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Ride Relationship Twists with a Paradigm Shift

Dear Dr. Chani,

When I think of my relationship with my best friend from childhood, (let’s call her Dena,) it makes me want to cry. We were inseparable since kindergarten. Our families lived close to one another so we used to get together almost every day. We would do our homework together, go shopping, and go for iced coffees. We would talk about things going on in our lives. Our friendship continued even after we both got married. Although we live far apart, we speak on the phone every other day.

Something changed recently, and I have no idea what it was. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but the quality of our conversations shifted. Instead of talking about real things that she is grappling with, Dena keeps her end of the conversation very superficial. I sense that she is not sharing something. 

A week ago, I asked Dena if there was anything that she would like to talk about. I mentioned to her that I am always here for her if she would like to share anything. She hesitated, and then she said, “You’re the best. Thanks for asking. I’m really fine.” But I sense that something is not fine.

What should I do as her friend? On the one hand, I wonder about if she is really suffering with a problem that she cannot tell me about. I am worried about her. Is there any way that I can help her?

On the other hand, I fear that maybe she has just moved on in life and does not value her friendship with me anymore. This is actually a worse scenario for me. Why would she not want to continue our friendship? 

I am not ready to give her up. What should I do?

Sincerely,

Heartbroken

Dear Heartbroken,

You are in an upsetting and difficult situation. You treasure your relationship with Dena that you have enjoyed since childhood. It sounds like your special bond with her was a dream friendship. 

Unfortunately, you recently sensed that something changed. You do not know what precipitated the change. You worry about what could have caused Dena to withdraw from you, and keep her thoughts and feelings closed up.

Even though you sensitively suggested to Dena that she can share anything with you, she did not take the bait. You may want to gently mention to her again from time to time that you care about her and are always there for her. Perhaps she will eventually feel comfortable opening up to you about what is behind her change.

In the meantime, until you get more information, you are wondering if she is dealing with a crisis that she does not want to disclose, or if she just changed the way she relates to you. It is best to sit back and see what happens over time. Like a long country road, even close relationships can sometimes take unexpected twists and turns. Hold on and keep calm.

One of the most difficult parts of not knowing what is going on with Dena, is that you are left at the mercy of your own imagination. Right now, that creative part of you is leading you to think about some worse case scenarios. Either Dena is going through a crisis, or she is pulling away from you. While these are realistic possibilities, they create unpleasant and unsettling feelings of worry. It would be great if you could tell yourself not to think about the “why” behind it. Yet, it can be difficult to sit back and not think about something that bothers or concerns you.

There is a way to make your experience with Dena both more pleasant and less worrisome. Your ruminations and possible thoughts about what is happening in Dena’s world are examples of paradigms. A paradigm is an overarching model that you use to think about something. They are major ideas that help you make sense out of things you experience.When you have a paradigm, everything you see or that happens to you is colored by that filter. You are choosing to consider negative paradigms.

I encourage you to explore how you can create a paradigm shift. A paradigm shift is a change in those underlying assumptions. That results in a complete shift in your approach to something. One example of a paradigm shift is when you see a mother grab her child’s hand with force and you think she is being abusive. Yet, seconds later, you notice that the child was about to run into the street to get his ball as a car sped down the street, and you realize that his mother acted fast, with love, to save his life.

It is best for you to think about some positive or neutral paradigms that might explain Dena’s behavior. Maybe Dena is busy with something wonderful that she cannot share yet with you. She might be eager to tell you when the time is right. It is also possible that Dena needs more personal space in your relationship, but she still genuinely values your friendship.

Paradigm shifts are powerful tools to have in your arsenal as you go through life. When you notice a paradigm that you have, you can better understand how you experience situations that are related to it. If you allow yourself to shift your paradigm, you can help yourself be calmer and more positive.

The change in your relationship dynamic can be difficult  Yet, it does not mean that you need to let go of your relationship with Dena. As time goes on, you may find a pleasant dynamic that still works for both of you. While you are on that path, allow yourself to explore a paradigm shift and take the situation in stride.

Wishing you much success,

Chani

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