When Friendship is No Longer Healthy

We’ve all heard the studies about the important role that friendships play in our emotional and physical well being. Most of us would agree that having a few good friends to whom we can turn in times of joy and sorrow or even for simple distraction is a real plus in life and, at times, necessary for our survival.

So how could friendship ever be a bad thing?

Here are seven good reasons to move on from an unhealthy friendship:

1. They take and you give. If over time you notice that the balance between giving and receiving leans heavily to your side giving and rarely focuses on your needs, it’s time to have a talk. If after making it clear that you want an equal relationship it is obvious that you have become a permanent caretaker to your “friend,” you can either charge professional fees or gracefully move on.

2. They do not support who you are. When criticism and put downs are a regular part of your conversations this is not a friendship that will enhance your emotional health. Sometimes disguised as teasing, humor or sarcasm a friend’s digs may be aimed at lowering your status in the relationship in order to elevate their own. This does even greater harm when it takes place in public. Speak up, tell them you want to be treated with respect and if it is a person you would like to keep around, give him or her time to change. If the response to your request is more criticism, move on.

They do not support who you are. When criticism and put downs are a regular part of your conversations this is not a friendship that will enhance your emotional health.

3. They cannot be trusted with your secrets. A few proven trustworthy friends can be an essential part of a healthy life. This “circle of trust” is a small hand picked group who may need to be reevaluated from time to time based on experience. Most of us have several superficial friendships where we share only things that are common knowledge and don’t require much scrutiny. Those who get to hear our secrets must be true blue and also trust you with their inner thoughts as well. Keeping in mind that human beings are imperfect and may slip up, if a friend does that more than once and in a cruel fashion, we need to be honest about our hurt and disappointment and either end the friendship or change the nature of it back to the superficial category.

4. They bring out the worst in you. Some friends are just not well enough to be what you need them to be. When you have an emotional “growth spurt,” you may find that your old best friend isn’t able to go along with you into a healthier future. They might prefer that you keep drinking, stay with that abusive husband, wife or partner. They may advise you to start dating only days after a separation or tell you to leave a relationship because “you don’t have to take that” when you haven’t even tried to work on it. Or they may tell you that plastic surgery would be the solution to your low self esteem. If it is time to let go, start bringing healthy friends into your life and gradually decreasing time on the phone with your old friend. You may end up influencing him or her in a positive way but remember we can’t change anyone with advice or lectures.

5. They consistently disappoint you. When a friend sets a date with you where your expectation is a time for intimate sharing and catching up and without warning they bring along another friend you don’t know it is a little upsetting but we can get over it. If they cancel out for a great concert you were going to together and take a date instead, you might be able to cope with that after some time of talking and making of amends occurs. If they borrow money from you and then buy themselves expensive jewelry without paying you back, you may need to stop loaning money and seriously talk about your feelings. If all of the above are occurring with some regularity, you may get tired of expecting him or her to treat you with respect and sick of requesting change with no results. This pattern is unlikely to change and it is time to move on and spend time with more reliable, caring friends.

6. They don’t like or respect your spouse, child or family. It is not easy to balance all of our important relationships and be healthy in our interactions with them. We rely on friends to help us see the other side of things and to listen to us when we need to complain about someone who is a challenge for us. Sometimes we appreciate someone who agrees with us that our partner is being unreasonable or pig headed. If they go further and have feelings of dislike for those we care about that is where trouble begins. Friendships that begin to separate us from those we love, either in how we spend our time or what we are comfortable talking about may begin to drain energy rather than enhance our lives. A friend who is opposed to your choice of intimate partner may undermine that relationship especially at vulnerable times. If this friend is only one of many who oppose the relationship you may need to be clear about your discomfort but don’t give up a friend you will regret losing in the future. However if the friend is speaking from insecurities, jealousy or just general meanness, you need to honor your primary relationship and focus on friends who support your choice.

7. Your friend wants a romantic relationship and you don’t. Many people try to maintain platonic relationships with previous or potential romantic partners. Rarely is this a workable arrangement. More often than not, it ends badly and with sometimes serious consequences. It is a preventable problem when common sense prevails. When we are honest with ourselves, the truth is that one of the two friends is hoping it will become more and hanging on until it does. Once attraction begins to surface it becomes impossible to ignore and generally requires the end of a friendship. The best policy may be that the lovers of your past stay in your past. The exception might be after many years have passed without contact and both individuals are clear and secure with committed partners. An additional condition would be that your current partner does not find it threatening and is included in the social situations you might engage in with this friend.

My personal experiences with friendship have been varied. As a young girl I saw friends in a self centered way as a means to social connection, not knowing how to share myself with them or be present for them.

Fortunately, with help I was able to learn and grow in my understanding of the important role that deep, long term friendships can play in a healthy life. My focus shifted from quantity of friends to quality in both what I gave and what I hoped to receive.

In addition to the love and connection I am blessed to enjoy with my family, I would now say that my friends provide a secure place for me to return to when I’m struggling, consult with when I’m dreaming, and celebrate when I’m flourishing. I truly hope that I do the same for them.

What do you think?

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