Forgiving. Forgiveness. For Good.

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On the heels of our previous blog post on Conflict and The Four Horsemen, we started to talk about forgiveness and what it means for friendship. Why is it important in friendships?

What does it mean to forgive following a conflict or in the face of unmet expectations?  In this blog post, we are talking about forgiving hurts, disappointments, let downs, humiliations, feeling left out, or feeling exposed without your permission (and more.)

Forgiving is not easy, especially for those of us who stockpile our hurts with a layer of resentment on top of it. Forgiving goes hand in hand with being able to be in conflict with each other which can be quite uncomfortable.

“Although it can be painful, sometimes a person we love seeks distance that we have to accept. Our friends are free to be friends with whomever they choose. Their feelings for us may wax and wane. We want everyone we love to be loyal and stable figures in our lives, but we can’t always have that. Change and impermanence are part of every relationship, and we can’t hold the clock still, much as we may try.”
~Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection

Sometimes forgiving is connected to what John Gottman refers to as repairing a rupture in your friendship. In relational terms repair is about getting back on track. And it allows for resilience to grow in your relationship. And, as it turns out, it is the recipient of repair that makes the difference along with how we choose to maintain friendship, intimacy and emotional connection.

Gottman describes a repair attempt as “any statement or action – silly or otherwise – that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” If we need to, how can we develop these strategies within our friendships?

Forgiveness does not mean you are condoning what your friend did or said, or what happened, or didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean forgetting either or that you have to go back to the friendship. It might be part of the letting go process in a friendship.

Forgiving is for ourselves, not for the other person. Holding onto a hurt or a grudge can turn into bitterness and can become toxic within ourselves. It is for our own mental and physical health that we forgive ourselves and others.

The process of forgiving is owning what is our part in what happened. What is our role in what unfolded and how do we make amends? It takes courage to let someone know you have been hurt.

In his book, Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, Fred Luskin delves into forgiveness in all kinds of relationships.

“Forgiveness helps people control their emotions so they maintain good judgment. They do not waste precious energy trapped in anger and hurt over things they can do nothing about. Forgiveness acknowledges we can’t change the past. Forgiveness allows us not to stay stuck in the past.” ~Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good

While there is no *right* way to forgive, here are some guidelines:

  • Be genuine: apologize from the heart.
  • Be clear with your boundaries: in other words, be clear about what is OK and not Ok with you.
  • Know your own hot buttons.
  • Consider and share: how are we going to go forward differently?
  • You might want to write your very personal, raw, angry, unfiltered rough draft of your perspective. Do not send it. Keep writing and rewriting until, perhaps, you have words you can share with your friend.

It can be humbling and healing to forgive. It takes courage and self-awareness to acknowledge and accept our own flaws. Embracing our differences and understanding that conflict offers us opportunities to learn about ourselves and our friends.

1Perhaps we can imagine that forgiveness is a suspension bridge that keeps the lines of communication open and allows us to see each other more clearly.

“Forgiveness is the feeling of peace that emerges as you take your hurt less personally, take responsibility for how you feel, and become a hero instead of a victim in the story you tell.” ~Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good

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Building Trust in Friendship

Most people will agree that trust is an important element in their friendships. What does “trust” mean? And why is it important in friendship?

Trust can mean something slightly, or dramatically, different to each of us. Being clear with your friends about what trusts does mean to you can be the first step in building trust in those friendships. Think about the words you associate with trust — dependability, responsibility, integrity, honesty, and commitment are some words that might help to understand and clarify the meaning of trust for each of us.

In friendships, as in all relationships, trust is one of the foundational building blocks. We need trust to establish and deepen our friendships. Trust allows us to feel safe with friends: safe to make plans and safe to share ourselves and our lives. Trust requires that we keep our promises and show demonstrations of dependability, respect, and honour.

In friendships, as in all relationships, the betrayal of trust can be devastating. Betraying a friend’s confidence, that is, sharing something that a friend confided in us, can dent the trust in a friendship. This is only one example of how trust can be betrayed in a friendship and we will be exploring this topic further in a future blog including how to recover from the betrayal of trust in friendship.

So how do we build a trustworthy friendship?

It is important to explore and understand what trust means to us and what it means to our friends. It is also important to show that we are trustworthy to each other. We have to demonstrate to each other that we are trustworthy. For example, matching our actions to our words.

Trust can be built and maintained in many different ways in a friendship.

In the beginning, when we are first creating a friendship, some ways to demonstrate trust are to:

Be dependable: return calls and messages, be there, show up (more or less on time).

Be kind: if one person changes or cancels plans, we will contact each other to find out if everything is alright.

Be fully present: Trust that we will listen with our full attention, put down the devices, resist advice giving, and offer our presence. This can be more challenging today with technology accompanying us when we spend time with friends. “Designing” the environment so that we can listen to each other might be a helpful strategy. For example, designing how you will deal with your devices, or talking about whether you want to be listened to or receive advice.

Be thoughtful: communicate and respond with respect, empathy, and kindness. Sharing too much intimate information about ourselves in the early phase of a friendship can be overwhelming, for both people. This can be a good opportunity to talk about what we can do to build trust in the relationship.

Be reciprocative: give and take, mutually and with reciprocity. For example, invite our friend to do things and trust that our friend will invite us too.

As we move further into a friendship, some ways to demonstrate trust to maintain or deepen the friendship are to:

Demonstrate integrity: show that we can be trusted with intimate, private information that our friend shares with us. Show that we trust our friend with intimate, private information that we share, trusting that our friend will not gossip about it with others. Discussing and being clear about our boundaries, what is and is not to be shared, is one way to take care of ourselves as well as take care of and strengthen the friendship.

Demonstrate inter-dependence: show that we will ask each other for help. Trust that we will each ask for help when we feel scared, panicked, or desperate. The act of asking for help and the type of help we can offer a friend are great conversation topics to have with friends and can also strengthen friendship.

Demonstrate commitment: reach out and stay connected with each other through distance, space and gaps.

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.
“There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”
~ A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

It takes effort, patience, and time to build trust in a friendship. Talking about what we can do to build or deepen trust in the friendship is a great way to secure the foundation of trust.

Questions to ponder:
How can you build trust in your friendship(s)?
What does trust mean to you? What does it mean to your friends?
When do you talk about what a friend has shared with you? When does it become gossip? When does it become harmful to a friendship?