If you’re of a certain age, you’ve likely run into a friendship problem that seems more grade school than grown up: Two friends in your inner circle get into some petty argument that becomes long-standing, and inevitably you’re dragged into the middle.
It happened not long ago to Kali Rogers, the CEO and founder of Blush, an online life coaching company for girls.
“It was a very precarious situation from the start,” Rogers told HuffPost. “I tried my best to stay out of it, but in the end, one of the friends actually ended up turning on me and reacquainting herself with the other friend.”
No good deed goes unpunished, especially in the messy arena of adult friendships.
Rogers’ tale of feuding friends is all too common, but there’s no real playbook for how to handle it: To intervene or stay out of it? What do you do about social events like your birthday, where you want both to attend? Have no fear, friendship feud advice is here! Below, five tips to make this sticky situation a little less stressful.
Don’t let them wrangle you into taking sides.
You might not mind playing mediator ― maybe you even relish doing so if you’ve got a bit of a savior complex. But don’t let either of your friends talk you into taking a referee role, where you’re forced to weigh in on who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong, said Marie Land, a psychologist based in Washington, D.C.
“To be clear with them, say something like, ‘I care about your feelings, but I’m not going to take sides,’” Land said. “If they aren’t getting it and are defensive, you have the right to explain how this is impacting you.”
For instance, say something like: “It kind of makes me uncomfortable to talk about X with you. Can we talk about something else? What’d you think of that new Jordan Peele movie?”
To deflect further and remind them that responsibility for the situation lies with them, Land suggests saying, “I hope that you guys can talk about it or feel better about things.”
Don’t overpersonalize the situation.
Your circle of friends ― and the state of each of those friendships ― obviously matters to you. But ultimately you’re dealing with adults who dictate how they spend their free time and with whom. They call the shots when it comes to friendships they want to invest or not, said Andrea Bonior, a psychologist and the host of Baggage Check, a live weekly chat on The Washington Post.
“It’s not your job to manage other people’s conflicts, and although it can be very frustrating and stressful to have two friends fighting, remember that the more you make it about you, the more miserable you will be,” she said.
Plan ahead for shared events.
When social events roll around, hold your ground and invite whomever you damn please to your party, said Melissa S. Cohen, a psychotherapist in Westfield, New Jersey. Part of being an adult is growing out of the self-centeredness and drama of our youth. Your friends should be able to recognize when they’re not the focal point of the event. (Plus, if it’s a party setting, all the extra people there should help bring down the intensity of the scorched-earth vibes going on between them.)
“Everyone needs to rise above their own issues to focus on why they’re gathering in the first place,” Cohen said. “Maybe in advance, remind them that it takes a lot more effort to snub someone than to simply be cordial. Even if we are hurt, everyone deserves to be treated with respect.”
Cohen’s pro tip for interacting with someone you’d just as rather not? Extend the same level of politeness that you would to a stranger on the subway.
“Acknowledge their existence and then focus elsewhere,” she said.
Set healthy boundaries and rules for conversation.
Put your own peace of mind first here. Set clear boundaries with each friend to establish your role ― or really, your lack thereof ― in this feud, Rogers said.
“I recommend enforcing rules such as no negative speech about the other friend in front of you, no relaying messages between the two enemy friends and no referencing the feud in your presence,” she said.
Be willing to accept that their friendship may have run its course.
Friendships are fluid things. Sometimes, in the process of growing individually or just living our daily lives, we outgrow each other. You might get along swimmingly with both of these people, but if they no longer “click” as friends, it doesn’t need to bring additional stress into your life.
“At this point, they may have little in common except their friendship with you,” said Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.” “If being together as a trio gets too uncomfortable, you may need to see each of them individually from now on.”
“Of course, it’s helpful to try to clear up any misunderstandings, but pushing too much may backfire,” she said. “All you can do is reassure your two friends that, individually, their friendship with you will always be important.”