As I get older and my life becomes more complicated, I've noticed that my desire to spend time with certain friends has waned. Not that I don't love and care for them, but for various reasons, these friendships have become too complicated or too negative to warrant the effort that it takes to keep them going. How sad. Yet I have to wonder, is this simply something that happens with age and increased stress? Or is it more?
When I look back, the power of hindsight offers a few clues that these friendships were ending regardless of what was going on in my life. I don't imagine that there was much that I could have done to save them because each one had some of the eroding elements listed below. If you're thinking about shifts in your friendships and wondering if one has become toxic, I offer you these signs that it's time to let the relationship go.
1. It's one-sided. All relationships have a natural ebb and flow to them when it comes to giving and receiving love. This giving comes in the form of listening, making the effort to get together, spending resources on the friendship, you get the idea. Most harmonious relationships work toward a balance; we want to give AND receive. The sign that a friendship is becoming toxic and out of balance is when this give and take becomes overly one-sided. Examples of this include when you're always the one to make the calls, text, say hello on Facebook/email, ask for the girls-night, do the driving, pay the tab etc.
For relationships to thrive, the balance sheet has to have some overall equality to it. Stressful times aside, we need to feel that if we took score, that somehow we'd come up even.
2. It's dishonest. Honesty and genuineness are critical elements necessary to keep friendships alive. When one or both people begin making excuses, trimming stories to leave out details or outright lying there is something seriously wrong. When you consider how busy our lives are, the friendships we have need to be ones where we can be our true selves without feeling that we need to be protective or hide the truth. A major benefit of friendship is the gift of feeling loved and respected for who we are. When that is missing, it's a major sign that it's time to think about the relationship and if it's worth the effort.
3. It's overly critical. Friends are supposed to support us, if not, why have them? If we look for it, we can easily find people to tell us all the things we could do better. But is it really wise to have those critical souls in our daily lives? The truth is that people who consistently criticize us hurt our self-esteem. Furthermore, this kind of behavior hits at two things which are seemingly more problematic: jealousy and cruelty. If someone is constantly pointing out the things we're doing wrong and makes no time to acknowledge the things we're doing right, they may serve us better if we speak with from time-to-time but certainly not everyday.
4. You genuinely don't like each other anymore. The truth is that people change. Life events, stress, age and time all have an impact on how we see the world and how we choose to behave. Sometimes our values diverge and we lose our connection. When that happens, it's important to consider if we're staying with the friendship out of choice or obligation. If you can honestly say that you no longer care for your friend anymore, it's okay to be honest about that change and make choices that reflect this new perspective. Chances are that if you feel this way that your friend has a sense that something is amiss also. There's no requirement that you have a "big talk," sometimes simply backing away is enough. But, if you feel the need to have the talk, try to remember points two and three above and be honest yet kind.
5. Your life feels calmer, happier and more alive without them. When two people struggle to understand where their friendship is headed, often there are periods of time when they don't communicate as much. During these breaks, ask yourself if you're happier or less stressed without your friend? Sometimes the answer is a resounding "yes" and in those cases, the writing is on the wall. But what about situations where your friend has fallen into a self-destructive pattern that you hope will change? Sometimes relief comes when you simply accept that it's not your responsibility to fix your friend, and that until they decide to take action all you can do it wait and pray. Perhaps in this case what you really need is a break and not a breakup.
Toxic friendships can truly be harmful to everyone involved. As you consider this list, if the friendship that you have in mind comes up as a net negative, then it's clear what you need to do. All that's left is to decide how you want to back away and if a conversation is necessary.
Remember that each ending makes room for a new beginning. Fear of walking away from a toxic friendship only keeps you both stuck and stunts your growth. On the other hand, finding the courage to explore difficult questions ultimately raises the bar and redefines the kind of friendships that are worth your time, energy and love.