Friendships are more complicated than most people realize. They are often simplified into categories such as best friend, close friend or peripheral friend. Close friendships usually have endured over time and through varied experiences where trust, loyalty, adventure and love are consistent. However, as people mature and experience inner shifts in values, interests and experiences, feelings between friends can also shift.
Quite often, we feel these shifts but are conflicted about how to communicate our thoughts and feelings about what is going on inside of us. It is often confusing about how to behave towards our friends who we are beginning to feel differently towards. It is easy if the shift happens because of an egregious action from a friend. It becomes clear that breaking off that friendship is justified. But when the shift is related to a growing lack of shared interests, social or intellectual pursuits, or personality differences, it can be more awkward and scary to change the pattern of engagement that has developed over the years.
Figuring how to communicate the “shift” without it becoming a personal judgment or attack on the other person is essential if there is a chance that the shift can be better tolerated and understood. The shift does not have to be a complete break-up of a friendship. A best friend can become a less close friend by slowing down the rate and level of engagement. Sometimes such a shift occurs naturally over time and does not require a sit down confrontation. However, some people will notice the shift, not want the shift, and will want to talk about what is happening. If the person initiating the shift takes responsibility for their needing to change how the relationship looks, (and does not blame or judge the other person), these friendship “shifts” can be positive and actually allow people to stay in each other’s lives in new and different ways.
Rebecca Sperber, M.S., MFT