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2 Ways to Recognize and Resolve Friendship Tension

roommates women friends fighting serious conversation

Recently, I had the honor of chatting with Heather Oncken on her podcast, Connecting in the Chaos, where we discussed all things friendship—most notably authenticity. Extending grace and experiencing personal growth collide when we step into true friendships. They force us to steady our ground, our faith, our understanding of the good and bad in order to hold up another in her worst moments, and in return, we find this guttural, yet beautiful humility when we show up at a confidant’s doorstep with mascara-smeared faces, hunched shoulders, and a quiet, choked “I need help.”

Amidst the give and take of friendship’s reality, there’s much room for, well, reality (including its worst parts). Miscommunication, a lack of communication, even well-intended communication can snip a thin thread of trust and understanding, and as someone who’s unintentionally provided the scissors, I’m here to say I didn’t recognize the tension building. Unfortunately, the ties with my dear friend remained severed, never to mend and weave into companionship again. I’m believing my friendship gone wrong offers some lessons for others, and perhaps, this crash-and-burn ending is the hope for your friendship on the rocks, a healing balm that protects what’s on the brink, so take note of these two ways to recognize and resolve friendship tension before it’s too late:

1. Notice when things get quiet—and fill those empty spaces with encouragement.

It’s 2021—we all know how unhealthy this fast-paced, technology driven culture is. With that, it’s no secret to the masses that we are captive to the ping of the phone, the schedule from work, the hustle of the kids. What room does friendship have to wedge between those tight, panicked spaces? I could tell you to slow down, to stop and smell the roses, to notice the friends around you, but you already know that. Instead, I’ll remind you to not only stop and look around at the beauty and the people in your life, but to pause long enough to notice the slightest hint of things gone wrong. In relationships, these hints are often dangerously subtle, and in my wrecked friendship, it started when Waffle House dates stopped.

My red-headed bestie and I went to Waffle House together once a week all throughout college, without fail. Whether or not we were going wasn’t even a question. But slowly, Waffle House no longer fit the regular schedule. Work here, dealing with newlywed hassles there, life picked up for my friend and I assumed she was juggling lots of news. But she was juggling more than news—she was tirelessly balancing confusion, frustration, and hurt, and after months of faded communication, our next Waffle House date was an awkward, heartbreaking mess as she spilled all the bad and ugly going on in her life.

My assumption that life was simply busy left no room for me to show up in the worst parts of her life. My willing ignorance barricaded any chance for me to show up at her apartment with an extra PlayStation remote or a new eyeshadow pallet. Please, slow down and notice when things get quiet in your friend’s world, and instead of making assumptions that life is just life, fill her empty spaces with encouragement, with love, with the sort of friendship that not only shows up when it’s hard, but sits through the season until it passes.

2. Honor her grief with understanding, then trust.

After that last Waffle House date, things never returned to normal. Conversations grew strained, strange, and instead of simply asking, “Are you okay?”, I asked one of our close mutual friends how she was doing, explaining that I was afraid she wasn’t taking care of herself. Word got back to my friend, and she was angry. Angry that I not only spoke to someone else about her hard season, but more angry that I didn’t come to her. Honestly, despite the tension I’d felt for months, that was on me. Her anger remains justified in my book.

It was easier to avoid talking with her because it dodged any need for me to embrace more awkward, ugly conversations. Asking someone else how she was doing kept me at an arm’s distance from her trouble. Selfish? Yes. Did I pay the price? Absolutely. Will I regret this decision? Always. We spoke two times following this incident, and then, as if we’d never known each other, ties cut. The relationship died a quick death. And to this day, four years later, I miss her. I think we both understand what happened—she shut me out, but I never knocked and asked to be let back in.

We were both in our early twenties, wondering why life wasn’t as glittery as we thought it’d be, and instead of leaning on each other, we turned to the comfort zone of quiet. One didn’t want to speak up about her need, the other was “too busy” to be bothered by it. If I could look you in the eyes, I’d say with the deepest regret in my own life, please honor your friend’s grief, even if they project tension, even anger, and instead of letting that push you away, keep showing up with so much love and empathy that you have their trust forever. It’s worth it—I promise.

Truth be told, you’re not Superwoman. You won’t always be able to save every friendship that hangs in the balance. Some broken people don’t want to be fixed, and it’s never your place to heal a soul. Yet, I’m certain if you step into their hardest parts of life with grace, understanding, and trust, even when things go wrong, your soul will be well. Your heart will heal. Grace will win.

I’m not sure my friend and I will ever reconnect. Subtle space continues to grow, creating a divide I’m not sure humans can cross, let alone navigate for each other. But in the meanwhile, I’ve taken my own advice, honored the space that others are in, and welcomed a steady, sure, trustworthy friendship, and in return, I’ve found a core group of women who know my soul and all its worst parts and love me nonetheless.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio

Peyton Garland is an author and coffee shop hopper who loves connecting people to a grace much bigger than expected. Her debut book, Not So by Myself, was promoted by Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and Endorsed by TED Talk speaker and creator of the More Love Letters Movement, Hannah Brencher. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Josh, and their two gremlin dogs, Alfie and Daisy.


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