How to Mend a Damaged Friendship

Friendships are unique social connections with others that enhance our physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing and support us in achieving a higher level of functioning and satisfaction in life. Friendships are free, volitional and immensely rewarding. When friendships are severed both parties may experience a deep loss.

There is extensive research documenting the physical, emotional and practical gains of friendships to our health and wellbeing. Some classical findings include health and survival benefits. The Australian Center of Aging found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the 10-year study period than those with fewer friends.

Dr. David Spiegel of Stanford research discovered in 1989 that women with breast cancer who participated in a support group lived twice as long and suffered much less pain than those who didn’t participate in the group.

Tasha R. Howe, Associate professor of psychology at Humboldt State University reported, “People with social support have fewer cardiovascular problems and immune problems, and lower levels of cortisol – a stress hormone.”

Friends enhance our social life, help us share and learn from each other, structure recreational activities and facilitate our conduct and life skills through their supportive energies.

Since friends are so essential to our wellbeing and provide balance, comfort, validation and support, having a conflict, disagreement, or a breakdown in connection can be very devastating and a termination of a relationship may leave us with a deep sense of grief, sorrow and loss.

Since most people are different from each other and since mutual respect, congruence about issues and warm regard is needed to fuel good feelings, it is understandable that on occasion conflicts may arise, feelings may be hurt and needs may not be appropriately supplanted for one or both parties.

It is natural to withdraw from a friendship when we feel misunderstood, unsupported or criticized. Yet, distancing from a friend can create further painful emotions about feeling unappreciated and rejected.

It is crucial that we state our hurt emotions in a kind way without blaming, shaming or assigning ill intent to our friend. We need to appreciate the complexity of our and others’ individual psyches, biological and temperament differences, life experiences and current stresses that may have contributed to the egregious words or conduct. We must initiate the discussion by first affirming our friend.

Psychologist Frederic Luskin, the Director of the Forgiveness Project at Stanford University and author of “Forgive for Good” recommends a simple formula for friendship reconnection: “You need to pay attention and not just be wrapped up in what you need to say. If you have an argument, address the situation right away. Acknowledge your friend’s feelings. Ask him to tell you how he feels. Apologize.”

Restore a damaged friendship:

  • Reassure your friend that he/she is a valuable being whose friendship you wish to preserve.
  • Validate his/her pained emotions, express your regret for missteps and your intent to remediate them for an ongoing mutually satisfying friendship.



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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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