Here’s how experts say to reach out after a friendship sours
Let’s be honest: Being under quarantine in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has provided us with a ton of time to reflect, especially when it comes to our broken friendships. As a result, the desire for meaningful human connection has never been so strong, so some of us are re-shifting our priorities and perspectives on former friendships that may have gone awry.
“When the hustle and bustle of the world comes to a standstill over something that affects everyone around the world, you have time to think about the things that matter—such as love, family, and friendships,” Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking, tells HelloGiggles. “It’s always a good thing to be reminded of what really matters and what’s important in life.”
So if the coronavirus has you pondering whether or not to approach a former friend to make amends, here are some things to consider.
What to consider before reaching out
“The first thing to consider before reopening the relationship is to ask yourself, ‘Was this a healthy relationship?’” Christy Pennison—board-certified counselor, mental health consultant, and owner of Be Inspired Counseling & Consulting—tells HelloGiggles. “Before re-entering into a friendship, you must examine the reasons why it fell apart in the first place. Were boundaries being violated? Did they do something you didn’t like? Did you feel it was a give-and-take relationship or just one person giving with the other taking?”
Pennison advises getting clear on what went wrong as well acknowledging what you appreciated about the relationship. “Gaining clarity on the relationship will help you with the decision to move forward or not.”
How to make the approach
Making the first move to connect with an old friend—especially if you were the one who ended the friendship—is never easy. So how do you make the situation less awkward?
Trombetti suggests keeping it simple. “It’s never a bad thing to reach out and say, ‘Hope you’re well and life finds you well’ or even a phone call to say, ‘I am thinking of you and your family and hope you are well,’” she says. “Even if you were the one who ended things, reconnecting can provide closure and respect to someone who once occupied a time in your life.” Social media reach-outs are also fine, including a simple “Hi!” on Facebook.
If you want to reach out to someone who you still consider toxic but nevertheless want to spread warmth and kindness toward, Trombetti advises that you should consider if “this is just a message that says, ‘Just thinking of you’ or something you will jump back into that you might regret later. Be aware of why you ended it, and then you will know if you can go back if the circumstances changed.”
How you end up making contact also depends on the nature of your past relationship, adds Lauren Paul, cofounder of the Kind Campaign.
“The way you end up making contact with that person may differ depending on your relationship and history and what you feel comfortable with. Since a lot of time may have passed, it may be best to send an email or a physical letter rather than a text or phone call,” she says. “That way, the person receiving your message is able to take their own time with it and not feel the pressure to respond right away.”
Paul points out that it’s also important to realize that they may be having the same conversation with themselves about you in terms of whether or not they feel safe to re-establish a relationship with you. This means that you have to be prepared for the possibility that you might not hear from them.
But remember, if you don’t receive a response, “try to respect their decision and let it be. Some relationships end for a reason, and that’s okay. Try not to take it personally,” says Paul.
What to do if your friend responds
If you do receive a response, Molly Thompson, cofounder of the Kind Campaign, says, “Take your time with it. Try not to respond with the immediate swell of emotions you may feel. You may even want to sleep on their response and write back the next day.” However, when you do decide to respond, Thompson suggests sharing what bothered you about the friendship in the past to clear the air: “Share your personal truths with the person: What hurt you? What did you do that you have realized hurt them? What do you hope for moving forward?”
Pennison also recommends taking ownership of what you did in the friendship that made it go sideways. “Friendships are always two-sided, so it’s important to acknowledge what you did,” she says. “Start off the conversation acknowledging what you did and what new outcome you would like for your friendship. Acknowledge any hurtful feelings you may have caused and listen to what your friend has to say. Listen and don’t react. Validate how they feel, and, whatever you do, don’t become defensive. Reflect back to them what you hear them saying, even if it’s something you don’t like hearing.”
Adds Thompson: “Be patient, slow, and kind with your words. Maybe the result is just a beautiful opportunity to apologize to each other and make amends. Maybe you do end up back in each other’s lives. Whatever the outcome, know that that’s what is meant to be.”
How to create a meaningful friendship moving forward
If both of you choose to reignite your friendship, it’s essential that you learn from where things went wrong and how to proceed.
“Discuss with your friend what they feel you could do to help the relationship move forward. This is a great time to discuss things about your friendship you didn’t like before to create boundaries that will prevent these things from happening again,” says Pennison. “Creating limits or boundaries tells your friend, ‘I love and respect you enough to be able to not do the things that are not healthy or beneficial for our friendship.’ Ask for forgiveness and identify the steps needed to move forward.”
No matter what, both Paul and Thompson think it’s important to show yourself some love for stepping up to make amends.
“When all is said and done, give yourself some love! It can be really scary and intimidating to confront old trauma and wounds. Especially when you put yourself in the position to admit your own wrongdoings,” says Thompson. “You are brave for wanting to do so.”