healthy expectations

This Friendship Is Going Negative: What Do I Do?

So my last blog post obviously hit a nerve. It is now the #1 post of the last 3 months, beating out popular posts--such as Reflections on my Katie Couric Interview and What Do I Do with My Toxic Friend?-- two posts that have been up for months.  We are apparently very interested in this subject of how to respond to the negative people in our lives!

Two Different Frameworks for Evaluating the 'Negative' People in Our Lives

So, as promised, I am going to share with you two frameworks of how to deal with the friendships that feel negative in our lives. This is a long blog, but I really wanted to cover at least two different paradigms and examples... hope it's helpful!

While we feel so much more mature than we were as children, the truth is that we still get on each others nerves.  Now we use language like toxic, negative, and un-healthy to label each other. *photo from irisclasson.com*

Just so we're clear-- I'm not writing about criminals, drug abusers, mental issues, or those who are willfully hurting us; but rather the vast majority of women that we've called friends at one time or another but now tend to use words such as toxic, negative, or selfish to describe them.  While we can all point out that there will always be a very clear "black and white" to the two extremes of who we can each have in our lives at different times, my desire here is to challenge us to look at what Kathy, in her comments on the previous post called, the "gray area."  The gray area being people who may not be un-safe to us, but certainly may be annoying, depressed, insecure, self-obsessed, distracted, or negligent.

1.  FRAMEWORK 1: Know the Different Types of Relationships So You Create Appropriate Expectations

I don't have room here to cover the entire 5 Circles of Connectedness which highlight the 5 different types of friendships, but basically our most casual of friendships are on the far Left-Side (Contact Friends) and the most intimate and consistent of our friendships are on the far Right-Side (Commitment Friends). I cover this in the most depth in my book but a quick overview can be found on this blog.

5 types of friends image

What's helpful about understanding the various types of friends is that when we do an honest assessment of whether our friend is truly a Committed Friend (someone we've built up meaningful history with over a long period of time, they are active in many areas of our lives, we are as transparent as possible with them) or perhaps is a Common Friend (maybe someone we've only known for a couple of months, someone we are only close to in one area of our life, etc.) it helps us answer the question: Do I have unrealistic expectations on this friendship?

I've observed many women not having a strong Right-Side of close friendships who then place those needs onto friendships on the Left-Side.  In other words, just because she's one of your closest friends doesn't mean you've developed the friendship that warrants the expectations and demands.  A good question to ask: "Am I blaming her for x because I want her to be a Committed Friend but in reality we are still Common Friends?"

Furthermore, it helps me see my commitment to the relationship.  If she's in a dark and needy space and she's my Committed Friend then I am truly committed to going through that phase with her even if she doesn't act healthy, positive, and supportive for a long season.  I can do this because we have a history together that reminds me that this isn't who she is permanently and I know that this is the call to relationships-- to be there for each other, even when it comes with some drama and emotion.  But if she's a Contact or Common Friend acting this way then a)  it may seem more like a red flag because we don't have enough history for me to accurately assess how she's acting now from how I know she's capable of acting, and b) we, quite frankly, don't have the same obligation/commitment to each other to be there for each other in the same ways.

Being clear what type of friendship the two of you have developed helps you better see how invested you are in this relationship and what expectations are fair. What you are willing to give, or put up with, in a Committed Friend might be different from what you are willing to do for a Common Friend.

For me, if whining and complaining is the grievance, for a Committed Friend it would be completely appropriate (though maybe not enjoyable or energizing-- so I need to make sure I'm getting enough of that in other close relationships during this season) for them to call me any time of night or day and sound like a crazy person sobbing and saying irrational things.  But while that would not be acceptable behavior for any friend of mine on the Left-Side, I would be willing to give them the space to monopolize the conversation during a scheduled lunch get-together and I'd give them a pass on complaining... for a time.

Does that differentiation make sense? It means we don't have to cut everyone out of our lives when they are needy and depressed and hurting, but neither does it mean that we're expected to put up with everything from everyone.

2.  FRAMEWORK 2: Know the Definition of Friendship so You Can Repair and Assess

This evaluation method also helps us decide which relationships to move along the Continuum so that you are choosing to nurture the friendships that are healthiest, minimizing the chances of having high-drama and unhealthy behaviors in your Right-Side friendships.

The definition of friendship, put out by Dr. Paul Dobransky, that I highlight in my book on pages 128 & 129 is  that friendship is "consistent, mutual, shared positive experience."  He says that when a friendship is failing it is because one of these four required qualities is missing.  I have almost an entire chapter devoted to each of those concepts but basically a friendship needs to have repeated time together, be seen by both as a friendship, include increased vulnerability, and ultimately add more joy than stress to your life.

For our purposes here, how this definition helps me is to realize at least two things:

1) These are not simply qualities that she possesses or not, but they are behaviors that we together have either developed or not. Here, we are evaluating the friendship-- the pattern and dynamic between the two of us-- not the person.  We're recognizing that something doesn't feel good between us-- but that's not the same as saying that every relationship this person has in their life is identical to our experience.  While we may find that they do something annoying, it's also possible that had we been more honest up front or set different expectations, that this dynamic wouldn't have been created. We hold for that possibility by assessing the interaction, not the individual. Which means it's possible we could do something different and shift the experience of the relationship.

2) It also informs me that if there are relationships that don't meet those requirements then it doesn't necessarily mean that I can't have those people in my life, rather it just means I don't want them to be on my Right-Side.

How These Frameworks Inform My Response

Knowing these two frameworks (both in greater detail in my book) helps us:

  1. Assess the current relationship experience-- what type of friend is this and which of the 4 qualities are most lacking?
  2. Figure out what needs be repaired so we can show up differently to see if that helps.
  3. Identify the investment/depth of the relationship so we can decide if it's worth an honest conversation (confrontation though awkward can be the best gift we learn to give to friends on our Right-Side where we should be willing to try "everything" before letting the friendship just dissolve.
  4. Decide if we can just move these relationships to the Left-Side (see them less often, confide in them less, have fewer expectations) rather than cut them out of our lives.

That's all I have time for today (You'd think I was writing an entirely new book with as much as I have to say! Ha!) but I'll keep writing on this-- next time I'll share 5 questions you should ask before ending a friendship.

Have a great weekend!

Are these helpful? What jumped out at you? How have you seen these concepts play out in your life? How could these have helped your past relationships? I love hearing your feedback so it's more of a conversation.  Jump in!  :)

 

 

Friendship Break-Up 2: Saving a Drift, Avoiding a Rift

Friendship break-ups can be so hard. And painful. And sad. And, oh, ever so complicated! In the last post we looked at the two main types of friendship break-ups, with most of the focus being on The Drift--a more slow and unassuming process of two people drifting apart.

A Rift is often a more easily defined reason (than simply chalking it up to not having as much in common) for why we want out of the relationship. It almost always involves us feeling disappointed or hurt by the other-- as though they messed up, aren't healthy, or owe us an apology.

A Drift Can Turn Into a Rift

In a drift it might be because life either changed for them or for you (i.e. you retired, she went through a divorce, you moved away, she changed religions, you got pregnant) and while you may feel some resentment, there is a piece of you that understands the shift was nothing personal. We know they didn't leave the job because of us or get married to spite us. And we usually start off thinking we're still going to stay in touch... a Drift most often happens slowly... over time.

Both Drifts and Rifts have their valid reasons and times... but sometimes if we don't see the Rift coming, or don't understand how easily it can sneak into our relationship uninvited, it can turn into a Rift with hurt feelings and unmet expectations.

What brings the wounding in these situations is often expectations that didn't get met in the midst of the change. You felt sad that she was getting married when you liked being two single gals together, but you also didn't fault her.  However, when we interpret her calling less as loving us less or not making time for us anymore, we may start to feel she is to blame.  We miss her and don't know who to call to go out with so we resent how her life change is affecting our friendship. As our needs escalate, our insecurities get provoked, and our sadness feels more complicated; it becomes all too easy to feel like they're navigating it all wrong.

And they probably are.  As are we.

When you have two people in transition, trying to figure out a new way of being together-- it's almost guaranteed that it can't become something new without disappointing one of us along the way.  It won't just immediately arrive at some new pattern that we both like.

Preventing Drifts from Becoming Rifts

To prevent a Drift from turning into Rift-- there are three things I have found helpful:

  1. Tell her you value her. The very best thing we can do in those moments is to tell the other person that they are important to us. That their friendship matters to us to go through the awkwardness with them. To verbally commit that we intend to get through this change as friends, if possible.  I've said, "I just want you to know I love you and want our friendship to survive this change.  It may be hard at times, but you're worth it to me to figure it out."
  2. Acknowledge that it will change us. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves and others that there will be a change in our relationship.  We cannot have a baby and show up as though we haven't.  We cannot go through a divorce and still show up as a couple at parties.  We cannot leave our jobs and think that not seeing each every day won't impact how close we feel.  To try to pretend otherwise only seems to hurt feelings.  Instead, say something like, "I know it's going to take us some time to figure out our new normal... but I'm committed to that process." Saying out loud that we know things will change (what we talk about, how often we talk, how we spend our time together, etc.) helps normalize it for everyone.  It also acknowledges that we aren't likely to slip into a perfect pattern automatically.
  3. Be as generous as possible. Both of you are still trying to figure out your own lives, let alone know exactly how to incorporate the other in meaningful ways. How fabulous to say, "Let's just both try to be as generous with each other as possible while we figure this out.  Let's try to always assume the best of each other, even if we don't always do it perfectly. We know we don't want to hurt each other."

Almost every time we hear that someone we love still loves us and wants to make it work-- we're more likely to feel generous, gracious, and hopeful about the other.  Those two statements can come from either person-- the one who is experiencing the life change or the one who is feeling left behind.  Both of us have the opportunity to help give this gift of clarity to the relationship.

It Takes Two to Show Up Differently

It's rarely only the responsibility of one person to be open to the change--even if you think it's her fault. It takes two people willing to let go of how it was and willing to practice what can become. But one can always be the first and help invite the other into this new space.

  • If I leave the job we both used to hate together-- it may take practice to learn how to share with her my new business in a way that doesn't leave her feeling stuck there or pressured by me to leave; and it may take some getting used to when she stops sharing all the company gossip since I no longer work there and I am no longer invited out to company happy-hours.
  • If she starts dating a new guy while I'm still single-- it may take practice for me to get used to him getting all the attention I used to get and it may take some intention on her part to still make time for just us girls.
  • If I have another baby after her kids are all in school-- I will have to acknowledge she may not want a baby around every time we get together and she may have to practice showing the excitement for my life that I deserve even if she feels like she's past that point.

And I've found it so much easier to give that grace to each other if I have already built up a strong circle of other friends.  It means I make less demands of her.  It means I don't need her life to stay the same in order for me to love her.  It means I take responsibility for my own joy and health, rather than hold her to blame for my loneliness.  It means I have support from others when she's consumed.  It means I can love her for who she is, even if we don't have this big thing in common any more.

Every relationship change requires two people willing to hold the relationship with some kind of an open hand-- a willingness to let it become something new. It cannot stay the same.