How do I make a friendship work
My friend once knew everything about me, every secret, every embarrassing story, my greatest worries and most secret goals. Whenever things got critical, she was there, had lovesick conversations with me, discussed fears of failure and analyzed family disputes. She was happy about every little success, every personal breakthrough. And laughed to death at my peculiarities and weird views.
But at some point everything was different. Funny. Strange. It felt like there was suddenly an invisible wall between us. Something has changed. Is it because our lives have developed rapidly in other directions? And is it really worth fighting or should I say goodbye? A conversation with psychotherapist and friendship researcher Dr. Wolfgang Kruger.
If I have the feeling that a close friend is slowly becoming a stranger to me - what can I do?
Wolfgang Krüger: First of all, you have to ask yourself how close the friendship is. You have regular contact with real friends of the heart and you also have a sense of what goes wrong in this friendship. Whether it's because your best friend is in love again and is no longer interested in you. Or that there was a conflict that has not been resolved.
If I don't know what's going on, that's usually a sign of a certain alienation. First of all, you should listen to yourself and consider what the reason for this could be. If you don't find out, there is only one thing to do: ask your boyfriend what's going on. To tell him / her that friendship means something to you. And to ask directly: What do you think about it?
Sometimes friends take different paths in life over the years. One has children, the other has a career. One becomes materialistic, the other continues to live humbly. Is it worth fighting for any friendship?
Kruger: It depends. You have to differentiate here between average friendships and heartfelt friendships. In the case of an average friendship, a change in living conditions can very quickly lead to it tipping over. Within seven years, 50 percent of friendships fail. It is precisely because you have little time that the most boring and difficult friendships fall behind. Life is relatively merciless there.
Two thirds of all women, but only one third of all men, are close friends. A person can maintain a maximum of three friendships from the heart at the same time. There are also about twelve average friendships.
There are core traits that lead to a friendship getting lost. When friends have offended you, suddenly seem boring, constantly in a bad mood, or never getting in touch. You have to think about whether you want to try to find your friend at all. It can also be that my gut feeling says: I don't feel like it anymore.
But a dear friend doesn't just fall away ...
Kruger: When it comes to friendships of the heart, we fight. You don't just give up such a relationship. A very good friend has been with us for a long time. He or she knows everything, has heard all love stories, knows all fantasies and megalomania. Whether a friendship is really a friendship of the heart can be determined with two test questions: Who could I tell how difficult the mother relationship is? And that it doesn't work out in bed in marriage?
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Are such friendships from the heart like family?
Kruger: The heart friendships are like family in terms of feeling. I find my best friend almost like a brother. That shows how stable and reliable this relationship is. Many even say friends are better family.
However, when it comes to issues such as care in old age it becomes difficult. This shows that friendships are not family after all. They do not have the same level of self-sacrifice that we have known in the family, at least so far. I did a survey and it came out that most friends are willing, for example, to shop and cook for their friend. On the other hand, only about 20 percent wanted to wash their friend or something similar. When it comes to topics like this, one shouldn't overtax the friendships of the heart.
Change happens everywhere. When close friends suddenly have different views and preferences, disappointment and irritation arise. Should one hold on anyway?
Kruger: You can't keep friendships all the time. Of course, friends of the heart are not always the same either. But in most cases you have the same values. That is the core of our existence. As a result, something important always remains in the friendships of the heart.
If, for example, a friend is increasingly withdrawing, and I am very active on the other hand, so our pace varies enormously, then that is difficult. This can also happen with very close friendships.
So do I sometimes have to let a close friend go too?
Kruger: It can happen. The question, of course, is how to say goodbye. There are two ways to end a friendship. On the one hand, active: That you write a letter and tell the truth. On the other hand, passively: That you just stop reporting and a friendship falls asleep. My own experience is that you often meet people again. If you then split up in an argument, it can be embarrassing. If a friendship just goes like this, there is always a chance of getting closer again after years.
If you've lost a close friend, it still hurts afterward. What can you do to make it easier for you to say goodbye?
Kruger: One is making new friends. You always have to have the courage to look for new friendships. The hard part about this topic is: making friends is like looking for a diamond. It is simply tedious. And the yield is infinitely small. Because you are looking for someone who has a deep understanding of you. Such relationships are rare.
How do you find a good friend? Is that a little bit of fate and a little bit of work?
Kruger: First of all, you should get to know as many people as possible. And then you have to have the courage to approach them. We Germans in particular are very cautious about this. Many have reservations about imposing themselves.
The key to finding friendships is having a good level of confidence. If you yourself feel that you are a gift and enrichment for others, it is easier to reach out to enough people. And then there is also a high probability that there will be a person who could become a dear friend.
As with falling in love, it can also be quick, right?
Kruger: There is also friendship at first sight. You meet someone and immediately have the feeling of great sympathy, you feel drawn to the other. You just have to take it up and give fate a chance.
Is there a recipe for how a friendship lasts a lifetime?
Kruger: The core of friendship is friendship with yourself. Ask yourself questions like: Who am I? What are my hopes in life? And then bring the exploration of these questions to the friendships. If you suppress a lot yourself and don't tell your friend anything, the relationship becomes superficial.
Friendships thrive on real interest in one another. I sometimes ask my friends: are you happy? What were your childhood dreams? This is where friendship becomes exciting. We could get a lot more imaginative with friendships. We should be less inhibited and ask questions much more aggressively.
Do men actually have different friendships than women?
Kruger: Over two thirds of all women have at least one good girlfriend. In the case of men, it is not even a third. Despite all emancipation, we men are timed to be strong. In male friendships it is more likely to state what is great and reluctant to tell what is not going well. That would have to change. Men should be able to talk about themselves and their weaknesses differently. And being able to express that to male friends as well.
Men like to be friends with women because there is no rivalry problem. Most men say that their wife is the only confidante who learns everything about them. Therefore, the suicide rate among men when their partners split up is seven times higher than that among women.
Wolfgang Krüger, Friendship: Beginning, Improving, Shaping, 2016
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