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Tips for Transitioning Friendships
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, September 2013

Friendships are precious. Recently, a good friend shared this with me: "Some friends are for a reason. Some are for a season. Some are for a lifetime."

When we consider this, we can appreciate our friendships in a different way. The love and lessons we have learned from friends will always be with us.

We may feel that we want to give more to the friends we want to spend time with and whose friendships we enjoy nourishing. Perhaps someone we know wants more than we can give at this time. We may feel comfortable about having them as an acquaintance but their desire is for a closer relationship. Clearly what we can offer is not enough for them. It can be uncomfortable to repeatedly offer excuses, and we may find our own level of discomfort rising because their sincere invitations make us feel uncomfortable.

The fact that a friendship does not suit us at a particular time of our life is important to honor. Acting on it can be difficult but it can be freeing to examine what options are available as we live honestly and treat people decently. In the process, however, we must realize that boundaries and empathy are two important elements in friendship whenever we consider transitioning.

Here are some helpful tips to guide you:

Recognize that we have the right to spend our time with whomever we choose. - We are the ones in charge of our lives. Ultimately, we take responsibility for planning how and with whom we share our time and our lives. We may have feelings of discomfort about telling someone we are not as available as they would like and that pursuing a friendship of the kind they want is not possible for us right now. It is significantly kinder to communicate directly and from our heart than receiving repeated invitations that we consistently turn them down which can be extremely hurtful. The person may wonder what is "wrong" with them or why they are not "good enough". When we take on the responsibility of not being able to be engaged to the depth the other person wants, the onus is no longer on them. Everyone deserves to feel valued for the person they are.

When not accepting the friendship do not diminish the person. - If we want this person in our life, we need to let them know what we can and cannot do. We need to offer our concern that our being unavailable may be hurtful; that we put a lot of time and energy into friendships and that at this point in your life, we know we cannot do that with them. We need to share that we appreciate their desire to include us in their life in a more significant way than we are able to participate in but we don't like the way it feels when we cannot hold up our part of a relationship and we don't think it is fair or in the spirit of a good friendship to do something part way.

There are ways to address "releasing" old friends lovingly. Once we know what we want and need, we can do this with a sense of respect for what the friendship gave us in the past, why we were in it, and understand the lessons we learned from having been in it.

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