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Do you need a friend break? Dealing with friendship transitions

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Women walk together up a hill as they participate in some morning exercise during a visit to Torrey Pines State Park in San Diego, California, November 14, 2012. (REUTERS/Mike Blake)

Though you may have once shared two-halves of a heart necklace that read Friends Forever, you now dread seeing her name on your caller ID. It happens – and there are ways of coping with a friendship-gone-south that can feel liberating.  

Research supports what we likely intuit: Friendship eases our stress and improves our health.  In fact, in an experiment described in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, if you stand at the base of a steep hill, you’re less likely to perceive the actual intensity of the incline when you're with a friend. Even imagining climbing the hill with a friend seems less daunting compared to considering the journey with a neutral or negative acquaintance. In other words, people we consider supportive facilitate our perceived ability to climb; yet, a mere body alone doesn’t qualify as a helpful companion.

Melanie put a lot of effort into meeting her college friend, Emma, every season.  As we began to track her activities and her corresponding moods, both in treatment and with the help of an app called MoodKit, she started to notice that she walked away from dinners with Emma feeling a bit depleted.  Emma’s words often felt judgmental and competitive.  

“I feel guilty, but it’s like feigning interest in a dating prospect,” Melanie explained.  “It’s hard enough making time to work out and go to the dry cleaners after work; I just can’t make time for friends.”

Understandably, a buddy at one point in time may feel like a distant acquaintance at some point in the future. Given that we all continuously evolve and grow, it’s okay for friendships to change, for reasons such as diverging interests, hurt feelings or logistics.

If your friendship feels stale, or if a conflict occurred, you might think about courageously broaching the topic. You can also think about ways to problem solve. If Melanie knows Emma is negative because she is going through a divorce, going to a funny movie might help make their time together feel easier. Melanie can also talk to Emma – with compassion – about how her attitude affects her.  

When a friendship needs some fine-tuning, address your needs. Meet somewhere convenient or explain that the topic of baby strollers bores you.  If you can talk through your hopes, as awkward as you may feel, you may ultimately revive your relationship.

If a friendship needs to end, stay classy. You don’t need to gossip or slander your former friend. And if you share friends in common, you don’t need to hide, get people to take sides or avoid events to escape the person.  

A once-time friend doesn’t need to become an enemy; he or she can be a person you wish well, at a distance.  

Jennifer Taitz  is a licensed clinical psychologist based in New York City. She is the author of End Emotional Eating: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Cope with Difficult Emotions and Develop Healthy Relationship to Food. Visit her website drjennytaitz.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter to learn more.

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