At the end of 2011, a friend of mine that I care about hurt me very deeply. It was a betrayal of sorts, a complete lack of consideration for my feelings. This hurt has turned my world upside down since then and I have lost a great deal because of his actions.
This situation left me with a very big decision to make: cut ties with this person altogether or work to repair and redefine the relationship. Many people (including several of my friends) believe that when someone hurts you badly it is over. Cut your losses and walk away. In some instances I agree. Others are not so cut and dried.
This person has been my best friend and a huge part of my life for almost 10 years. That’s a decade. More than 1/3rd of my life! In addition, with the exception of this situation, he has been a very good friend. There is not a history or pattern of hurting me. Finally, he recognizes that what he did was wrong, seems to feel remorse, and though what’s done is done, he is trying to make things better.
If any one of these things were not true, it would change my feelings. But given what IS true in this situation, I believe it is worth trying to repair this friendship. I don’t want to look back and wonder if we could have stayed friends or what my life would have been like with that person in it. I’d rather try to salvage the friendship now and know for sure.
As I go through the process of attempting to repair and redefine this friendship I’m learning a great deal. The trial and error is painful, so hopefully this will help someone (or help remind me when I forget!).
- Your expectations have to change
This is a big one. The friendship is not what it was before. It can’t be. If you expect the same relationship right away you will be painfully disappointed. Perhaps you used to talk about everything but without the trust and feeling of safety you had before, you no longer can. Perhaps you spent a ton of time together and now you don’t. Both of these are true in my situation. As we try to rebuild this friendship we have to ease back into these things. Step back and start over.
- Get what you need elsewhere
This friend was the person I went to for almost everything, good and bad. Now, I have to reach out to other friends more than I used to. It has forced me to develop a larger support group and this is not a bad thing. That doesn’t mean he can’t be there for me at times. It means that I can’t and shouldn’t rely on him for everything. the struggle with this is that it takes time to develop friendships that can provide this kind of support. I am lucky to have a few other friends that can fill this role in some capacity but I am also working on building a wider group of friends.
- Make them work for it
The person who did the hurting must make amends. I expect that my friend will show me, through words and actions, that my friendship is important, that he cares about me, and that he is sorry. I expect him to work to regain my trust. I expect that he will not hurt me again. The burden of proof is on him as long as I am open to it. If someone isn’t willing to do the work, it isn’t important enough to them.
- Communicate your expectations
Share your expectations and make sure you are both on the same page. Let the other person know what things he or she can do to make it better and show you what you need to see. You will often perceive an action differently than it was intended. Talk it out.
- Expect ups and downs
Dealing with strong emotions and trust issues is hard. Rebuilding a friendship, or any relationship, after a major falling out is hard. You will have setbacks. You can bounce back from them. What matters most is that you are both still trying and you both think it is still worth the effort.
- Give Yourself Time
If you are the one who was hurt in this situation you will have a lot of anger and pain to work through. I’m still dealing with those feelings every day. Give yourself time to work through your feelings. Give yourself time to start trusting and feeling comfortable with this person again. Your instinct to protect yourself is good. If you need to step back, that’s okay. Don’t try to force it. Take the time you need.
This friendship of mine has a long way to go. There’s a chance that it can’t be repaired and eventually I’ll have to walk away. There’s a chance that we won’t be as close as we used to be. There’s a chance we’ll get it all back. I have no idea what this friendship will look like in the future.
What I do know is that right now it is worth it to me to try to repair. Whatever happens, I’ll know I’ve done everything I can. That peace of mind is worth a lot to me.