CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks about how how the pandemic has made us reevaluate our relationships in the latest edition of his podcast, "Chasing Life."
(CNN)When a friendship hits a stumbling block, how do you know whether to work on the relationship or let it go?
It can be tempting to let a friendship fade instead of facing conflict -- especially when life feels overwhelming in other ways -- because conflict is hard. But we are already facing a loneliness epidemic, and relationship repair carries further urgency in the face of biological evidence.
"It actually is a matter of life and death," wrote Lydia Denworth in her book, "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond." "It is carried in our DNA, in how we're wired. And that means friendship is not a choice or a luxury; it's a necessity that is critical to our ability to succeed and thrive."
If you've lost touch with good friends or drifted apart in the past year, it could be time to work through hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Think of this work as a form of relationship and self-care, because being stuck in conflict saps valuable energy.
Here are five ways to repair a friendship -- or leave it behind if it's toxic.
1. Reflect and write down the good
Before you face a difficult conversation with a friend, pause and reflect. "Think of a specific moment that this friendship has brought you joy or excitement," recommended Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of "Friendship in the Age of Loneliness." Poswolsky suggested using that memory as inspiration to write down things you appreciate about a friend. He also encouraged sharing that list in conversation with the friend.
"Beginning the communication repair from a place of gratitude and positivity is going to make the conversation a lot more meaningful," he advised.
And no matter the outcome, the positive intention will remain. "Even if there is still tension and even if you still need to take a friendship pause, or even a long (or permanent) break from spending time together, that appreciation will go a long way to building empathy and mutual understanding," Poswolsky said.
2. Choose a different way to communicate
If repair efforts have not worked via your usual tech channels, try a different way to communicate. "People are thrilled to get mail that's not a catalog or a bill. Send more postcards, write more letters or send someone a book you think they would enjoy," Poswolsky recommended.
He also suggested a deeper letter writing approach: "Try writing letters to each other before you talk. In your letter, include why you think the relationship feels awkward -- and why you want to repair it."
This approach can help you gain empathy and improve communication skills. "You may realize your friend was going through something that you were not aware of. You'll begin the all-important practice of listening, before you even sit down to talk to each other," Poswolsky noted.
3. Give it time and try again
People differ in how they deal with conflict, so remember that you may need to give a friendship some breathing room before trying again.
Marisa Franco, a psychologist and friendship expert based in Washington, DC, noted that friendships may require time to settle back into normal post-conflict -- and that lingering uncomfortable feelings may require further attention.
"If it's still awkward, this might suggest that not everyone got to share their side and feel heard," Franco said.
Franco recommended an ho