For many women, their female friendships have been a source of comfort, support, laughter, and joy.
For others, they have been mired in betrayal, mean-spiritedness, and competition.
But for most of us, they’ve been a combination of these two extremes, and typically, even before we reach the age of twelve!
But, by the time we reach 30 years of age, most of us carry a number of scars from battling – and often losing to – the tactics (or ‘rules of engagement’) that we learned while still making mud cakes in the sandbox.
By adulthood, many women hold advanced degrees in knowing how to masterfully undercut and destroy their ‘competition’, often smiling all the while.
Why are so many friendships between women so complex? So fraught with drama, conflict, and with pain?
Well, the answer is rooted in social conditioning (i.e., ‘women are the competition’), as well as within the experience of the woman herself in terms of learning from her own mother how safe relationships with women can be (i.e., a mother who seriously betrays her daughter can teach her to never fully trust women).
In short, the answer is as usually as complex as the women themselves.
During my years of being a psychotherapist, I’ve sat in front of a large number of female friends who’ve experienced serious fractures in their relationship with one another. I’ve listened to the sadness, the anger, the broken trust, and kind of emotional devastation that results from the way women manage or, rather, don’t manage, the issues that inevitably rise between them over the course of time.
Much of what I’ve heard from these clients in this regard, I can recall from my own personal experiences ‘out there’, and so I can empathize with the suffering these women describe in my office, either in the presence or absence of the friend in question.
My goal in these circumstances is to find the root of the humanness and compassion within each woman that often lies deep underneath the anger and hurt feelings.
It already says something that they’re in an office like mine in the first place; despite the pain that exists between them, there still lies the hope and commitment that their friendship was originally based upon, and that makes my job all the easier because I usually have willing participants in the process of healing their fracture.
But these women are rare; most never get to a place where healing can happen, and more often than not, friendships in crisis between women usually die in painful silence, or after an angry meltdown, with either one or both women turning away from the chance to sort through what went wrong or to take responsibility for the behavior that led to that particular outcome.
Why? Because they were never taught the skills to deal with conflict. Why? Because women were taught early in their lives that they shouldn’t have conflict!
Unlike boys or men, who are far more direct about the conflicts they experience with their own gender, and their ways of dealing with them – not always appropriately… hitting your friend in the face isn’t exactly the best way to deal with your anger… but you get the point: boys and men are considerably more direct when it comes to solving the conflicts they have with their friends.
Girls, however, were taught from a very early age to ‘be nice’, and thus, weren’t ever supposed to find themselves in places of conflict because, well, being nice would, for the most part, eliminate that possibility. Or so ‘they’ thought.
But what ends up happening is that girls, and later women, go ‘underground’ with their methods of conflict management, and engage in behaviors that usually just fuel the flames, thus creating mini-wars that become almost impossible to resolve.
Thus, the birth of passive-aggression, where the person can be filthy angry and can undermine or seriously damage their target but in the absence of any real evidence that they did anything untoward.
Gossip (aka, character assassination), getting others ‘on one’s side’ of the argument with an attempt to alienate the other person from any possible support, being outwardly kind toward the person but in no way betraying the hate or anger that lives below the surface (aka, not being honest), are just a few ways that girls learn how to deal with conflict in ‘nice’ ways.
And young girls often continue these nasty behaviors beyond their high school years and, thus, grow into the same ineffective managers of their friendships later in life as they once were in childhood and adolescence.
I’m of course in no way promoting hitting your girlfriends in the face, but hey, there has to be a faster, and far less damaging way through female conflict to resolution, but how?
Well, here’s a 5-step process:
1) be honest;
2) be willing to listen;
3) be undefended;
4) be empathetic; and,
5) be willing to see the part you played in the conflict that arose.
If you can manage to do these 5 things, there’s likely no conflict that you can’t resolve with your girlfriend(s).
This process works with both genders in their own friendships, and is not just for women; it works equally well in intimate relationships.
It’s a system that, in the absence of which, will in time render any friendship or relationship dead, but it requires those involved to become willing to have what I call the ‘hard conversations’.
If the individuals in conflict are willing to be honest about how they feel, and are doing this directly with the other person (no more gossiping or ‘back-biting’) in person, and not through emails or texts, then at least there’s a good chance that they’ll sort through the existing conflict.
Resolution may not always result in a decision to remain friends, but it’ll certainly allow both of you the dignity to move forward in peace and respect – both for yourselves, as well as for the other person.
So, women, take a moment to inventory your own friendships.
Are there any that you feel might benefit from my ‘5-step’ prescription?
If so, kick aside the ineffective strategies that you learned on the playground, and instead, roll up your sleeves and step into a process that might save the relationship you have with your very best friend.