Saturday 23 November 2019

How to Be Honest without Losing Your Friends

I’ve learned that the best relationships aren’t just about the good times; they’re also about the obstacles you go through together, the undying support, love, and the ways you help each other grow. — Sibyl Chavis

Fran and I believe openness and honesty are essential if you want your friendships and relationships to be successful. As we write in our book High Tide, Low Tide:

We believe it is healthier to be open about our thoughts and feelings than to dismiss, hide, or avoid them. .... We sometimes get upset or angry with each other, but we deal with discord promptly if it occurs, recognising there is no need to fear even powerful emotions when they can be explored safely.

It’s not always easy. Being honest requires mutual respect and trust, a commitment to work through whatever comes up, and the belief that your relationship is worth the effort. Here are three examples where I’ve worked through disagreements and issues honestly with friends. If I can do it, you can do it too!

“Over there — that’s where we had our first tiff!”

My friend Vikki and I were standing at the bar in Hadrian’s Tipi in Newcastle for the first time in about a year. I smiled. “Yeah. I was pretty grumpy that day!” She didn’t contradict me.

I remembered it well. Vikki sharing what was going on for her that day. People. Conversations. Frustrations. Whatever she needed to get off her chest in the safe space we’d learned to hold for each other as friends. I had things to talk about too; specifically the great response I was getting to my article about bipolar anger which had been published by Bipolar UK. I was feeling positive and proud and wanted to share that with my friend, not least because she had contributed to the article. But Vikki was in full flow. It was hard to get a word in and I began to get frustrated. Even when she paused long enough for me to speak I didn’t feel she was paying attention. I took myself off to the toilet but we both knew I was angry.

When I got back Vikki apologised for interrupting me. I explained that the news about the article was important to me, the way her stuff was to her. She acknowledged my point of view and pointed out I had told her my news — twice — but said we didn’t need to seek validation from each other all the time. That aggravated me all over again — because of course, she was right! The atmosphere was brittle for a while but we put it behind us and enjoyed the rest of our time out.

It wasn’t our last disagreement or the worst. For a while we weren’t friends at all but now we are, and our friendship is stronger for all we’ve gone through. We’ve certainly learned a lot about how to handle things that come up for us.

Maybe you only really start to get to know someone when you’ve had an argument or disagreement and come through it together. That’s certainly true of me and Fran. I’m not sure which was our very first but we’ve had many such moments in the eight years or more we’ve been friends. I’ve written elsewhere about some of them, including this example which I’m not proud of.

A couple of months ago we were talking together on webcam. Suddenly, I was more furious than I can ever recall being in my life. I was yelling at her, swearing at her, raging at her. I can still recall the fury. I can taste it. I have no recollection now of what triggered my outburst, but I know we stayed on our call. Fran waited for me to calm down. We talked it through. I could ask Fran to remind me what it was about. Perhaps I will. But the point is we can experience moments of even extreme anger, process them, and move on.

How do we do that? First and foremost we are honest and open with each other. We are not proud of our anger but neither are we ashamed. We do not take it as a personal affront or as a threat to our relationship. We talk as soon as possible, looking “under the bonnet” at what might actually have been going on. It can be a very cleansing experience, and allows us to move forward without feeling guilty or nursing bruised egos.

That article includes a situation similar to the one I’ve described with Vikki. I clearly have some issues around feeling not listened to when I’m sharing things with people, even people I feel safe with and trust.

I could tell Fran wasn’t paying attention, and as soon as I stopped speaking she took the conversation back to what she’d been talking about earlier. I let it go but I felt aggrieved. I’d have liked some acknowledgement of what I’d shared. I was also irritated by some of what Fran was saying about other people and events, as though everything and everyone was against her.

After talking for a few minutes Fran paused. She’d noticed my shift in mood. She acknowledged she was being unreasonable. She knew I was excited about my news, but couldn’t focus on that because she was so worried about what was going on for her. She was also concerned her bipolar might be kicking in again. I realised I’d not picked up on just how concerned she was about everything. Although “tired and grumpy” she had seemed to have things in hand.

It didn’t take long to talk it through. No more than a couple of minutes. Before we ended our call I told her: “I’m proud of how we do this stuff, Fran. You get to say how it is for you. I get to say how it is for me. And we get over ourselves and move on.”

My third example concerns my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson. It happened earlier this year when she was in hospital following an overdose. (You can read Aimee’s account of what she was going through at the time on her blog I’m NOT Disordered.) Aimee asked if I could go in to visit her and I was happy to do so. She was still in A&E at the time and said she’d tell me when she was moved onto one of the wards. I confirmed the ward visiting times and told her I’d be there.

I had to catch a train and a bus to get to the hospital and decided to travel in early. I arrived with a couple of hours to spare and asked at reception if she’d been moved onto a ward yet. She was still in A&E and I was allowed through to visit. I thought she’d be glad to see me, but she was cross because I’d not waited until she was on the ward. She asked me to wait outside and at first I said it was OK, I’d sit with her. She told me again and this time I did as she asked. I went back to reception and settled down to wait. I was sorry I’d upset her but it didn’t seem too big a deal. I passed the time working on a blog post. Ironically, it was an open letter about a previous occasion I’d visited Aimee in hospital.

Finally it was visiting time. I’d heard nothing so I went back to ask how she was. I was told Aimee had been moved onto a ward but didn’t want to see me. As I left the hospital it’s fair to say I felt hurt and angry — mostly at myself but also at Aimee for not letting me know what was happening. (In fact, she’d asked one of the nurses to find me in reception but I’d not got the message.) I messaged Aimee as I waited for my bus:

They’ve told me you don’t want any visitors after all so I guess I’ll go. I’m not cross, just sad.

Aimee replied later that day. I will always be grateful that she was completely honest about how deeply my actions had impacted her.

I did tell you that I’d let you know when I was on a ward and what the visiting times were and you just turned up and then I had to repeat myself for you to leave. Like I already don’t feel like I’m in control of anything and you did that... it was upsetting and hard.

In that moment I saw why it had hurt her so much. I replied more defensively than I wish I had, but I took responsibility and apologised. It was our first serious disagreement and I wasn’t sure how it would affect our friendship but Aimee accepted my apology and we moved on from there. When I told Aimee I’d like to include what happened in an article about arguments between friends, she said “Sure. It wasn’t an argument, though. It was a misunderstanding. And I think it made us stronger.”

I agree. We’ve not had any other big disagreements (so far!) but something came up recently which left me feeling hurt and less than valued. I considered keeping it to myself but figured Aimee would rather I brought it into the open. It was the right decision. Aimee acknowledged my feelings, apologised, and shared her perspective on what had happened. It’s good to know we can do the honesty thing.

I saw a meme on social media the other day which read:


I laughed. I get it. But the friends I value most are the ones who say yes.


1 comment: