When we were children, making friends was a piece of cake. All we had to do was smile at each other, play together for a while, and we were BFF’s for life! However, some people find that making friends as an adult could be a far more challenging experience. (Making new friends is a topic in itself we are exploring for a future blog) You become very specific about your likes and dislikes, and the types of people you want to be around. You might even be looking for more meaningful connections, especially when you are over 50.
Given how challenging it could be to create strong connections as we age, it is so important to hold on to the friendships or family relationships we have already cultivated. Friends you have known for a long time may have a special place in your heart, but what if you have a major falling out and lose touch? You might have been close to a parent, sibling or grandparent but what if that relationship dissolves with no point of return?
Here are some tips when it comes to re-establishing (or not) relationships after a falling out:
Have the guts to make the first move
This might sound a little like “just do it” and in some ways, it is! Pull off that band-aid and make the call. It is normal to feel lost, awkward or even confused when attempting to mend old disagreements. Making that first move is difficult but know that if you are thinking of them, they are probably thinking of you. If you have made the decision that you want to reach out, put a date on the calendar and mentally commit to contacting them by that date. Put aside your feelings or even your ego to patch things with someone who has been so important to you at one point in your life.
You may be scared of the reaction of the other person, but think about it this way: How would you feel if they contacted you on their own? Reaching out will not only make you happy, but it may also make your friend’s day. If you are scared of the reaction of the other person, finding solace in knowing you played your part may be enough. If your gut is telling you to reach out, it is probably time to contact them!
Choose in-person meetings over online ones
It is best to meet in person when possible. We communicate with our words and body language so we lose much of that warmth and connection when we don’t talk in person. If distance does not allow you to meet in person, at very least, talk on the phone or better yet, ZOOM or Facetime. Test the waters if need be with a text or email but avoid having your discussion over text. Family and marriage therapist Kaley Brown told Hello50, “Many people may end up misinterpreting messages or calls
or take them out of context. This creates misunderstandings and confusion. To avoid this, it is better to meet in person so that you can communicate properly and apologize wherever needed.”
Talk about the problems
When you do meet up, it is important to get straight to the point right away. Wellness expert Reema Chaudry states that instead of beating about the bush, address the issue immediately after the greetings. Reema also explains that your long history means that they will see right through any awkward small talk,so it is better to not to get lost in small talk. You know what to talk about, so getting it out of your system as soon as possible is the best way to go about it.
If you owe an apology, give it right away
After a major fallout, you would likely want to direct all the blame on the other person. However, the fact of the matter is there probably is some shared fault in any situation. While the other person may have made some mistakes, you must also reevaluate your own behavior and accept yours. This is crucial if you are serious about rekindling your friendship. Making excuses or being defensive will not make things better. In fact, such behavior can even result in a bigger distance between the two of you. Be willing to take ownership and even to see a side that you previously had not seen with tensions were at elevated levels.
Find common grounds
Norman Reedus, a certified counselor, explains that coming up with a new way to establish a fresh bond with an old friend can ease the reconnection process. For instance, you can meet up in a restaurant that you both have always liked. You could discuss similar professional or personal goals. He goes further to say finding common grounds can help you reconnect and increase the likelihood that your friend will accept your offer.
Practice empathy, patience and don’t have unrealistic expectations. You have to give yourself and your friend time to heal and ease back into the relationship. Be patient, empathetic, and be open to working things out
together. If you are going to regain your trust and friendship, at some point, you would have to let go of what happened in the past or there is no path forward. We have all heard the old adage, never forget but forgive. If you continue to return to the pain points, it will be impossible to move forward.
You should also be ready to accept that people change
This can mean different things depending on the situation. Your friend or family member could have matured and what caused the dispute years ago is no longer part of who they are today. That can be a really good thing when it comes to re-establishing your relationship. Conversely, you could be two very different people who have grown in different directions. This might be an opportunity to simply “bury the hatchet” from the past and continue to live independent of one another. You might feel at peace that you have found closure to your previous relationship issues and feel good about not moving forward with your connection.
Mutually decide how to move things forward
That leaves you to the next consideration. Your friendship is worth saving only if both of you are ready to accept your role in the problem
and are prepared to work on solving it together. You can’t move forward if you both aren’t willing to take part in making things better between you.
Let things go
Towards the end of your meeting, you will be able to figure out whether it is worth it to continue with the friendship or to let it go. If you and your friend or relative want to work on healing together and proceeding with your relationship, you can end up even stronger than before. It takes mutual respect and understanding but you might find you still really care about one another.
Some relationships are too toxic and unhealthy for your mental well being and you need to decide it is not worth pursuing:
There could have been an abusive or codependent dynamic that is just not healthy for you to pursue.
The relationship might have potential to be healthy but being with the person reminds you too much of a past you worked hard to leave behind. Ellen from New York shared with us that her best friend from her 20’s wants to reconnect but the friendship is a reminder to Ellen of her own past out of control behavior. As painful as it is, she decided to stay away from the friend not because she doesn’t care about her but Ellen does not want to revisit painful memories and perhaps relapse into those old behaviors.
Another consideration is can you forgive yourself if the relationship is not repaired? This is particularly important if the person in question is your elder. Ask yourself how you would feel if that person passed away before you had a chance to reach out to them. It is difficult to think about but a realistic consideration. If you feel like you have such pain from the relationship and are at peace not reconnecting, then accept your decision, no regrets.
Do you have an old friend or family member who you would love to reconnect with but you don’t know where to begin? Set a plan to reach out to them, establish a time frame for that to happen, try and meet in person and decide on realistic expectations regarding your new relationship terms. You might find peace of mind that you attempted to settle a misunderstanding from the past. If it doesn’t work out, you at least can have comfort in knowing that you you made the effort!