I suspect we can all agree that lasting friendships take time, effort and finesse. Making mistakes and seeing how we recover from them allows us to know our friends and ourselves in new, different and deeper ways.
There are times when we unintentionally, and intentionally, hurt our friends. We are not mind readers so we have no way of knowing everything that will hurt another person. If we know we have hurt a friend, then we can find thoughtful, innovative and creative ways to heal hurts and move past them into new territory.
One mistake I have made time and again is not speaking up, not being clear about what I want to do or agreeing to a plan as a way to *please* my friend. It has taken a long time and lots of learning (with very patient friends) for me to change and trust that my friends will stick around if I say *no thanks* to some ideas or plans. In the past, instead of expressing my thoughts and feelings, I would keep them all inside. I would feel uncomfortable and sometimes paralyzed as to how to tell a friend how I was feeling or that I really did not want to do what I had agreed to do. Sometimes I was afraid of letting that friend down, of rejection or of a friend’s anger.
But no matter what, I knew I was letting *us* and our friendship down by not speaking up and working to resolve the issue. I know I have damaged friendships with my choice to not speak up, some irreparably. I wish I could let those lost friends know how sorry I am that I did not exercise more courage in our friendship. I am not sure that it would have changed the course of the friendship, but who knows. I do know I would have felt better about my part in the relationship!
Another common mistake I am sure we have all experienced is finding out something we thought was being held in confidence was revealed. This is a tough one. I think people reveal another’s secret or story for many different reasons. I remember a time when a close friend, lets call her *Bella*, shared an intimate detail of my life with other people I know. When I first learned of this, I was upset. I thought what I said was held in confidence.
I phoned *Bella* to clarify what had unfolded. While I was concerned, I also trusted her and believed there must have been a good reason she shared part of my story. I wanted to hear from her what had happened.
*Bella’s* response was, for me, the hallmark of a true friend. First, she apologized. And then, without defense, she helped me to understand what happened. *Bella* said she shared part of my story in support of another, to normalize what was happening for that person. I understood her choice. I know I have shared my own or others’ stories in support of a friend on more than one occasion. It is tricky territory. *Bella* and I spoke about checking with each other in the future if we had any doubt about whether to share each other’s stories. For me, this experienced strengthened my trust in *Bella* because of the respect and honesty she brought to our conversation about what happened.
Sometimes we can feel something is “off” in our friendship and we have to have the courage to ask “Is something wrong? Have I hurt you?” or “Have I let you down?” We can guess at what has happened and we might struggle a bit, that is okay. I truly appreciate those friends who allow me to bumble around with what I am trying to say, express or identify. And I appreciate those who are willing to do the same if they have an issue with me.
As a friend, we can work at being truthful if we feel hurt. If a friend mistakenly says or does something harmful we can let them know, gently. Our friends cannot change what they are doing if we do not communicate what it is that hurts us. And even if we do communicate, that is no guarantee that our friend will change. Saying something has to be for us, to know that we tried and that expressing our thoughts and feelings is enough. It is such a good feeling when a friend acknowledges what we’ve said, apologizes and asks: “What can I do differently next time?”
What if you find yourself intentionally hurting your friend — with those little digs, or slights. What if you share something they believed you were holding in confidence. And, you don’t like yourself for betraying your friendship, but, you also find you cannot stop yourself. What do you do? Well, perhaps it is time to look at what you are feeling hurt about yourself. Is there an unresolved issue between you and your friend that you have not figured out or expressed? This can be challenging, and worth the effort. You can learn a lot about yourself, your friend and the strength of the friendship as you navigate these trickier situations.
Mistakes happen in friendship and life. What is truly important is how we recover, let go, learn and forgive.
What about you…what do you do when a friend makes a mistake?
What do you do if you are the one who makes a mistake?