THE BLOG

Fail to Quickly Prune Toxic Relationships

04/16/2015 05:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015

During the seven-year period in which she wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, author J.K. Rowling lost her mother to a long battle with multiple sclerosis, married, had a baby, divorced and began living on public assistance while raising her infant daughter as a single mother. Today, Rowling is one of the world's most famous authors, a multi-millionaire, happily remarried, and is a mother of three. The realization that relationships that once provided comfort, strength and companionship have deteriorated into black holes full of conflict, tension and regret is never an easy one.

In business, many entrepreneurs and leaders are hardwired for optimism, but hope is not a strategy.

Endings are necessary. There's a reason people don't spend their whole careers at one job, or stay close with childhood friends. In the immortal words of The Byrds, "to everything there is a season."

In his influential book, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward, clinical psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud writes:

"Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them."

Endings do not just happen. Endings need intention.

Gardeners know the critical importance of pruning. Selectively removing the parts of a plant that are sick, or just misplaced, will improve the health, appearance and yield of the plant.

We need to prune our relationships of those that are diseased, damaged, or otherwise structurally unsound.

Of course, this is often easier said than done. Longstanding histories and entrenched patterns are powerful inhibitors of change. But we must overcome relationship inertia and attend to the dead and diseased wood, or we will ultimately suffer.

Relationships don't have to be out-and-out toxic to get trimmed. We can all think of people we've "outgrown," who no longer share our interests, or who are unable to adapt to who we are today, rather than the person they knew 10 years ago. Several years ago, I ended a relationship with one of my oldest friends whom I'd describe as a taker. Despite constantly feeling let down, I foolishly continued to make excuses for my friend's behavior, looking for new ways to salvage the friendship. It wasn't until I lost someone very close to me -- and my friend failed to step up -- that I had a serious wake-up call. And so, I made the long-overdue decision to walk away from the friendship, which, years later, doesn't induce even the slightest pang of regret.

"Your business and your life will change when you really, really get it that some people are not going to change, no matter what you do, and that still others have a vested interest in being destructive."

Unless we prune with intention, the deadwood will accumulate and eventually suffocate our ability to thrive.