I have been living with my roommate and good friend for a couple of years now. We have had several trust issues in the past but have been able to resolve them after long and emotional conversations. However, recently she broke my trust and I don’t want to fix the friendship. That said, we are signed to a lease for the next 10 months. I don’t want to talk with her, but she deserves to know that the friendship is over. How should I talk with her about ending our friendship but remaining cordial as roommates?
Dear Rifted Roommate,
Your question hits home for me. One of the most challenging times in my life occurred during the four months between when my husband and I decided to get a divorce and when we moved out of our place. Living in a shared space for those four months as we tried to navigate the end of one relationship (our marriage) and the development of a new one (as co-parents) was at times excruciating. Here are a few things I learned from our conversations that I hope will help you with yours.
Start With Heart
Before you can have a productive conversation with someone else about a difficult, painful, or emotional topic, you need to have a productive conversation with yourself. You need to truly understand your intent for wanting to have the conversation and challenge your motives to get clear on what they are. In other words, what is your goal here?
When trust has been broken, when relationships have shifted, when feelings have been hurt, we sometimes feel a deep need to speak our truth so as to honor and affirm our experience and our pain. If you need that closure, I absolutely respect that. But it that’s your aim, please recognize that your goal is about you and your needs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can make it more difficult to have a productive conversation because your underlying intent, and therefore focus, is on you, not them.
It can be helpful to expand your intent by asking yourself:
- What do I really want here for me? You probably already know this. I am guessing from your question that you want authenticity, honesty, self-respect and clear boundaries.
- What do I really want for the other person? This is trickier. I would hazard a guess but there is not really anything in your question to go on. I don’t see any indication that you have given thought to what you want for her. I’d suggest you spend some time here. This can be a hard question to answer because often, when faced with difficult conversations, we have strong judgments and emotions about the other person. But here is the thing: you were friends once. The person you were saw something of worth and value in the person she was. Try to see that again. Not to repair the friendship or excuse the breach of trust, but simply to see her as a human being of worth and value. Then, with that in mind, ask yourself: what do I want for this human being?
- What do I really want for the relationship? You know the relationship you don’t want. And, if you’re like most of us, you’ve spent some time thinking or even ruminating about that. Try spending some time thinking about the relationship you do want for the next ten months. Visualize. What do you want to feel and experience in your home? What will the emotional tenor of your interactions be? Cold indifference? Warm support? Passing acknowledgement?
Taking some time to get clear on your intent for yourself, for her, and for the relationship, will prepare you to hold the conversation.
Make It Safe
How you initiate the conversation can greatly affect how the other person will respond. Most people get defensive when they perceive an attack, whether it be in the form of criticism, judgment, or blame. So, if someone is getting defensive, assume you said or did something that, for them, felt attacking.
You are about to tell a friend that your feelings toward her have changed because of things she has done. That will likely feel like an attack. If it is an attack, then that is on you and you should back away until you are in a better place to hold the conversation. If it’s not an attack, if your intent is truly to create a positive living space for each of you, then you need to communicate that. Consider some of the ways you might do that:
- Honor the relationship you had in the past and the things you admire about her.
- Acknowledge that both of you, like all people, have grown and changed over the course of your relationship.
- Share that, while you see your relationship differently now, you want to create a positive, warm living arrangement going forward. You want something that will work for yourself and her.
- Be clear and direct. Sugarcoating doesn’t create safety. Candor does. Don’t dodge. Speak directly. The relationship you used to have doesn’t work any longer. And yet, you still want to have a friendly relationship moving forward.
Give Her Time
A change in a close, personal relationship is inevitably emotional. My guess is that you have already done a lot of your own emotional work in processing this change. She probably hasn’t. Be generous and give her the time and space she may need to process this. She will likely be hurt. Hurt people sometimes say unkind things. If she does, forgive her.
This will likely be more than one conversation. It is the rare individual that can process and respond to the end of a friendship within a single conversation. Respect her need to step away from the conversation.
When we become friends, we let down walls. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable with others. Sometimes the result is friendship. Other times the result is pain. There is pain in this for both of you. Take care of yourself. And be careful with her. She was once a friend.
The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations