Note: This is part 3 of a 4 part series:
Chapter 3: Why Some Friendships End
Friendships can come to an end.
They sometimes conclude quietly, with both parties coming to a graceful understanding of what's taking place. Final pleasantries are cordially exchanged as if peace treaties are being signed.
Other times, they can end abruptly after a heated conversation or in a slow death through a series of passive aggressive and wounding exchanges.
But regardless of how a friendship ends, it's a process most of us aren't well prepared for. It can be jarring and difficult to swallow.
The aftermath can be unsettling as questions fill our minds. "What happened?" "Whose fault was it?" We vacillate between blame-shifting and self-condemnation while digital albums, wedding pictures, and even yearbooks continually remind us of what once was and what could've been.
So why do friendships fall apart?
Some friendships fall apart because of a defining moment. There was a moment when one friend deeply hurt the other and the relationship never recovered.
Other friendships fall apart because of habits. One person had a habit of not communicating or listening, and the lop-sided friendship eventually capsized.
Others fall apart because of a decision. One person made a decision to quit on the relationship. He or she decided to cut the other person out of his or her life.
These scenarios are tragic. They're also common. More importantly, they're clear cut. We know who to assign blame and hold responsible.
However, I wonder if there are other unexpected contributing factors we should consider for why friendships end.
Here's a short list of what I believe may be a few of them:
1. The Fluid nature of Human Relationships
"Best friend forever" is an interesting concept isn't it?
It's an invention that reveals the human desire for constancy. We want lasting human relationships that "go the distance."
But this also carries an assumption of (expectation), and a projection for (hope) how human relationships work, namely that they're fixed and unchanging in nature.
But are human relationships really fixed? Do they really never change?
Don't human relationships continually experience change?
Take the example of marriage, which the Biblical worldview presents as a melding of two lives into one. On the one hand, the relationship is positionally fixed (married), but the relationship itself (marriage) is progressively fluid. There are good seasons and bad seasons of marriage. Married couples are continually adjusting.
But if such relational fluidity exists for even a "one flesh" relationship, shouldn't we expect every other non one-flesh relationship to be susceptible to change?
Every human relationship is on a sliding scale. But many people view their friendships like a parking lot.
When a new friend enters their life, it's as if a car has entered and parked in their lot. With good times and continued trust, we want to give them privileged parking spaces closer to "our hearts" but should they choose to leave the lot, it's nothing short of betrayal and abandonment. "Once parked, always parked."
But maybe human relationships are a lot more like the freeway
Everyone is moving forward as life progresses and there are various lanes of relationship. Different seasons present opportunities for different people to switch over into closer lanes, whereas others switch out of our lane. It's not always necessarily personal, it's just the fluid nature of human relationships.
And maybe this is what makes friendships complicated. People are swerving in and out of various lanes, someone's not paying attention, there are accidents, we didn't let the caravan party know why we've chosen to exit, and some people have bad relationship records.
Certainly friendships shouldn't be flaky, but no relationship can avoid the natural challenges of fluidity.
2. The ADDED Challenges of Modernity
Life looked different for people a little over a century ago.
People were more location bound.
They spent their life in the city or town they were born in, they'd marry one of the few eligible persons they knew, and do the work their parents did. Not saying life was a walk in the park, but things were simpler in many ways.
But as you could imagine, this naturally produced certain social advantages. People were more rooted. Friendships couldn't help but be forged and they'd often be, if not have to be, friendships for life.
Life today, though lived on a sea of upgardes, have presented unique social challenges.
One upgrade, for example, is the advantage of mobility. We can travel, change locations in ways previous generations could've only imaged. But think about how that affects us socially. We're less rooted and less location bound than ever before. Yes, this can start new friendships, but it can strain old ones.
A study in which a research team followed pairs of "best friends" for over 19 years, discovered that participants had moved an average of 5.8 times during that period.
Andrew Ledbetter, an associate professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University who led the research commented, “I think that’s just kind of a part of life in the very mobile and high-level transportation- and communication-technology society that we have....[w]e don’t think about how that’s damaging the social fabric of our lives.”
Speaking of commununication-technology, the digital revolution has enabled us to stay "connected" to anyone we want. Yet, the average person also prefers to text than engage in a phone conversation. We're paradoxically more connected than ever while being less connected than ever.
What's amazing is I haven't even listed the natural challenges of transitioning life seasons (single to married to parenting) and how that alters friendship dyanamics.
We live in a time of amazing opportunity and it has created unforeseen complexities in how we do friendship.
3. The presence of an unsafe individual
We don't have to be relationship experts to know that every friendship will have its share of problems.
However, while it's one thing to deal with friendship problems, it's another thing to deal with a problematic friend.
See, issues can often be resolved when friends mutually participate in the uncomfortable but sometimes necessary process of honest conversations. When we're able to have conversations like, "You hurt me" and "I'm sorry," most, if not all problems can be resolved.
But if one person in the relationship is unwilling to engage in honest conversation, he or she has become the biggest issue in the relationship.
Author Dr. Henry Cloud, in his book Safe People: How to Find Relationships that are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't, gives a list of traits of what he calls, "unsafe people."
Here are a few of them:
"Unsafe people rarely apologize and own their actions, but when they do, the apology is not followed by a change in behavior."
"Unsafe people blame others and work hard to assign blame to their situations instead of owning their responsibilities in the matter."
"Unsafe people resist the freedom associated with healthy boundaries instead of encouraging it. They have an unhealthy relationship with your “no” responses and often violate boundaries."
"Unsafe people influence us negatively. We often leave interactions with them feeling bad, but unsure why. They bring out the worst in us instead of promoting and inspiring our good qualities."
"Unsafe people talk about others negatively when they are not around. We can be sure that we aren’t so special that we are excluded from their gossip. When a person assassinates another person’s character, name-calls or shares private information about others, this is a sign of relational manipulation common in unsafe people."
Though every one one of us may exhibit certain unsafe traits at times, there are some who exhibit multiple traits consistently. These individuals are difficult to maintain a friendship with. The "friendship" will soon become unbalanced, manipulative, coercive in aggressive or passive-aggressive ways. It will only be a matter of time before the relationship explodes and the unsafe person will be the one who lit the match.
Ideally, we'd want that person to change and become more safe. Ideally, we'd want to be the kind of friend that helps navigate that internal process for him or her. However, these factors include his or her awareness and willingness, which may be beyond the scope of our bandwidth and expertise.
Friendships can conclude, and that's okay.
But that doesn't mean all of the past is invalid. Previous seasons of friendship were real and important for that particular life season. We can commemmorate.
Other friendships have come to an end, largely on account of our failures. Depending on the past and current context, it may not be too late to send over a note of apology. We can communicate.
Some friendships have come to an end and they've had to, it was harmful for us. But we'd only be doing ourselves more harm if we remained bitter and unforgiving. We must not condemn.
Friendships may end. But where friendships finish, other things can flourish.
Things like forgiveness, healing, and prayer can penetrate and flourish in the vacuums of what once was and that’s great news.