Asking for a Friend//

How to Be Compassionately Direct With a Friend Who Let You Down

A therapist suggests how to raise your disappointment without making things uncomfortable.

Soul-images/ Getty Images
Soul-images/ Getty Images

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: I’ve always hated drama. I’m never the one to address an uncomfortable situation, or to single anyone out for doing something wrong. I like keeping the peace, and I don’t like making a big deal out of things that could be avoided! However, recently, a friend offended me by not inviting me to a group dinner that the rest of my friends were invited to. A part of me wants to let it go, but I’m having trouble moving past it because it genuinely hurt me. How do I confront her without making a bigger deal than it needs to be?

A: This is such a great question because many people share your view on conflict.

Just for some context, a lot of this has to do with how you were raised and if your family brought up conflict and talked through issues, or tended to avoid them. The family I grew up was very conflict avoidant. I’ve been working on this for many years and I’ve gotten much better about bringing up my feelings and needs, because they matter — and so do yours!

I’ve been lucky to be able to learn so much from the Gottman Method that allows me to have a different view on conflict. It’s also helpful to process and talk through your hurt with the other person, because when we hold onto these resentments the issue stays in our active working memory. In psychology this is called the “Zeigarnik effect,” which means if negative events are not processed or “completed,” we remember and even rehearse them. In reality this is keeping them like a stone in our shoe. You can read more here.

In the Gottman Method we view conflict as inevitable. It’s just something that happens between people because we are all different, with differing needs and moods on any given day. In a romantic relationship or friendship it’s helpful to have the view that conflict is inevitable, but there are ways to manage it.

The first thing I would have you do is notice the discomfort that comes up when you think about confronting this friend. And maybe even think to yourself, “Yes, this is hard for me and yet I know it’s important for my friendship to address this with my friend.” Then when you go and talk to her, it is helpful to have the mindset, “How do I feel about this and what do I need?” This allows you to focus on your own viewpoint and your own feelings rather than pointing the finger at her.

A way to bring it up would be, “I value our friendship so I want to let you know that it hurt my feelings that I didn’t get invited to that dinner party. Can we talk about it?” That gives her a chance to let you know her viewpoint, since there may be a perfectly good reason why she wasn’t able to invite you. But until you bring it up you won’t know. Also focus on the point that you treasure her friendship, so you wanted to bring it up with her and give your friendship the chance to work through this difficulty. Rather than avoiding it and letting resentment fester because that negatively impacts your friendship.

If you keep your tone neutral, focus on the value of the friendship, and stick with your own feelings and needs, she will be much more likely to hear you and be receptive. In the end, you would want to be friends with someone who can see the importance of your feelings and be open to talking about tough issues between you. I hope this helps you feel more comfortable talking to her.

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