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The Fault in My Friendships

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Forgive Me_blog photo

As I grow a little bit older, a little bit wiser and unfortunately a little bit wider, I‘ve learned something about my friendships. I haven’t always done great with them. And more often than not, it’s my fault.

I’m one for reflection on this Highest of High Holidays, as I’m sure are most of you attractive Oy! readers, but far too often I blame my introversion as a scapegoat. This upcoming Yom Kippur, I’m realizing that I need to forgive my younger self for the friendships that have gone and focus on the friendships that have grown.

First and foremost, some friendships are meant to dissipate over time and that is okay. As we grow older, our schedules and priorities change. It took me a long time to see that the friendships I am keen on keeping, however, take work, and I need to make a conservative effort to maintain them.

A lot of my epiphany stems from my friendship with Jessie, who asked not to be mentioned by name. Long story short, we were friends from high school and throughout college we didn’t speak to each for three years due to an incident involving a large amount of immaturity and bad communication, almost entirely stemming from me. It’s one of the few regrets in my life. Another being that I tried the cottage cheese in my fridge with the expiration date smudged out.

The actual incident in question is so muddled these days that I can barely even understand what incited the three-year break, I just remember the feelings I had leading up to it and right after. In all fairness, I remember that a lot was due to me being a bit of a pushover (I fear standing near railings) and letting my friends dictate plans and sometimes me, even when I was truly uncomfortable. This all came to a head when, instead of dealing with my feelings or explaining how I felt, I basically straight up abandoned the friendship.

Man, I was a jerk.

Over the years, Jessie kept reaching out to me and I finally came around to my three-years-more-mature senses. This friendship today is now one of my strongest, important and special. We even humorously call those years “The Hiatus,” noting how our friendship is a ship that can never sink – just occasionally blow up. This experience has helped me to understand that it’s important to never burn bridges, but instead, if you have to, just put up an easily removable “Do Not Enter” sign.

The Fault in My Friendships photo

That’s just one instance of a friendship in fault, though the best faulted friendship (what great irony) is one in which neither of us really talk to each other for a while, maybe a month or possibly years, but never feel for a seocond that the friendship is over. I’m sure many of you have these as well. I forgive these friends for not trying to get in touch with me because it is usually as much my fault as it is theirs. We might actually get together and catch up if one of us would stop being a fool and pick up the phone – or to rephrase for my generation – we might actually get together and catch up if one of us would stop being a fool and pick up the Facebook.

Some faulted friendships have always been there but have just needed some time to evolve. Take my friendships with my Cousin Ted and Cousin Toni, for instance, who both also asked not to be mentioned by name. I’d always been friendly with Toni, but it wasn’t until I had worked with her for a year that we truly got to know each other. No regrets there, just wanted to mention I’m happy about that … but with my Cousin Ted, it’s a different story, because he’s a different person.

Ted and I basically grew up together, but from high school through college, we weren’t as close as we are now. I wish I had known as kids how much our future selves both liked craft beer. We became great friends once I moved to the city and even though he doesn’t live in Chicago anymore, we talk just as much if not more and revel in the times we get to spend together (drinking craft beer of course). Our friendship even got to the point where I stood up at his wedding. This made me appreciate Cousin Toni that much more because at her wedding, she at least provided me a chair.

A lot of what I have learned about forgiving myself for my imperfect way of handling friendships comes from understanding what it means to be an introvert. These days, I’m very busy, and I treasure my free time for myself; I’m absolutely horrendous at reaching out to people to make plans. Having said that, I recognize there may even be a few unfairly neglected friends nodding their heads while reading this. By the way, thank you friends I’ve unfairly neglected for reading this! But to them I say that I do apologize. It’s not you – it’s everyone. I hope you can forgive me as I have forgiven myself for a being a fool and not picking up the Facebook.

To read more posts in the “Oy! Forgive Me!” blog series, click here.




Behind the hurtful words

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Forgiveness through the lens of couples therapy

Forgive Me_blog photo

One of the most poignant moments in couples therapy work is the “Reframe.” That’s the moment when they have an epiphany – in the midst of all their anger and frustration – that they are both longing to be close to each other. Behind all the painful words on the surface is a craving to be close. All the hurtful comments are actually “reframed” as intense cries for help, love, and connection. This deeper understanding of each other and their dynamic is a very powerful moment. The Reframe is the beginning of the relationship healing.

Behind the hurtful words photo

This therapeutic platform was actually taught to the world over 3,000 years ago by the leading marital therapist of all times, a man by the name of Aaron the Cohen. It is written that two friends or a couple were in a quarrel which had reached the point that neither was willing to talk to the other anymore. Aaron sought them out. Known as the Pursuer of Peace, Aaron spoke with each of them individually. As he met with the first and counseled him, Aaron told him, “I saw your friend/spouse yesterday. She is so sad! She misses you so much! Oh how she regrets so much what she said and did to you. She wants so much to be close and connect with you again!” And he would say the same to her about him. By the time Aaron was through, they were in tears about what had happened, and they were out looking for their spouse to make amends. When they finally reached each other, they embraced and poured out their hearts sharing how much they had missed the other and how happy they were to be reunited, not ever wanting to be apart again.

In couples therapy, we also hope to tap into this underlying reality. We will even softly conjecture with them that perhaps the bantering, criticism, and even the yelling, is really a cover for a soft cry of loneliness and wanting to be loved. With the couple, we work through the mess of the conflict with the goal of hopefully revealing a purity of the heart and its untainted desires for closeness underneath it all.

But there’s one baffling piece to this insightful story. Aaron the Cohen didn’t know! How could he be so sure they were deep down in love with each other, feeling these yearnings to be close? They never told him their feelings. Aren’t we a people of truth? Doesn’t he want to confirm his conjecture before so boldly running after them to save the friendship/marriage?

There’s a beautiful answer to this quandary, and I think it sheds great light on our lives. The answer is, simply, Aaron actually knew. Without having to ask them, he could see the truth. He could see beneath all the mess of fighting, arguing, and distancing from each other. Aaron saw beyond the exterior angst. His vision penetrated their emotional worlds. He could see beyond the facade of their harsh reactions tapping into their deep longings for each other, their needs to love and be loved. He was not lying to anyone when he told them how their spouse/friend felt. He was just sharing with them what he saw. With his profound vision and insight, he rightfully earned his title, the Pursuer of Peace.

We have moments in our lives where we feel conflict. Often, it occurs with the ones we are closest to – our spouse, parents, friends, or other relatives. Do we want to be in these heavy painful moments? Of course not. Most often, deep down, we’d like to resolve the conflict and feel close again with them. But how do we get ourselves out of it? How can we forgive when we feel so much pain? How do we let go of the hurt we feel? These are moments where we must be a people with great vision, like Aaron the Cohen.

Our tradition teaches us that forgiveness is much more than letting go. The truth is, deep down, our loved ones are crying inside to be close to us, as are we to them. We do not try to get around the conflict; rather we go straight to the core of it. And at its core, conflict is most often a longing to be close.

Imagine if the husband could see that his wife’s anger for arriving home late is really a cry for him to spend more time with her, to connect, and how much she longs to be near him? What if the wife could see that her husband is distancing from her because he’s afraid she doesn’t see him as a good husband and how much he longs for her to appreciate him but is ashamed to tell her? What if the close friend who never calls actually cherishes the friendship and is really scared to be seen as a nag fearing to end up unwanted? We all desperately desire connection, to be loved and cared for, especially by those we feel closest to, and especially when we feel hurt or judged by them.

The time for forgiveness is here. With effort and vision, we can expand our perceptions and see beyond the surface level confrontations. Perhaps we can follow in the footsteps of the great Pursuer of Peace, Aaron the Cohen, and we will see the love, the longing, and the yearning for connections between us and those around us. May it be a year of peace, forgiveness, and true love for all.

To read more posts in the “Oy! Forgive Me!” blog series, click here

Joshua Marder is a rabbi and licensed marriage and family therapist. He is the Director of Chicago YJP, a division of The Lois & Wilfred Lefkovich Chicago Torah Network: Home for the Wondering Jew.

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