Have you ever had that uncomfortable feeling that it’s time to end a friendship?
One of the hardest things for me to contemplate—much less actually do—is “breaking up” with friends.
I have a gift for brining interesting, quirky people into my life, and I deeply value cross cultural friendships with people who belong to different cultures, religions, educational levels, nationalities, and generations than I do. For instance, I have a dear friend who is a carpenter and can build anything with her hands but can’t spell to save her life (okay truth be told: spell-check is my BFF). Her intelligence is entirely equal to mine, but distinctly different. A Yugoslavian friend has taught me there is nothing that a Balkan can’t balk at. Another friend has challenged my anti-fundamentalist bias by showing me that there is (at least one) religious fundamentalist who engages in critical thinking. A quadriplegic friend sensitized me to the astounding level of discrimination against physically disabled people in our society.
Having a diversity of social connections is enriching, entertaining, and informative.
But occasionally it will dawn on me that I feel as enthusiastic about getting together with someone as I feel about scrubbing the toilet. A sense of duty mixed with dread descends. That is the point at which I have to start thinking about how to change or end the relationship.
In the past I have made the mistake of staying in a friendship in which my needs (to be listened to as well as to listen, for instance) were not getting met because I didn’t want to deal with the conflict and possible confrontation of stating my truth. How I wish I knew then what I know now! That if there is no room for my own reality, my observations, needs and feelings in a friendship, there is no room for me.
Instead I would show up physically but not emotionally, spending my time with them tallying the ways they fit into the box of negative judgments I had created for them (inconsiderate, selfish, whiny,). This created an unsatisfying experience for both of us, and one I was ultimately to blame for.
Now days, my relationship “bottom line” can be boiled down to mutual respect. I cannot respect and therefore cannot be friends with someone who is cruel, engages in unethical behavior, is actively addicted, or treats me with disrespect.
As a result I enjoy a large circle of wonderful friends and I exit relationships with unhealthy people as quickly and cleanly as possible.
This frees me up from the wet-blanket influence of negativity and allows me to continue respecting myself. It also frees the other person up to find a friend more compatible with their wants and needs.
How to tell if there is mutual respect? Disagreements are a wonderful check in. How does your friend treat you if you want something different than them? Is there room in the relationship for both of you to have legitimate thoughts, feelings and beliefs even if they do not “rhyme”? Do you feel attacked or belittled if your reality is different than theirs? If so, this relationship lacks mutual respect.
Those of us who come from families of origin with addiction issues must be especially vigilant to not fall into codependent traps of minimizing or ignoring emotionally abusive behavior. If this fits your bill, consider attending Al-anon groups to increase your awareness of and independence from these unhealthy patterns.
We humans are intensely social creatures, neurologically and physically wired for contact and connection with one another. It is through healthy relationships that we learn about the larger world, grow our sense of self, heal from old relationship trauma, and create life. Positive relationships foster the experience safety and discovery.
Spending time with the right kinds of people affirms your basic human worth and dignity. Protect that with everything you’ve got.