Healthy Mind

Do You Need To Have the ‘Define the Relationship’ Talk in a Friendship? A Therapist Explains

Photo: Getty Images/ vgajic
We've been watching friendships end in a dramatic, fiery way on reality TV for decades. Think: Jill and Bethenny on RHONY to Christine and Heather on Selling Sunset. But in actual reality, most friendships die in a much more mundane way—we simply, slowly, begin to drift away. Talking and texting peters off, and the relationship eventually just kind of...ends.

"There are a lot of different types of friendships," says psychotherapist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. "There are the close friends you can count on for anything and tell all your secrets to, but there are also friends you party with, friends you have intellectual discussions with, or share an important cause with, or play a sport with." Since there are so many different types of friendships, would it be helpful to DTR with our friends, the way we do in romantic relationships? Meaning: being clear about expectations and norms, instead of just taking for granted that everyone is working from the same friendship definition and expectation?

"Maybe," says Dr. Daramus. "If you don’t leave room for growth and change, friendships can be short-lived. Maybe you’re my favorite person to go to clubs with, then we outgrow clubbing. If there are no other common interests, the friendship dies. That happens all the time when someone gets married or has a child." But, don't assume that because a big life change happens means a friendship is over. "Maybe you have a child—that’s a big change, but give your friends a chance to adjust to your new needs instead of assuming they don’t belong any more."

We all know what they say about assuming, yet we still do it. “People are so afraid of acknowledging conflict in friendship,” psychologist, and friendship expert Marisa Franco, PhD, previously told Well+Good. She added that many times people just assume a friendship will end if any tricky topics are brought up. “Ruptures are part of intimacy in friendship—as they are in romantic relationships, as they are in family relationships,” Dr. Franco said. “That's just what it means to be intimate with someone—there's going to be miscommunications, disagreements, [and] different needs that you have to negotiate.”

That's why it's important to remember that your needs in a friendship are not necessarily the same as a friend's—so could be helpful to DTR with your friendships. "Try to do it someplace relaxing, and start by talking about what you value about your friend and what they’ve added to your life," Dr. Daramus advises. "Then move on to what you need or want from them and make emotional space and time to hear their point of view."

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