A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

11 Ways to Move Past a Friendship Fight

Updated: Dec. 20, 2022

A best friend by your side is invaluable, whether it's someone you've known since childhood or someone you encountered by chance as an adult. So it's not surprising that a fight with a friend can be as heartbreaking as an argument with a partner. But conflict doesn't have to lead to a "friendship breakup." Here's how to move past it, forgive each other, and make your relationship stronger than ever.

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Be a better listener

A small misunderstanding can turn into a big friendship breakup in the end if you pretend the disagreement never happens, so keep the lines of communicaton open, says Felicia Pressley, PhD, a licensed professional counselor and assistant professor at Argosy University. “Talking through the situation is best because letting the situation linger can develop into feelings of neglect, disrespect, or even anger.” Before you get heated with a friend, take a mental step back and really listen to what she says. “If you’re not mature enough to respect other’s opinions, then perhaps breaking up a friendship is best. But if you would like to mend the friendship, then apologize, and listen to the other person’s point-of-view. At the end of the day, people usually just want to be heard.” Here are some helpful ways you can become a better listener.

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Agree to disagree

Look, no two people will always think or act the exact same way. You will not always see eye-to-eye with friends; even those you’ve known since high school. Remind yourself you’re not friends with “Jane” because you both grew up in the same hometown and like romantic comedies, for example. You’re friends with Jane because you respect and value her.

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Decide if it’s a friendship worth saving

“Misunderstandings are inevitable in life,” adds Pressley. “Evaluate the friendship and ask yourself, ‘Is this a toxic relationship? Is this ‘friend’ always putting me down?'” Adds Susan Kuczmarski, EdD, author of Becoming a Happy Family: “Take responsibility for your own failures and learn from them, express gratitude for the good and bad times—both are teachers and blessings—and show patience and forgiveness.” If the friendship tapers off, look at it as something you appreciated when you had it and mentally wish the person the best as you both move on. In fact, learning from past mistakes made in friendships can be a great way to overcome the friendship recession and foster new connections.

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Come up with a conclusion, together

OK, it’s a little cheesy, but we’ve all seen a TV show where two friends fight, cry, realize they were both wrong, and then they hug it out over a huge bowl of ice cream. If you make up after a fight with a bud, decide what to do if you argue again. “Brainstorm to come up with an action plan. Say, ‘Let’s try to come up with some ideas for how to prevent this from happening again’,” says Kuczmarski. For example, if you feel the conversation is getting heated, agree that one of you will ask, “How about those Red Sox?” as a code to immediately change the subject to something more lighthearted. Or, give yourself a day or two to both cool down, then agree to meet for coffee at your favorite café later in the week to briefly hash things out, followed by that movie-style big ol’ bear hug that only a bestie can give.

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Eat some “humble pie”

Even if you’ve known your BFF since you were 10 years old, you’re an adult now, so act like it. Be willing to fess up when you’re the one who was wrong, says Kuczmarski. “We all make mistakes, but we all don’t admit that we do. Model how to be humble and how to talk about problems, and be bluntly honest about your own thoughts and feelings.” Express concern for the problem at hand and take responsibility for your own failures while learning from them.

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Remember your friend has the best intentions

“In any relationship, it’s important to recognize the intention behind the comments. Oftentimes, things get misconstrued or our own sensitivities and vulnerabilities can contribute to misunderstandings,” says Julia Israelski, LCSW, a Connecticut-based therapist. “Or, we’ll internalize something a friend said that may have nothing to do with us. If we are committed to the friendship, and trust that our friend has the best intentions, it makes exploring our interpretations (or miscommunications) easier.” In fact, when you talk about the misunderstanding, remind your friend how much you appreciate them and respect their opinion; it can help make “the talk” easier on both sides. Perhaps they had a bad day and took their mood out on you, or genuinely felt they gave you good advice, but since you’re sensitive, you took it personally in that moment. Chances are, they didn’t wake up that morning hell bent on hurting your feelings. (Check out these 24 little things you can do to be a true friend.)

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Try not jump to conclusions

“In a healthy, secure relationship, it’s OK to question things and to share opinions, even if they vary from our friend’s. Not jumping to conclusions or assuming that what we heard is what they meant can help,” says Israelski. “Exploring the comment from a place of curiosity helps avoid defensiveness,” she says. For example, ask your friend, “Am I understanding you right? Do you mean you think the caterer is ripping me off?” instead of, “I can’t believe you would say that!” Adds Israelsk, “Sometimes, regardless of how sensitive we try to be to others feelings, things come out wrong. Being able to ‘own this’ and to offer clarifying information without getting angry is key to keeping communication open and healthy.”

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Don’t let other friends or famliy get in the way

“I met my friend Geena back in the 80s when we both went to New York University,” says Mercedes S., from New York. “We recently got in an argument after she interviewed my sister to be her interior designer. Geena ultimately decided against using her and my sister was really hurt. I defended my sister because I thought Geena was in the wrong; then Geena and I didn’t speak for months. It stung, but we needed space. I missed Geena, but was also confused about why she’d treat my sister ‘that way.’ Even though I felt she was wrong, I wanted to move past the awkwardness and save the friendship. I called Geena and we chalked it up to a misunderstanding, agreed to disagree; and moved on.”

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Remember, everyone changes—including you

“Last year, my best friend and I argued over a job opportunity; I thought she didn’t seem appreciative of my help,” says Amber M., of Virginia. “We’ve had plenty of misunderstandings over the years, but that time we were both hurt on a much deeper level. After months of very little contact, I knew I had to take a different approach if I wanted to salvage the friendship. I decided to focus only on her core personality traits, the ones I fell in ‘friendship love’ with, and let all of my obsolete assumptions and expectations just fall away. After all, we aren’t twenty-somethings anymore! Life had changed us both in big ways. Who was I to judge her decisions? I think as we get older, if we want to hold on to our friendships, we can’t view them as these fixed, permanent objects frozen in time. We have to make an effort to see the individual, and let go of everything else.” Find out ways to stay close with your long-distance friend.

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Don’t get huffy

We all have stubborn moments when we struggle to see someone else’s point-of-view. To keep your friendship in check, adjust your attitude regarding who’s to blame. Acknowledge that, as half of a friendship, you’re also responsible for being a good partner in this duo. Basically, you’re not perfect, and they’re not perfect. Chances are, you’ve inadvertently hurt them as well, either past or present, so own that emotion and recognize it, which may make it easier to forgive. It takes two to tango, even in a friendship. (Check out the 14 thing science can teach you about forgiveness.)

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Use “I” statements

Instead of accusing your friend or calling her a name, to better explain your side of the argument, use “I-statements.” Tell your friend how you feel while focusing on your own actions and perceptions. In doing so, you won’t sound so accusatory. Sarah Lisovich, CIA Medical’s senior editor, has personally found that this structure of honesty has worked in her favor. “It’s better to say, ‘I feel a certain way’, instead of ‘you always do this’,” she advises. “Even the most innocent “you” statement can feel like a finger wagging, at which point your friend may feel on-guard. Express your emotions gently and kindly and if the friendship has grounded anchors, the fight is likely to be resolved.”

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest