“I feel sick in my stomach, I can feel it clenching and acidic. There’s a shortening of my breath, and a jerkiness to my hands. I’m simultaneously tired, and wired.” Amber is here to see me to talk about a friendship ending and the prospect of dealing with this situation has switched her body into fight or flight mode.
A friendship she has treasured and deeply invested in, is ending, and it’s the right call, but it comes with all of the guilt and anger, sadness and doubt. Amber admits she would have avoided ‘having the talk’ not too long ago. So, facing into this situation in a constructive way, is something Amber is feeling as stress in her body and a weight on her mind.
The conflict began when two friends overstepped their boundaries. Before one person told the other information which should perhaps of been shared only with a therapist or a partner, the other had a lot on their plate, but wanted to help. “I’m good with boundaries” she said, “I’ll know when to stop”. The trouble was, deeply personal information was shared, which made one very vulnerable with the other, and the other resentful that they knew. This is the trouble with the slippery slope of boundaries that we all face. Usually we realise we have gone too far, or in Amber's case know too much, after the fact.
Hence it being called a slippery slope.
Amber and I have worked through criteria we identified together, to help her be sure to know that this relationship needs to end. There is a rift. This rift has resulted in both friends behaving in ways that are below the baseline of minimum standards. The friendship is now not something that Amber would like to repair.
Here is a basic summary of how Amber and I identified what path she would like to take with this relationship:
1. Assess the situation – are the problems that exist below the minimum standards of a good friend? Has it been this way for a long time? Are you able and willing to invest the time and effort required to reinstate this relationship, do you even want to? If your answer is to end the relationship, you need to;
2. Identify the risks of ending the friendship. Will you cross paths very often, do you need to put in place some measures to protect yourself? Would it be better to retreat rather than end the friendship. Will a bit of time and space do wonders. If not, you need to;
3. Think about how to end it….and then do it gracefully – In the past, Amber has avoided having the face to face conversation and ended up breaking up with a friend via email. That didn’t work so well for either of them. Amber still regrets the way she dealt with that person and this experience has been a catalyst for her and I working together on this relationship.
4. Evaluation – The most crucial component is to consider the role that Amber played in the relationship’s demise. To honour the time and love that existed within that friendship, take one last (constructive) learning from it. Something you can do better or differently next time. I asked Amber about what this was for her, and she replied that it was not knowing more about someone than she was comfortable in knowing. Together we realised she has now honed in her skill on understanding her personal boundaries and what works and doesn’t work so well for her.
Amber has since had the conversation with her friend. Her friendship is now over, and Amber is both relieved and sad. We acknowledged that she needed to use kind and positive self-talk as a way to support herself through this time. “Yes, the relationship ended, but I learnt this and this”. I also reminded her to acknowledge the complexity of the feelings she was feeling. ”It ended and I am sad, even though I am also relieved”. Sometimes a simple acknowledgment of your feelings as well as shifting your thoughts into feeling grateful for what you learnt or shared together, can make the difference in moving on or getting stuck.
How do have you handled a friendship ending?