creating friendships with safe people in the future.
If indeed this friendship you mention is truly beyond repair, then moving on to create solid friendships in the future will be the key for you. When thinking about the Gottman Method, it’s so helpful to know the principles apply to not only romantic relationships, but friendships as well.
Are you paying attention to your friends’ Love Maps? This means that you understand and know their internal world, that you are asking about their interests, hopes and dreams, wishes and fears. And that you are paying attention and remembering the answers.
Are you expressing fondness and admiration to them? How do they add to your life and have a positive influence on you? Be sure to share these things with them.
Are you turning towards them? This refers to a Gottman term called “bids” for connection which means paying attention and accepting to their attempts to interact rather than rejecting them, and being sure to send your own bids by inviting connection and interaction.
An effective way to turn towards a friend is to be supportive and empathic when they have a tough moment, or even if they are wanting to share something exciting with you. The importance of truly listening to the people in our lives cannot be overstated. When a friend is sharing their pain or their joy with us, it is an opportunity to connect and help them feel seen and heard.
Empathy and validation are at the heart of being a great listener. These things do not mean placating, agreeing, or determining if something is true from your perspective. The pointers and guidelines below will help you become a better friend, and perhaps even great listener!
Show genuine interest
Make eye contact. Ask questions to deepen understanding. Some of these questions might be: What’s the worst thing that could happen here? What’s the hardest part about this for you? How do you feel about this? Is there any way I can support you in this?
Don’t give unsolicited advice
This is not the time to try and solve their problem or to give advice (unless they request it). Use this time to try and fully understand and empathize with their dilemma.
For example, you could say, “How frustrating! I would be stressed out, too,” or, “I can see why you feel that way.”
Just know that you deserve true friendships and you can decide to improve your own friendship aptitude at any time. Learn from your past mistakes, be kind to yourself, and do what you can to create positive connections moving forward.
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