How many people do you have in your life right now who you’d class as a close friend? I don’t mean acquaintances or online contacts you might have but real-life, long-time friends.
Most of us can count our current friends on the fingers of one or two hands, but we’ve likely had many more over the course of our lifetime. Throughout our lives, friends come and go. Many of those friendships we thought of as precious at one time are now just distant memories of good times spent together.
Some bonds with people last for years, through many ups and downs, while others disappear. But what causes a good friendship to end and how can you stop it from happening?
Why Friendships Fade Away
Of course, there are negative reasons for friendships coming to an abrupt end – such as arguments, jealously, ill-feeling, and the like. However, even when nothing ‘poisonous’ causes the end of a friendship, sometimes perfectly healthy ones just dissolve.
Friendships are an investment. The same with anything of value, they take time, effort and attention so that they can form and develop into something special. Unless we work at our relationships with other people, they’ll soon suffer.
There are several reasons why a previously solid friendship can break down:
You simply grow apart
As our lives change, so too do our likes and dislikes. What might have attracted us to someone a few years ago, we now find less appealing. It’s unrealistic for two people to always keep the same things in common, but there has to be a broad enough overlap to give mutual ground to share. Otherwise, you lose the ties that once connected you both.
You take your friend for granted
When we’ve known someone for a while, we become used to having them around. This familiarity can lead us to taking that person for granted. We begin to expect them to be there for us whenever we need their support. We forget to appreciate the considerable benefits gained from being good friends with them, and get careless with how we treat them.
Your friendship becomes one-sided
Like any relationship, a strong friendship requires give and take on each side. During our lives, certain circumstances or crises lead to us relying on a friend more than they do on us. This usually evens out between you both over the long run. The scale between what you put in and what you receive has to be finely balanced over time, or the other party can feel ignored or – worse – used.
In the past, I’ve had a few friends who always seemed to want me to do something for them or who kept asking favors. Yet, when I needed them, they’d be too busy or not able to help. After a while, I stopped seeking them out and let the friendship fizzle away. I’m sure you’ve known this type of person too.
Instead of discussing the issue or even ending the friendship in a conclusive way, you decide to just let it slip away with no fuss.
A Good Friendship is Worth the Effort
It’s a shame when a friendship dies due to neglect, especially when it could’ve been rescued with a little work and tender loving care.
The first step to rescuing a friendship is to ask yourself whether you believe that it is worth saving. If you feel it is, there are a few approaches you can try to get your old friendship back on track:
1. Work out what you need from a friend
What exactly are you looking for in a friendship at this moment? Is it no-nonsense advice, motivating humor, a constructive opinion- or all of these and more?
Once you’ve decided the qualities you expect from a friend, you can discuss these. Unless you ask your friend for their support in a specific way, they won’t know for sure how they can be of most help to you. Be realistic about the ability of the other person to give you what you need and don’t set unrealistic standards for your friend to meet: after all, they’re trying to be the best friend they can.
2. Assess what you can offer them
It’s a two way street, so your friend needs certain things from you in return. What are you able to give them back? When you’ve identified those qualities you bring to the friendship, begin to really focus on displaying them and putting them into practice.
3. Talk about the ‘good old days’
It’s helpful to reminisce about the past and recall the high points – and low moments – you’ve gone through together as friends. This isn’t only about focussing on yesterday, but it is also an excellent way to acknowledge the impact you’ve had on each others’ lives. You’ll be reminded of those qualities that were critical to your relationship in the first place, and so begin to appreciate them once again.
4. Constantly re-learn who your friend is right now
Perhaps, you’ve lost touch with what makes the other person tick. It’s difficult to share in someone’s life when you know little of who they are right now. Spend a little time re-connecting with your friend’s hopes, dreams, likes and dislikes. By continually becoming more in tune with who they are, you’re better able to make your bond of friendship relevant for today.
5. Discover new activities to do together
Often, friendships grow stale because we keep on doing the same things over and over again with each other. It’s healthy to introduce different dynamics into your relationship that stretch and encourage it to evolve. Try finding a new hobby or interest you can both take part in or, even better, participate in a venture where you have to rely strongly on each other. This has incredible potential to build back up the trust and respect between each other you might have lost.
6. Integrate them into new friendships
When we form new friendships there’s a danger that we push older, more established ones to the side. Downgrading or replacing an existing friendship for a more recent one can lead to resentment and hurt. Very few friendships can survive these negative feelings.
One option is to involve your ‘old’ friend with the ‘new’ one and vice versa. It calls on diplomatic skills to do this successfully and it can backfire if the two don’t get on but, if successful, it can prevent both parties from feeling left out. The other advantage to this is that everyone increases their circle of friends.
7. Treat your friend as an equal
Remember that you’re both joint partners in this relationship and, as such, each of you has to believe that there are mutual benefits to be gained from being friends. You’re there for each other, right? Occasionally, your friend might have to give you more of themselves to support the friendship, particularly if you’re going through a difficult patch. But don’t become selfish and give little or nothing back when the tables are turned and your friend calls on you.
8. Respect differences/ celebrate similarities
It would soon get quite boring if we only surrounded ourselves with friends who were the same as us. Obviously, it’s good to have some things in common- such as aspects of your personality, interests, views or opinions, etc – but it’s in the differences that friends have where we can challenge each other. Don’t judge someone on what’s different about them, instead view their individuality as an area for you to explore and understand.
9. Be thankful
The last but, certainly, one of the most effective ways you can strengthen a shaky friendship is to show your appreciation to your friend for what they mean to you. Recognise what you value about them and let it be known. By doing this, you give new life to the relationship because your friend gets to understand that their role makes a difference and is worthwhile to you. Try out the Golden Girls’ line: ‘Thank you for being a friend’.
The longer a friendship lasts, the stronger it should become. But there’s also the possibility that cracks can appear if you don’t work at renewing the connection you share. Perhaps your friend would appreciate reading this article too!
What do you value most about your friends? How do you breathe new life into your old friendships?