It's a fight that's almost bound to come up at some point during every best friendship: Your best friend, the person you spend essentially all of your time with, starts dating someone great, and suddenly you have a lot of unaccompanied free time. As someone who's not a sociopath, you're happy to see your friend happy. But as a person who needs love and attention, it's easy to feel neglected and bitter.
So what do you do? You could: 1. Let all these feelings fester until they inevitably explode in a violent texting fit. 2. Deliver a tearful monologue that could essentially be boiled down to "but what ever happened to hoes before bros?" and make your friend feel guilty, awkward, and probably mad at you. Or! 3. You could have a calm, Adult Conversation. Options one and two might be easier, but in the interest of maintaining your years-long friendship, maybe go with option three. Because this is a tedious and delicate conversation to have, two therapists gave their best guidance for telling a friend they've bailed on you for their relationship in the most productive way possible.
Have the conversation in person
Jaime Gleicher, a licensed social worker and therapist, said this isn't a conversation to have over text or email, even though that may feel easier. "So much can get lost in translation via text or phone," she said. "It's hard to have an effective conversation when hiding behind a screen—our hands tend to take on a mind of their own."
Sitting down face-to-face makes it easier to communicate your own emotions, and it also makes it possible to see how your friend is reacting in real time. This is such a tricky conversation to navigate and you don't want to leave anything up to interpretation. And so because of that, Gleicher doesn't recommend having this chat over a glass of wine (though that's understandably very tempting).
This also shouldn't feel like an ambush. Meaning don't just pull your friend aside when you're in a group setting, or suddenly spring the I never see you anymore conversation on her when you're in the middle of something else. It may be awkward, but basically it should feel like setting a meeting. Let your friend know you need to talk to her, and suggest a time and place where you can do that.
Don't go in unprepared and overly emotional
Gleicher said she often recommends her clients write down a few key points they want to make. This helps ensure you get everything out, stay on topic, and don't immediately rush into an emotional soliloquy about how much you miss her or hate her new partner for stealing her away.
Danielle Forshee, a psychologist and social worker, said you don't want to open with what she calls a "harsh startup."
"A harsh startup is when you come at somebody with a certain tone or statement that can immediately put them on the defense," Forshee said. "In this situation that can sound something like, 'you know what, I really don't like the fact that you keep hanging out with this guy.'" Instead, Forshee recommends saying something like: "I notice you're spending a lot of time with this person, I really want to understand what's happening here."
Both Forshee and Gleicher said it can be helpful to come from a place of inquiry, or to ask a lot of open-ended questions so you can learn more about your friend's relationship and better understand why she's so invested in it. "Then, after you get all the information, it's time for you to say how you feel about it," Forshee said.
How to communicate feelings without losing it
Gleicher said to stick to facts first—lay out exactly what's happening. For example, if you and your friend used to spend every Saturday together but haven't done that in two months, point that out to her. Once that's done, it's really important to let her know how you've been feeling. But do it tactfully.
"When you start expressing feelings, which you absolutely should do, express 'I' statements," Gleicher said. "Stay away from words like 'should.' Just, I feel this way, not you make me. That will just rile up the defense."
Gleicher also mentioned a few dialectical behavioral therapy skills that may help you stay level-headed and calm. Watch your body language, use a gentle tone, and don't appear angry—even though you probably are.
If your friend gets defensive
You can always press pause on the conversation if things get out of hand, rather than digging in your heels and trying to make your friend understand you. Try to think of how this probably makes her feel. Or maybe you know, because chances are you've been the friend who lets her friends fall to the wayside at some point in time. It's hard to love a lot of people at once because time is a limited resource. If you notice her getting upset or feel like things are getting heated, Gleicher recommends saying somethings like, "I really care about you, I see that you're upset and maybe we shouldn't continue this conversation right now." Worst comes to worst and you find you just can't get through the conversation without someone losing their cool, Gleicher said it's okay to send an email or letter (but only if you have to).
It also helps to be willing to negotiate. It sucks but it's unreasonable to expect your friend to spend every single Saturday night hanging out on the couch with you when she has a partner who also wants her attention. So instead of asking that things go back to exactly the way they were before, maybe the two of you can strike a middle ground that feels fair. The important thing is feeling like you've been heard, and she understands that this only comes from a place of love.
To help, Gleicher says to be sure you throw in a lot of validation. "Remind the friend how happy you are for them, and that you're so happy they're in this relationship," she said. You have a right to feel hurt because you feel like your friend isn't making time for you. But, if you're a good friend, you should mean it when you say you're happy for her. Otherwise, are you... really even friends at all?
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.