07/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How To Declutter Your Friendships

Elizabeth was the type of friend who was always inviting me out to lunch and then ambushing me with the delivery of her latest disappointments in our friendship and my performance in it.

The offending action was usually something seemingly insignificant (a misunderstood comment, a phone call un-returned) that had happened six or even nine months before.

Despite my sincere apologies, I eventually got tried of always wondering where (and when) the next hit was going to come from. Walking on eggshells, second-guessing every word I said and waiting for the other shoe to drop proved too stressful, so I simply started being too busy to get together. In time, we went our separate ways.

It wasn't until several years later when talking to a psychologist friend that I realized that if I had taken the time to de-clutter my relationship with Elizabeth, I might not have had to dump her.

If your relationships with your gal pals are in need of a little summer time spruce up, check out this expert advice on how to de-clutter your friendships, before a good girlfriend goes bad.

Set Limits. Your girlfriend is going through a tough divorce and needs support--emotional, spiritual and maybe even financial. "It's up to you to establish your limits, without feeling guilty," says Dr. Alyse Danis, a psychotherapist in private practice and an executive board member at the University of San Francisco. For example, your friend calls ten minutes before you have to leave for an important appointment. You can set your limits in a loving way by saying, "I'm just about to leave, so I can spend only a few minutes talking now, but I can call you back tonight when I get home for a longer chat."

Talk Sooner, Not Later. Long-term feelings of resentment and anger eat away at friendships. So unless you can genuinely let whatever happened go, bring it up as close to the time the problem occurred as possible. "Women have trouble saying how they really feel," says Dr. Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., author of Fight Fatigue: Six Simple Steps to Maximize Your Energy. "We develop our self-esteem from relationships and don't want to rock the boat." If you tell the truth about how you really feel and the other person gets upset, it's not the end of the world, advises Dr. Bauman.

Keep in Contact. In this too-much-to-do in too-little-time world the thing that often suffers the most is friendships. Real relationships require consistent contact to survive and thrive. While you may not be able to have a face to face every week, staying in touch is essential for good girlfriend housekeeping. Do a periodic check-in on email, call once a week or every few weeks, text message a quick "hi," send an occasional card, take a walk together, send photos and create a plan to get together--even if it's lunch a few months out.

Focus on Feelings, Not Facts.
Randy Martin, an executive coach, says that too many women, when faced with an unhappy friend, focus on defending the facts of the situation instead of addressing their feelings. According to Martin, when a good girlfriend feels hurt by something you have said or done, start by saying, "I'm so sorry that I hurt your feelings; that is the last thing I would ever want to do." If a friend doesn't say anything, but you suspect that you have offended them, be proactive and reach out with a pre-emptive apology. Leave a voice mail, send a note card, or email your concern and regret.

Please note that the information in this article is copyrighted by Karen Leland. If you would like to reprint any of it on your blog or website you are welcome to do so, provided you give credit and a live link back to this posting.

Karen Leland is author of the recently released books Watercooler Wisdom: How Smart People Prosper In the Face of Conflict, Pressure and Change and Time Management In An Instant:60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day. She is the co-creator of a new line of Productivity Pads from Time Tamer™ and the co-founder of Sterling Consulting Group and its subsidiary Sterling Marketing Group. You can follow her on twitter at kfleland. For questions, comments or to book Karen to speak at your next event, please e-mail