WHY MIDLIFE FRIENDSHIP PROBLEMS REALLY HURT
Dr Bonnie Wims asks when you’re no longer on the same page, are you still friends?
Is it our age or lockdown that has made so many long-term friendships fracture? Dr Bonnie Wims is a chartered counselling psychologist. Here she talks us through the reasons why we feel friendship let-downs and betrayals so intensely – and how to tackle those feelings and move on.
As women we feel our friendships very deeply. They are such an important part of our lives, even if we’re happily married, have good relationships with our families, enjoy great connection with work mates… our close friendships go so very deep.
I’ve heard some women describe friendships as something that fills their emotional gaps in life. But because we shift and change, so too do our relationships. And it’s something women feel so deeply that there’s a real difficulty when we don’t know where we are with a friend.
“Female friendships are intense. We take a topic and talk it through until we turn it into dust.”
If a woman is having marriage problems, on seeing a friend they’ll dive straight into that. All the ins and outs and the emotional ups and downs of it so there’s just nothing left to talk about. The hormones we secrete when we have these intimate conversations make our blood pressure go down, we feel calmer and we know that when we see or speak to that friend we feel good afterwards. And we want more.
Which means there’s a real depth to our hurt when that friendship ruptures. And you know, it could rupture for a variety of reasons.
One woman I know was deeply hurt that a lifelong friend did not respond to her phone calls and texts at a time of crisis until about a week afterwards. And she’s already thinking about the future, thinking “You’re not who I thought you were, why don’t you feel this more deeply?”. This is the kind of situation that can make us feel a deep sense of betrayal. Of “I thought you were there for me, I really thought you got it, that you were part of my support network. And now you’re just not there. Where are you?”
It can put a lot of pressure on a friendship if you know that not answering a text within a day can lead to such hurt. OK, maybe sometimes it’s intentional, but also we’re busy and things happen so can’t always be right there when a friend needs us. We can feel – and be made to feel – immensely guilty. So it helps to keep a sense of perspective.
The positive side of friendship is that in a really good friendship of trust, we totally lift each other up, but then the painful side of that is when you think someone’s going to lift you when go through a terrible time with your health or work or relationship, and they’re just not there for you. After thinking you really ‘got’ each other, you can feel utterly bereft, even betrayed, even though it’s not necessarily intentional and they may be going through their own stuff.
And of course, we can each evolve. Like, you know, if you stop drinking and your friendship has always been based on going out for a drink, that’s going to impact what you do together and how you feel. If alcohol is part of your routine as friends, what do you do next time we’re together?
I think it’s the same when one of the friends starts a business or starts dating. It suddenly throws the friendship into disarray because the dynamic between you is different.
“If our one true support, the one we can always trust to be there for us is no longer on the same page, it’s hard to see what role they can play in our life. It becomes more of a habit.”
And I think when we end a friendship or drift apart, we never forget or really get over it. We tend to hold on to something of a past friendships, a certain part of it that’s important to us. Even when a friend espouses a different belief system that takes over their life. Even when a friend hurts us deeply. Because we felt so much in that relationship, because it was a long-term bond and very important to us, we can’t help but still think about it. And even have a sliver of hope that we’ll one day return to the friendship we had and remember why we liked each other in the first place. I do think you can redeem a broken friendship, if you’re both prepared to do some work. But if the trust is truly broken, it can’t ever really be restored.
When in marriage and partnerships things fall apart there’s more of an effort to keep that going. But you don’t want to do that with friends. There has to be ease with friendships because other relationships tend to be are harder to maintain – with siblings, with parents, with children, with partners. So if a friendship that used to be easy gets hard we just don’t have the patience for it. We have too many other things going on.
If you’re at the point of walking away from a friendship that means something to you, have an open and honest conversation about how you feel and why and really listen to each other. But don’t stick around if you can’t resolve it. Knowing each other for 30 years and having shared history isn’t enough reason to stick with it if you feel taken for granted or seriously let down – however much of a guilt trip is laid on you.
“Women love intensely, from the days when we used to end a night out just lying there in the dark, talking about hopes and dreams, crying together, laughing together and being each other’s emotional support. “
But as friendships change and grow sometimes there sometimes needs to be a cull. Do it in the most loving and kind way that honours what you have meant to each other. No ghosting – that’s just cruel.
We can feel bad about friendships we’ve ended, but actually those feelings are a side effect of how intensely we love. So if we feel our trust is betrayed what follows is a deep rupture of betrayal and hurt.
The way our friends fill our emotional gaps is so critical to our lives, the laughing and crying together, but the underbelly is that when it goes bad it goes really bad.
When we feel someone changing or pulling away in a direction we don’t understand, approve of or appreciate, or when they no longer seem to ‘get’ us or be there for us, it erodes that deep trust. If our one true support, the one we can always trust to be there for us is no longer on the same page, it’s hard to see what role they can play in our life. It becomes more of a habit. Honouring the friendship you shared means admitting when it’s had its day.
As told to: Marina Gask
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