Approaching the topic of what to do when friendships fail is a sensitive one for me. I am a huge fan of community. I love the satisfaction of finding a deep connection with a group of people who “get” you; you feel encouraged, challenged, you can share the good, the bad and the ugly and at the end of the night laugh until there are tears in your eyes. But… as passionate as my love is for connected relationships, the scars I bear from failed friendships are profound.
Throughout my adult years, I have had a handful of significant friendships unexpectedly drop off the map. In each scenario, the change in our friendship was a mysterious disappearance. Texts simply stopped coming in, phone calls remained unanswered, and when we did actually speak the conversations were surface level at best. Each time, I was confused, heartbroken and kept coming back to God with the same questions, “Why is this happening? Is it something I did? What am I supposed to do to restore our broken relationship?”
It’s a difficult place to navigate because a) how do you figure out what happened when the other person isn’t talking to you; and b) our culture doesn’t talk about what to do when friendships fail.
Through these struggles, I have learned 3 important steps to take when friendships fail. These steps have helped me work towards restoring friendships, but equally important, they have given me freedom when the outcome isn’t what I hoped for. My prayer is that they’ll do the same for you.
MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO KEEP THE UNITY
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
Every time that I have struggled with a broken friendship, I have found myself consistently drawn back to these verses; specifically to the call to make every effort to keep the unity. This feels so counter-cultural, and when we’re hurting, it’s probably one of the last things we want to do. But, what I’ve discovered is, if we have any hope for restoring our relationships, this must be the foundation of our actions. The calling to make every effort to keep the unity is the heart behind my 3 steps to take when friendships fail.
1. Bear with one another in love
The best way to describe this step is through the words of 1 Peter 4:8. It says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” When I read this verse, I picture love like a soft, fuzzy blanket covering over a bunch of nasty, rusty, dirty junk – each harsh word, each back stabbing moment, each unreturned phone call or text, is hidden by the blanket so that we cannot see it anymore. Yes, those painful actions are still there, but covering them with a blanket of love allows us to shift our focus.
Let’s be real honest here – feeling cut out by a friend is a confusing and hurtful experience, so suggesting you cover pain with love probably feels a little bit like asking you to take a punch in the face with zero retaliation. When I’m hurting, there’s a part of me that wants the person who hurt me to know just how much pain I’m in, and then I want them to experience it. Then, maybe then, we can make it right. Only problem, operating in this manner will not mend our broken relationship.
If there’s any hope of restoring a friendship, we have to bear with one another in love. When we can get to the place where our love speaks louder than our anger, then we can take the next step.
2. Speak the truth in love
One of our biggest issues with friendships failing is that we are afraid of confrontation. Maybe we are afraid of approaching the other person, afraid of making them mad, or afraid of being vulnerable and admitting we are hurt. If we want to make every effort to restore our friendships, we have to be willing to step into healthy confrontation - key word, healthy.
Ephesians 4:15, one of my all-time favorite Bible verses, says, “ Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ.” Notice how Paul doesn’t just say, “speak the truth…” he says “speak the truth IN LOVE”; this is the difference between healthy confrontation and straight up confrontation. As tempting as it is to speak truth freely when we’re angry (trust me, I know the struggle), this type of confrontation will not be successful. But, healthy confrontation - speaking to our friend, telling him/her how we are hurting, asking what’s going on from their perspective, and pointing out what has been hurtful FROM A PLACE OF LOVE – will be.
I said this in my post about when you don’t want to talk in marriage, and I can’t stress it enough… if we want our relationships to excel we have to be willing to speak the truth in love. What if our friend has no idea how we are feeling and a simple, tender, loving conversation is all it takes to put the relationship back in the awesome category?
If you want to step into confrontation but are not sure if you're ready, here are a few Dos & Don’ts that have prevented me from speaking out of anger.
3. Adjust expectations
Here’s the harsh truth – no one on this earth will ever fully meet our expectations. We might bear with one another, speak the truth in love and still feel like we’re the one who invests more in the relationship or places a higher value on friendship. (Honestly, this has been the outcome in much of my experience.) So what then? Do we give up? Do we move on?
I wish I had all the answers - struggling with the loss of friendships feels like the thorn in my side. But what I do know is, there comes a point where we have to adjust our expectations enough to recognize that the Lord is the ONLY one who will love us perfectly. Psalm 62:1-2 says, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” The Lord is 100% dependable. He knows every longing in our heart because He knit us together in our mother’s womb. He understands when we’re hurting before we do. He is fully invested in who we are. Our heavenly Father is the perfect example of 1 Peter 4:8 – His love covers all of our sins.
Adjusting our expectations, to understand that the Lord is the only one who can love us perfectly, helps us find satisfaction in Him. No matter what happens in our relationships, our longings will never go unmet.
Step one – Bear with one another in love.
Step two – Speak the truth (if and only if, it’s) IN LOVE.
Step three – Adjust expectations
Friends, please know that I am not claiming to be a pro at this. I wish I could say that every time I walk through these 3 steps the outcome is a mended relationship; unfortunately, I cannot claim that to be true. I am still working through situations with lost friendships, learning to understand that sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with me, and recognizing the truth that not all friendships are meant to be "lifers."
I realize that these steps don't work in every scenario, that sometimes life changes and friendships simply transition with space or time. But, in the situations where something needs to be said, I truly believe that these steps are worth it - and here's why... Even if the outcome isn't what you hoped for, with the completion of these steps comes the affirmation and confidence that you made every effort to keep the unity, and you can lean into the Lord and let go with peace.
My hope is that by following these 3 steps to take when friendships fail you will walk away feeling affirmed that you have done everything you possibly can to restore the friendship and that you'd be 100% confident in this:
You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
You are not too much.
You are not too little.
You do not deserve to be neglected.
You deserve to be loved in the most perfect, beautiful way – AND YOU ARE.
You are wholly and perfectly loved by the God who created you.
You are known.
You are enough.
If this post struck a cord with you, please send me a message.
I’m here for you as we navigate this struggle together – and would love to encourage you in any way that I can.
photo by Roost Photography
This post is a part of my series, Things we don't talk about.
To check out the rest of the series, click the links below.