When a Friend Lets You Down

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When a Friend Lets You Down

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What can you do when your friend blabs your secret all over school, ditches you at lunch when the cool crowd asks him to sit with them, doesn't follow through on a promise, excludes you from her social plans, badmouths you behind your back, teases you about something you're really sensitive about or forgets plans she made with you or cancels at the last minute?

When these kinds of things happen, you can feel hurt, confused, upset and really sad. This friend who has always meant a lot to you has now let you down in a big way. You want to keep the friendship going, but you don't like how you were treated either. So how should you respond?

Here are some suggestions, based on the Bible as well as the advice of professional counselors:

Talk things out

The number-one thing you should do is talk to your friend about what's bothering you. This is what we're told to do in Matthew 18:15: "Moreover if your brother [or sister or friend] sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone."

Don't just go up to your friend when you see her in the hallway at school and start unloading on her. She may be rushing off to class, and other students may be within earshot. Talk somewhere that's private, not in public where either of you may feel self-conscious.

Start by telling your friend that you really value your friendship and that you care about her, which is why you wanted to meet with her. Then you can get into what she did that upset you.

Talk from your own point of view by making "I" statements: "I don't think you realize how your joke came across," or "I felt terrible when you canceled plans." Avoid making "You" statements, which sound accusatory, and harsh generalizations like "You never think about anyone but yourself!"

Give your friend the opportunity to respond, and listen carefully to what he says. See if he has any ideas for how to repair any damage that's been done and how to prevent this kind of situation from happening again. That shows him you value his opinions and point of view.

Don't let the discussion become heated. If you say things in anger, you're bound to say something you'll regret later.

Comments like, "I'm sorry I ever became friends with you!" will stick in your friend's mind and may permanently scar the friendship. If necessary, suggest to your friend that you talk this out at a later time when both of you are calm.

Keep an open mind

Go into your talk with an open mind. Don't judge your friend harshly and assume you know why he did what he did or what really happened, before you've even talked with him.

Ask your friend what she thinks happened. Perhaps one or both of you has your facts wrong. Wesley, 16, was mad at his friend for keeping him waiting an hour at the library, where they were going to meet to study together. "Later, when we compared notes, we discovered that each of us got the time wrong about when we were supposed to meet," he related.

Give your friend room to explain his actions. "We all have different reasons for doing the things we do," notes Clifton Saper, Ph.D., a family psychologist in Evanston, Illinois. Sometimes what seems to be a major character flaw is simply a reflection of a different personality, upbringing, cultural background or lifestyle.

For example, it may appear as though your friend doesn't care about the friendship as much as you because she doesn't invite you over to her house or call you as often as you call her. In reality, that could be because she is not as extroverted as you. Or she may have a tougher class load and a lot more homework than you and not have as much free time.

Involve a third party if necessary

If, after trying to talk with your friend, you aren't able to find a solution or you both insist the other was "totally wrong," this is the time to bring in outside help. Find a third party—someone neutral, discreet and mature—who can listen to you both and help you work out your disagreement.

This person could be your pastor, school counselor, teacher or another trusted adult. Sometimes an outside mediator can see a solution to the problem that you both are overlooking.

Don't broadcast your friend's shortcomings

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when you're upset with somebody is to talk to everyone you know about the situation except the person who offended you. Don't do this.

"It's one thing if you choose one other valued friend who will listen in confidence while you pour out your feelings of hurt. But if you start telling lots of other people, that is gossip," says adolescent psychologist Jerry Weichman, Ph.D., of Newport Beach, California.

Proverbs 17:9 tells us, "He who repeats a matter separates friends." Even if what you are saying is true, if it is hurtful and destructive it is still wrong to go around repeating it.

Almost invariably, your "chatter" will get back to the person you're talking about, and she will be hurt that you didn't go to her about the problem. This may be a harder obstacle for your friendship to get past than the original misunderstanding that upset you.

Forgive and forget

After bringing these issues to your friend's attention, chances are he (or she) will be relieved you took the first step towards peace, and will apologize for what he did. If you reacted angrily or hastily, be willing to say you're sorry too.

Once you've made amends, put it all behind you. Don't dwell on what happened or on your friend's shortcomings.

Of course, there's the chance your friend may make the same blunder again in the future. If it's something that's just annoying—he's often late, can't keep secrets, talks more than listens—those might be the kinds of things you can learn to live with. Colossians 3:13 declares: "You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others" (New Living Translation).

That was the case with Molly, age 17. She explains: "My friend Miranda can't keep a secret, but she's a good friend in every other way. I got tired of her telling other people my personal business, but I didn't want to lose her friendship. I just had to learn to not confide in her anymore."

If your friend's offenses are something you can't tolerate (e.g., her teasing has gotten vicious or more frequent) and she isn't interested in changing or patching things up, reconciliation may not be an option. In most cases, though, the difficulties can be resolved.

It might not be easy, but you and your friend can get through it. True friends don't give up on each other when they see a few faults. They work it out. VT