Sandra A Doron LCSW
I have a good friend, and we have much in common. Recently, we were working on a project for our church, and she told me she was offended by something I had said to her. She felt criticized when I was trying to point out something that could have been improved. I spoke with her about this matter, but she said that she does not want to discuss it. How can we maintain a close friendship if she does not want to speak about sensitive issues? Good Friend
Dear Good Friend:
You have touched on an issue that I think will capture the hearts and minds of countless readers of this column. All of us are confronted with people who do not seem to want to talk about sensitive issues that arouse anxiety, irritation or resentment. When we experience their cool or distant response, it makes us uncomfortable, and we feel guilty to have raised the issue in the first place. If we continue to speak about the issue, we may end up feeling dismissed, or even worse, rejected by the very person whose friendship we value and wish to preserve. Clearly, you value your friendship, and want to find a way to be honest with her, and at the same time, preserve or improve your relationship. You share a very precious gift—the gift of friendship, which suggests that both you and she are loving and caring people who have the capacity to give to each other. Here are some ideas that may be helpful:
1. Say something like this: “We are good friends, and I have no words to describe how much I value our friendship. I did not intend to hurt you, and I’m sorry that I did. I understand that it is hard for you to talk about your hurt, but if you do, I know we will become even closer friends.”
2. Bring up the issue that offended your friend. If she refuses to talk about it after the above opening statement, tell her that you will not bring it up against her will, but you fear that your friendship will be compromised if she and you do not speak about what happened. Ask her if she would feel more comfortable writing about it, and ask her if she would be ok if you were to send her an e-mail or letter describing how you feel about the issue and why you may have said what you said. Hopefully, your friend will agree to this idea, and when she gets a short but caring letter from you, one that helps her to understand your perspective, perhaps this will provide the incentive for her to reply, either in writing or in person.
3. Hopefully, your friend will decide to communicate with you about the incident. At this point, you may want to acknowledge anything that you said or did that you believe could have aroused her resentment. If you believe you could have handled the situation differently, or more sensitively, tell your friend how you wish you had handled this situation differently.
4. Both you and your friend appear to be active members of your church. Is your pastor or minister available for discussions about this kind of issue? Often, members of the clergy are educated and trained in counseling, and can be skilled in mediating conflicts between members of their congregation. Involving a neutral third person whom both of you respect might be helpful, if your friend is open to this idea.
In the meantime, it is important to remember not to take your friend’s behavior as a personal insult. Just as you have learned to discuss problems openly and easily, your friend may have developed long-term behavior patterns that are very different from yours. Her family of origin may have reinforced these patterns of response. Your friend may have learned to cope with family and friends by distancing because when she did try to confront them in the past, she may have been severely rebuked.
Temperament also exerts a powerful influence in the way we respond to criticism or perceived criticism. What is important to remember is that one’s reactions in these situations are very difficult to change. Good Friend, patience will hopefully get you where you want to go. It may take several attempts on your part for your friend to realize that open discussion can deepen a friendship. If your friend becomes aware that her present ways of responding are not effective, and cause her more anxiety than the anxiety she experiences when she speaks openly about difficult issues, her responses may begin to shift. Given enough time and patience on your part, she may one day reveal underlying emotions of fear, sadness, perhaps even jealousy that are buried within.
This site was last updated 02/06/06