We’re tackling tough friendship scenarios this week on The Upgrade with psychologist Miriam Kirmayer, who explains why it’s so hard to navigate the norms of friendship and how to peacefully end those connections that are no longer working. Beyond researching the science of friendship for almost a decade, Dr. Kirmayer also writes a column for Psychology Today called “Casual to Close,” and is consulted frequently for such publications as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Forbes and Time magazine.
After giving advice on how to end a friendship, Dr. Kirmayer then answers Upgrade listener- and Lifehacker reader-submitted friendship questions, which span everything from how to deal with a friend’s terrible spouse, to how to make friends as an adult.
Highlights from this week’s episode
From the Dr. Kirmayer interview:
On why friendships have such an impact on our well-being:
One of the things that makes our friendships so powerful and important and so strongly linked with our sense of well-being and mental health is the fact that they’re voluntary. So unlike our relationships with our partners or our family members, where there is the expectation that to some extent we have to stay involved in each other’s lives, we don’t see that same expectation when it comes to our friendships. And so what that means is that friends do have to choose on an ongoing daily basis to remain involved in each other’s lives and to stay connected in that way. And that’s why we can feel so close to friends and why kind of the validation support that we get from our friends is so meaningful. But it’s also why when they come to an end ... [it] can be so devastating and really, really hurtful.
On dealing with a friend’s hurtful behaviour:
My first piece of advice for any situation where we’re feeling like our friends aren’t respecting our needs or our situation or our significant others is to question: Have you said something? Have you shared that this is hurting you and not just that this is something that you’re upset with, but the why? So often when we communicate about difficult situations, we’re very quick to just throw it out there and expect that the people closest to us understand the reasoning behind why it’s hurtful.
But giving them a little bit of a glimpse into why this is painful can help people to perspective-take, which ultimately leads to more productive conversations and the kinds of conversations that are likely to elicit not just solutions, but a sense of closeness in the relationship. So I would encourage people to kind of ask their friends, “What’s going on?” Share why it’s important and also potentially share a few solutions yourselves.
To hear more of Miriam’s advice, check out the podcast! Not only will you likely hear some familiar friendship challenges, but you’ll also get some therapist-approved tricks for how to deal with them.