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Conflicted Friendships

SC WW blogpost - Conflicted FriendshipsIt is often said that life is a balance of holding on and letting go. This is especially true when it comes to friendships established during the formative years. Lifelong friendships blossom while others run their course and ultimately wilt. It can be difficult to discern between the two, which will endure or be cut short, and to accept and understand the ebb and flow that occurs. These friendships can seem integral to who we are and how we make sense of ourselves especially within the social framework of high school.

However, this is a time of such significant change and adjustment that abrupt shifts and sudden fallouts among friends are nearly inevitable. By the time you’re a senior, thinking back on yourself as a freshmen might feel like looking at a different person. The way you look, act, your interests, and maturity will shift and morph in ways you can’t quite predict. These personal transformations can often lead to fluctuations in friendships. As you change so will the people you’re able to connect with, relate to, and choose to spend time with. What once may have been a treasured closeness might not feel the same and people can drift apart. There are also occasions when conflict can arise and external factors lead to tension between individuals such as competition in academics, social circles, or involving romantic interests. Personal preferences in extracurricular activities often encountered in adolescence may also cause rifts.

Whatever the cause, conflict within friendships can be confusing, upsetting, and difficult to navigate. In an effort to provide some guidance, here’s an offering of a couple scenarios that might be encountered, what might result, and ways to handle it.


Scenario 1: The Fade Out

Naturally growing apart from friends is common in high school. You may find yourself gravitating from one social circle to another and the people you used to have the most in common with you no longer relate to. There may be overlap or you may experience a difficult transition period in-between the old and what’s yet to be.

Repercussions/Possible Responses:

If you find yourself without friends, hold tight and hang in there! It is not easy or pleasant but unfortunately it does happen. Remember why you had to move on and keep in mind what you’re looking for; there are a lot of potential friends out there to meet. If you have found new friends then ideally there are no hard feelings among those left behind. Best-case scenario is you remain friends to some degree or at least pleasant acquaintances. It may never be quite the same and you may be fine with that or there could be a sense of loss.

Scenario 2: Strain & Separation

Outside factors can affect an otherwise strong friendship such as different lifestyles (partying, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, focus on academics, involvement in sports), clash in values, or other extracurricular activities. You may still really enjoy being around certain friends, and when you are together it’s like no time has passed, but life gets in the way and your worlds diverge. Or a wedge may grow between you that causes resentment or changes in how you feel about one another

Repercussions/Possible Responses:

In this situation there is again the potential for mutual understanding and respect in parting ways or there may be anger involved, particularly if one party can’t accept changes or new attitudes/behaviors in the other. Some splits in friendships can go very badly, especially now in the days of social media, and texting. Hopefully this can be avoided by effective communication and not waiting to express how you feel before emotions run high. Addressing the conflict at hand may be the only chance to salvage the friendship and potentially could enable a better understanding of one another.

Scenario 3: Competition/Jealousy

Competition between friends can occur in the form of academic, social, romantic, or other realms. Upon entering a certain grade a friend may suddenly get a lot of attention, gaining desirability or popularity among peers or other social circles, while you feel left in the dust or vice versa. You might watch friends you introduced become close and develop a friendship that pushes you out. Over the course of high school, your friend may attain something you want (perfect grades, good looks, a coveted spot on a team) and although they may not intentionally hurt you, it can be very painful. Sometimes these conflicts are short lived and other times they destroy a good friendship.

Repercussions/Possible Responses:

Depending on which side of the coin you’re on you may feel dejected and angry or guilty when you see a friend left behind but know you can’t do anything about it. Communication is the key and can help sort through these types of transitions without jealousy or envy getting the best of you.

Scenario 4: Romantic Complications

There are a couple of complications that come about when romance bleeds into friendships. It can be between two friends, when one starts to have feelings for the other that are not reciprocated. This is challenging because one party may likely want things to stay as they are and the other wants more. It can be devastating to both, to not have someone reciprocate romantic feelings and to lose the friendship you had. Then there’s the case of friends having romantic interests in the same people. Jealousy and bitterness can arise. Or maybe a good friend starts dating someone you can’t stand or you find that a friend’s new relationship steals him or her away. Whatever the specific brand of romantic interference, this powerful emotion can really do a number on a friendship.

Repercussions/Possible Responses:

There’s a saying that romantic relationships are like “ice cream” while friendships are the “cone.” In other words, romantic pursuits come and go but your friends stand the test of time. This may or may not be the case, but it is important to have some degree of understanding that teens who are new to relationships often get whisked away with the excitement of new love. Give it some time; it’s likely all is not lost between you and your best friend. As for unrequited love, this can be very tricky to come back from yet it is possible. Honesty and being realistic with one another will be helpful in these cases.


Resolution?

Figuring out whether or not conflict within a friendship can be (or is worth) resolving is difficult. In some cases the decision might be made for you if the other person makes it clear that, as far they’re concerned, what you had is over. Preferably, you will have the chance for a discussion regarding the existing conflict and feel comfortable being honest and direct. Successfully resolved conflict can often result in friendships growing stronger. If a resolution seems to evade you and conflict seems to dominate, it may be helpful to ask yourself how much you’re willing to invest to save the friendship and at what cost. Consider how you’d answer the following questions with that person in mind.

  • -Is there mutual respect and consideration involved?
  • -Do you feel heard, acknowledged, and appreciated by them?
  • -Do you feel that you have to compromise or adjust your opinions or actions to fit in?
  • -Are you comfortable with/feel accepted by them?
  • -Do these people include you or are you often anxious/fearful of being left out?

A good friendship is absolutely worth fighting for. Nevertheless, the most important thing is to be able to value and respect yourself. Maintaining friendships in high school with certain people may feel crucial, however, it should never come before being treated well.


Dissolution

Although some situations may be resolved, there is the possibility that any of these or additional factors may result in the conclusion of a friendship. Someone you may have spent most of your time with can become another face you pass in the halls. When this happens it’s important to allow yourself to grieve. The end of a friendship is a significant loss even if it is for the best. During the teenage years, friendships are an integral part of life. They’re a source of stability in an otherwise rocky period. Therefore, their disintegration can be devastating at worst or saddening at the least. At a time when you’re just beginning to have an understanding of yourself, it can be difficult to separate from your friendships and to not grow dependent on them to define who you are.

On this note, it is important to recognize when conflict of friendships leads to excessive distress. This may have negative repercussions that affect personal wellbeing. If this is the case, remember that there are always resources to reach out to whether it’s a school counsellor, local therapist, or even friends and family who you feel safe talking to. It shouldn’t be underestimated how damaging the ending of a friendship can be. It can result in a teen experiencing depression, isolation, and grief.

So, What is the Solution?

Ok, so, really it’s quite simple: don’t compromise when it comes to who you choose to have in your life but, at the same time, don’t write people off too quickly and practice good conflict resolution. Got it? Oh wait, that’s not simple at all! It’s contradictory and confusing. Which brings us back to the idea of knowing when to hold on and when to let go. It’s a difficult but requisite part of becoming an adult, which, yes, you are getting closer to each day whether you like that fact or not! You only get there, however, through experiences that help you gain wisdom and growth. Friendships, both in their strength and dissolution, are great educators, as is learning to work through conflict effectively. The importance of communication amidst conflict cannot be overstated. It is what can ultimately save a great friendship because otherwise someone might never know how you’re feeling. If it’s worth the fight, speak up, and ask for what you need or what you can do in an effort to make things right.

In making a final decision, a good guideline of friendship is that it should enhance your life. It is meant to provide enjoyment, comfort, support, fun, and inspiration. If a friendship begins to feels more draining than uplifting it might be time to reconsider the effort you’re making to continue it. This could be an opportunity to listen to and begin to trust your instincts. Value yourself enough to know that your friendship is a privilege. If you’re not being respected you’re not obligated to carry on a friendship with anyone no matter how much history you have with them. That said, it could be hard not to let fear control your decisions. In high school its intimidating to imagine transitioning friend groups. You may worry that you won’t make new friends. Who will you hang out with during lunch? After school? On the weekends? Social life is such a major component at this time that it’s often less daunting to stick with a less than ideal situation than to make the leap for something better. This beckons another great saying, fortune favors the bold. And it is truly a bold move in high school to move from the known to the unknown in pursuit of a better quality of interpersonal connection and fulfilment. You don’t know what awaits you unless you take the risk to seek it out.

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Written by Whitney Walker, LMFT, On Sep 24, 2019

Whitney Walker is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with extensive experience working with adults, teens, and children of all ages. She holds an MA in Counseling Psychology… View full profile