Throughout much of my life, I have considered myself a loyal friend. Once I was someone’s friend it would be difficult to shake me. I would faithfully set up times to hang out, ignoring the number of times someone cancelled, or how often I was initiating, and the other person was not. As an introvert who moved a lot as a child, I have always felt that it is difficult to make friends and so, felt I needed to hold on to friends long after we had grown apart. Lately, I’ve recognized this faulty thinking and how it has prevented me from re-evaluating relationships in terms of what was working and what wasn’t. Once I recognized this, I was able to grieve the loss of the relationship that I had hoped would be forever and never change. This didn’t necessarily mean the relationships were lost, simply that they had changed. This shift has given me more energy and space in my life to invite new people in and grow my own community of people.
There are a variety of reasons for reevaluating relationships. In a previous posts (Who are Your Friends? and Friendship in Adulthood- Couples, Singles, School aged Families & Seniors and Friendship in Adulthood- Couples, Singles, School aged Families & Seniors), I spoke about levels of friendship, inner circles, friend circle and acquaintances. I also spoke about types of connections: historical, shared interests, shared connections (friends, family, etc.) and shared values. Sometimes levels of friendship and types of connection change for natural reasons, time, life changes, geographical changes, etc. At these times we may need to reach out to people we may not have had a deep connection with, in the past and risk trying a new connection with them.
Sometimes there are problems in friendship that need to be addressed. And sometimes the solution is a shift in the type of connection you have with that person. Here are some things to consider when deciding about making a change in a friendship that is not working.
1. Support is Unbalanced
I do not believe that we always need to drop friends who take more than they give, but that we might need to look at our whole friendship network to see if we are able to get support when we need it.
There may be relationships that are always unbalanced, but if your network of friends and connections provide places for you to go when you need support, it might be ok to have some friends who are not able to do that for you. Consider where you go to get emotional support, practical help or advice. If you don’t have anywhere to go, it is time to expand your network or change the nature of the relationship. Sometimes we worry that we will be a burden to others and that “real adults” don’t need support. This is faulty thinking. A “real adult” knows their needs and how to both give to other and ask for what is needed in return.
2. Unresolvable Conflict
When conflict is unresolvable, sometimes the relationship will end, but this does not always have to be true.
Sometimes it means agreeing to disagree. Sometimes it means shifting the relationship to a different level of connection. When determining whether a conflict is unresolvable, check out Understanding Relational Conflict through Creative Writing – part I and Understanding Your Conflicts through Creative Writing (part 2) to determine who might be responsible for the various aspects of the conflict. You might also check out 9 Steps to Making Sense of Other People and Conflict- Approach or Avoid? 6 Things to Consider.
3. Boundaries are Disrespected
When a friend consistently ignores boundaries, in practical ways, emotionally, or in your relationships, in general, it might be time to re-evaluate their level of connection in your life. This can be difficult because making changes to the level of connection may also involve setting more boundaries and needing to re-enforce them. Check out Where Do I Draw the Line? and When Boundaries Aren’t Respected for more on this.
4. Differing Values
Sometimes people’s values shift over time. Other times you might discover that a friend does not share one of your values and this might come as a shock. Having friends who don’t share your values can be difficult, but can also provide great inside into alternative perspectives. The benefit is there if we can remain curious and non-judgmental. Sometimes the difference is too great to manage and a close friend may become merely an acquaintance or someone whom we only share certain parts of our lives with, but not others.
It is important to have at least some friends who share your values. If you feel that you don’t, it may be time to expand your circle. Check out What’s Worth Digging For? Finding your Values
5. When Someone Else Wants a Change
Often people don’t come right out and say that they would like less time with you, or that they’d prefer not to share aspects of their life that you’ve shared in the past. Usually the shifts happen more subtly. This might happen naturally, as when people move apart or their life situation changes, etc., but sometimes it can be really confusing. When a friend stops returning calls, or cancels repeatedly or just seems, generally distant.
It is important to check in to see if your friends’ behavior is related to your relationship or if there is something else going on, in order to avoid misunderstanding.
Ultimately, it will be important to respect whatever boundaries are being communicated even if you don’t fully understand or agree with the reasons they are being set. Check out Passive Aggressiveness and ‘Ghosting’ and its Aftermath for more on this.
6. Physical, Emotional or Psychological Abuse
If someone is physically abusive towards you. You will likely need to end the relationship. If you are considering staying in the relationship, I strongly suggest seeking outside professional support in addressing the issues that led to a physical altercation. Aside from physical abuse, there is also psychological abuse and emotional abuse. For example, emotional abuse includes repeated name calling and insults, and general put downs. For more on non physical abuse check out The 3 Types of Non Physical Abuse.
Sometimes clear boundaries can shift abusive behaviour, particularly in the case of emotional abuse, but make sure that you have good outside supports when attempting to maintain a relationship in which any type of abuse has been present. See 7 Ways to Love a Volcano and boundary articles listed above.
Psychological abuse in friendship is more difficult to reconcile and not something I would recommend without a long break in the relationship as it would be impossible for the person experiencing the abuse to be able to assess if the relationship was in balance with out space enough to re-set the perspective that is shifted in psychological abuse.
Also see 9 Ways to Support a Loved One with Mental Illness.
Jealousy is something that can cause destruction in a relationship and problems in other relationships. It needs to be addressed, when identified. Jealousy often comes from the idea that there is not enough friendship, love, attention, etc. to go around and it needs to be guarded. This is a difficult idea to shift, but worth addressing. Check out Jealousy in Relationships and Jealous Much? for more on this.
Someone who is constantly negative can be wearing. This is a situation where having a broader community of people in your life may mean that you don’t have to end this relationship, but simply limit the amount of time in it based on the energy you have for it. This energy will be obtained from other positive people and from life giving activities and self care. See What do You Really Need? – A 6 Step Complete Self-Care Assessment Guide.
We all need friends, but we also need to be aware of what our friends bring into the relationship in order to be better friends to each other and and to get all of our friendship needs met. There truly is enough love and friendship to go around, it takes risk, it takes work and, at times, it takes re-negotiation, but it is worth it.
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