I recently did a workshop on healthy friendships for a mom’s support/networking group. We began with ways to identify unhealthy friendships, and the room lit up with recognition. Every woman nodded along with at least one example, and their expressions were a mix of insight and frustration. The best observation/question: “Why do we do this?” Why, when our time is so precious, and we barely have enough of it to manage work, caring for our families and with the remaining scraps, ourselves, spend mental energy on friendships that drain us dry? There are so many factors that keep us connected to toxic relationships, most of which tap into self-esteem. I lose count of how often I quote Kirsten’s perfect philosophy on friendships, which are often the only elective relationships we have: “Friendships should be Delicious.”
Any positive change requires an honest assessment of where you currently are. As you read these checklists of unhealthy and healthy friend characteristics, consider the 5 friends you devote the most time to (not the 5 you enjoy the most, unless they’re the same people!):
1. It’s always all about her. She dominates every conversation, immediately bringing anything you share back to a personal struggle of hers. If she asks how you’re doing, it’s usually 5 minutes before it’s time to pick up the kids. “Soooo, how are YOU? Oops, gotta run…”
2. He’s catty. He spends the majority of your time together talking smack about all of his other friends and family members. It’s okay to vent, but if it’s not for the purpose of improving a relationship, it can get toxic. Likely, you’re not immune to the negativity and gossip he spreads.
3. She’s a “Negative Nelly” Oleson. She always plays “Devil’s Advocate,” not your advocate. She doesn’t celebrate your success authentically, and in fact seems jealous. When you share your struggles with her, you feel slightly worse instead of better. She just doesn’t have your back.
4. She can’t keep track. Maybe this friendship began with you re-introducing yourself on 5 separate occasions before it stuck. Major details of your life situation and important stories that took a lot of trust for you to reveal escape her. You repeat yourself constantly and feel vaguely invisible.
5. Guilt, not love, bonds you. You find yourself making up excuses to avoid making plans, and feel anxious when you have to cancel. You always seem to be falling short of his needs from the friendship. You don’t look forward to spending time with him, and you feel “stuck” instead of bonded.
1. There’s reciprocity. No matter how little time you have together, you both share and listen, both feeling heard and understood by the other.
2. He’s loving. He vents, but doesn’t attack the character of others, and is motivated to improve his relationships. You know that he will stick up for you if needed.
4. She pays attention. She actively listens, and remembers (at least generally) what you’ve shared with her. She makes cognitive space in her busy world for you, and you feel very seen by her.
5. Love, not guilt, bonds you. You can go for stretches of time without connecting, and pick up exactly where you left off. You look forward to and savor time with him, and you both do what it takes to make time for each other. You feel accepted and loved exactly as you are, and if there are issues or miscommunications between you, it’s easy to talk them through and adjust. The friendship is yummy.
Even a solid, healthy friendship can temporarily have unhealthy qualities, maybe because one or both of you is going through a difficult time. But, if the relationship has been a drag for a long time, draining your time and your joy, consider addressing the issues or creating some distance. The hardest work can be considering whether you bring unhealthy qualities to the friendship table yourself, and figuring out how to make changes (be patient with me, my sweet peeps, I’m working on it!).
Here’s to Sanity and Deliciousness,