Restoring Damaged Friendships
- Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Now that Barbara and her family belong to the same church as my family and me, we see other regularly. We’ve done more than just make up for lost time; we’ve forged a stronger friendship because we’ve learned how to communicate better. The same principles that helped us can also help you in your own friendships:
Be honest with yourself and with your friend. "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another" (1 John 1:7a). If something’s bothering you, don’t deny it. Be willing to face and talk about it instead of just ignoring it. Problems won’t just go away; they must be solved. For a long time, both Barbara and I let fear keep us from admitting we had a problem in our friendship. Then, when I finally raised the issue, neither of us knew how to discuss it openly, so we just avoided each other instead.
Deal with problems sooner rather than later. The longer you leave a problem unresolved, the more likely it is to get worse. Tackle problems as they arise. Barbara and I could have saved ourselves several years of estrangement if we’d just been willing to work on our problems in a timely manner.
Set realistic expectations. Don’t just assume that either you or your friend can do something. Think about whether or not it’s reasonable before committing to it. It’s better not to promise something than to make a promise and not keep it. So ask yourself and your friend questions to determine what you should expect of each other in various situations. Barbara told me she felt like I’d expected her to get together more often than she could during that stressful season of her life, so she made appointments she’d hoped to keep, but often couldn’t. If I would have adjusted my expectations of how often we would get together, and if she would have adjusted her expectations to reflect her time constraints, we would both have avoided unnecessary disappointment.
Set healthy boundaries. It’s okay to let your friend know that she’s offended you in some way (and she should be free to tell you the same). Respecting each other is an important part of every relationship. Sacrificing the boundaries you need will only lead to resentment that will eventually erode your friendship. When I kept agreeing to meet Barbara without first mentioning how hurt I was by her lateness or failure to show up to a previous appointment, I was inviting her to keep treating me the same way. But when I finally spoke up, Barbara realized the full impact of her behavior. She later thanked me for pointing out the problem, saying that my insistence on protecting my schedule motivated her to work on her time management skills and led to a healthier life for her.
Forgive. "Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col 3: 13). As imperfect people living in a fallen world, you and your friend are each bound to make mistakes. Be willing to forgive each other every time that happens. Refusing to forgive will poison your soul with bitterness, blocking your ability to be close not just to your friend, but also to God. Choosing to forgive will give you freedom. Don’t wait until you feel like forgiving your friend (or yourself), because you likely never will. Instead, trust God to help you do it, and expect that your feelings will follow your actions. After I chose to forgive Barbara even when I didn’t feel like it, my affection for her increased. And after I chose to forgive myself for letting go of our friendship, the guilt I’d felt before simply disappeared.
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