As your values shift, you may hit an impasse in some friendships
As I wrote in my previous post on friendship and values, friendship is best when your values are aligned. When your values are out of alignment with a friend’s, you frequently have to pretend to be someone you’re not or are no longer in order to “fit in.” This can feel lonely as you have to work harder to be accepted in a way that is not being who you are fully.
In these instances, you may bump up against a friendship impasse—your values are opposed in a way that can’t be navigated. This impasse can be hard for both people in the relationship. Yet you need to grieve and acknowledge this shift while you also seek out new friends who are more aligned with your developing values.
When you feel like you’ve outgrown a friendship, the first step is to consider your own evolving values and integrate them
When you find yourself at a friendship impasse, like you’ve outgrown a friendship and need someone who reflects your values more, you need to first deeply consider what your own values are and how you may have shifted. In a sense, you have to have conversations with yourself or in therapy to get closer to your values. How do you do that? Consider: What do I want more (or less) of in my life? How do I want to spend my time? How do I want to treat people and be treated in both activities, time, and how we talk to one another? What do I want to share and know about someone else? What am I curious about? In asking these questions, you get to know yourself, as well as sit with the history of your friendships—the good, the bad, and the messy—and start thinking and feeling about what you want and need in these relationships.
For example, outgrowing friendships due to values is a frequent experience for new parents. New parenthood isn’t just a stage of life; it’s a value shift. A new kiddo means that growing a family is at the top of your values. Sometimes this requires talking about things that are not so much of value to older friends without kids. You need new friendships that can grow alongside this new important person in your life (your kid). This is often why new parents attend mom groups—these parents are potential friends who may be able to discuss this phase of life and can share the same values in how they relate to their kids, how they interact with them, and the activities they do together.
It’s not just new parenthood. Relationship changes and being more focused on professional life can both bring a different way of relating to the world, whether as a newly single person or someone who is focusing on their career with less free time. While considering these changes and your own values, it’s important to accept within yourself and integrate that you are evolving both in your life and relationships, which may have an impact on older friendships. Integrating this reality can include some much-needed grief work. You may need to let go of a piece of yourself that was and accept what is now and needs to be.
In addition to considering your own values, observe how your old and new friends interact with you and the world
How do you know your friends’ values? The key is being curious and observing both your old and new friends. How do they spend their money? What do they talk about? What do you agree to do together? How do they show up to that? Are you feeling closer to them and getting to know them more (even if you’ve known them for a long time)? Do the conversations feel free-flowing and aligned? Do you feel taken in and can take them in? These questions can only be answered by spending time with a friend and going slowly toward their abilities or processes of living out their values. As you create more with someone, you find out if your values and sense of how you relate can lead to a stronger collaborative friendship.
Often you can see an alignment or misalignment in values in how a friend talks to and about others in their life—their parents, sibling, partner, boss, or kid(s)—as well as how they interact with the world, whether on a train, in a café, or as you walk around. How do they talk to a waiter or barista? How do they engage (or not) with their partner or pets? This is a way to see friends living out their values either consciously or unconsciously. There is frequently a sense of ick or without closeness if you don’t share the same values in how they interact with the world.
If you find you are misaligned with a friend’s values, name it: If you’re at a complete impasse, step away kindly and grieve
Sometimes when a friend is misaligned with your values, you may be able to call this out non-aggressively and talk about it. You can name that a friend is not quite living out a value you know they have or name it as your value to see where a friend stands. This can be very vulnerable and unknown, but finding out a friend’s value is so important.
If, for example, a friend is rude to a waiter, name kindly in full warmth and curiosity, “Hey, I noticed you were rude to our waiter. Did you notice it? What’s going on?” This might stop a friend in their tracks and help them open up—or they might react and the rude might come to you. If you go through a few rounds of this and can’t get closer or they’re unable to reflect on how they acted against their or your values of kindness to others, this might mean you have to step away from a friendship.
If you find you’ve outgrown a friend or they’re not in a place where they can grow with you, there are ways to step away with kindness and openness. Say, for instance, “We had some nice times but I need to disengage.” This can be extremely difficult. But if you value being kind in the world and naming the truth, a hard and honest conversation is the more loving thing. This way, both people can walk away without questions and with an understanding—an understanding that can be brought into new friendships. The work, then, becomes about grieving the friendship that was while accepting moving forward in taking time and slowness to develop new friendships more aligned with your values.
Therapy can help you discover your own values and look at how that relates to who you allow around you
Therapy is a place where you can come to know your own evolving values. When you are asked questions by a curious therapist, you can really hone in on these values, ones that have always been there and ones that are developing from life experience and influences of growing as a human. Therapy challenges you to look at yourself and your relationships with yourself, those around you, and the world. This makes you also look at ways you show up as not your best self or let others show up as not their best.
A good therapist can also look at a pattern of who you allow around you and who you have been drawn to, exploring how you are in relationships. This can include facing that you may not be picking the right friends to get close to and finding out why that is. The therapist both reflects and names what you are saying back to you and often points out something you haven’t thought about yourself, bringing complexity. With that complexity and increased understanding, you might realize you have gone towards friendships that are not serving you or your values.
Therapy can help you both grieve the loss of friendships that you have outgrown and had to let go of while also supporting you to bear the vulnerability of finding others who are more aligned. Sometimes you may also have to face a hard truth that others outgrew you. In these cases, you have to look at that painful truth and talk in therapy to find out more about how you want to grow with your values in mind. This process might take a few mistakes, missteps, or broken friendship hearts, but you can get there by being patient with living out your values and finding others who also live out theirs and align with you enough to feel more fulfilled by these newer (more mature to us) relationships.