As we age, they’re the spice that keeps us vibrant and challenged. They’re also good medicine. When your body sags, longtime buddies lift you up. When you’re sick and bedridden, they brighten your outlook. When death comes knocking, they slam the door on evil thoughts. But how do we keep positive friendships in our lives and shed those that are toxic?
To feel happy and healthy we need to seek out what specifically brings us joy. High on the list is friendship. Instinctually, we gravitate to positive people to trigger positivism within ourselves. We look to our friends to interpret the big picture for us, to help us find a solution to dramatic problems that overwhelm us. We trust them with our secrets and often take their advice. However, over the years friends change and we change as well. Each decade reveals buried treasures of personality and personal growth. Careers, finances, status and intimate relationships undergo transformations.
Recognizing Toxic Relationships
- If your friend speaks to you sarcastically, and most of the remarks though they are housed in humor are basically insulting, eroding your self-esteem or your goals to move forward, this is the first sign of toxicity. Be alert and don’t ignore it. Put up your invisible shield of light to protect your heart.
- If you are sick with a chronic and serious illness, have lost your job, or are getting a divorce and your friend keeps asking you for the smallest, most intimate details about your condition, this is a sign of well-meaning toxicity. While you need to separate your identity from that of your plight, get back into life, your friend sees you only as the problem and is fascinated by it as though watching a house on fire, yet doing nothing to put it out. This is a clear signal to alert your friend that you would rather not talk about it. Your friend sees you as an object of pity while you need empowerment to heal. Eventually, you will need to free yourself from this friendship.
- If your friend tries to monopolize your time, possess you and limit your contact with others, by making you feel guilty of abandonment, then that friendship has become parasitic. Do not become enmeshed. Declare your independence.
- If your friend is narcissistic, rarely complimenting you, tugging at your heart strings as to what you can do for her, calls you when it is convenient for her- even late at night, never remembering what is going on in your life, then be aware that you are being used and drained. Establish your boundaries, so that her soap opera does not become your soap opera. After awhile the same old story becomes redundant and boring. Friendship needs reciprocity.
One of the first studies linking relationships and longevity came out of Alameda County, Calif., in recent years. Researchers found that people with the strongest social and community ties were likely to live longer, say the books Age Erasers for Men and Age Erasers for Women (McClelland and Stewart). Three other studies have duplicated the findings.
In her book, When Friendship Hurts, Jan Yager, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut in Stamford, says that negative, destructive friendships can wreak havoc on our lives and can even cause us serious harm.
“The negative impact can be as devastating as poor self-esteem, stress, or career sabotage and the scary part is sometimes negative friends have influence over friends who aren’t even aware of it,” Yager said.
She says there are some 21 types of potentially negative friends.
Among the villains: the faultfinder, the one-upper, the abusive friend, the double-crosser, and the person who engages in petty or criminal behavior.
One woman had gotten drunk at a business party, and drove her friends home. No one was hurt, but her co-workers ostracized her afterward. The woman was willing to admit to her colleagues that what she did was wrong, which smoothed things over.
Other varieties of negative friends include liars, overly dependent friends, and those who do not listen.
To close the door on a friendship, gradually wean the two of you off one another. Speak less frequently on the phone. Meet for lunch or dinner with others, not alone, so that you can position yourself next to someone else in the group. Express your feelings honestly and try not to vent. Explain what is wrong. Listen to the answer- what is said as well as what is not said. See if you can salvage the relationship by clearing the air. Adopt a wait and see attitude. If the transgressions continue, let your friend know that it is not working for you.
As we get older, we have fewer friends and more acquaintances. We see with experienced eyes. We tend to expect more from our friends; perhaps we expect too much. Nevertheless, reserve judgment and forgive, but move on. Tap into your gut feelings. Just because you have a history with someone, doesn’t mean you need to keep on repeating it. We outgrow many things during the course of a lifetime and take many detours. During the course of our journey we make new friends and exchange our gifts with them.
How to Make Friendship Work
1. Do I want to invest the time/energy to turn it around? You may not want to, but have to, because you work together, or it’s a friend of your spouse, you work in same community, church, etc.
2. Will the friend want to work through the conflict? You will need to assess whether your friend will want to work through conflict.
3. Will you discuss the friendship with a friend things ride for a while? Sometimes a cooling-off time can have a better long-term effect than doing something in heat of the moment, because people feel they have to do something.
But if you write an angry e-mail, don’t hit send. If you directly confront a friend who may not be ready to hear something, the friendship may be prematurely catapulted to an end over something that may not seem like a big deal in hindsight.
4. Try conflict resolution techniques.
A. Try to understand the words that caused conflict.
B. Listen carefully to one another (i.e. You thought you were supposed to meet at 3 p.m., but the person didn’t show up, but they really said 2:30 p.m.)
C. Agree to disagree. One of reasons you’re friends is that you aren’t exactly the same.
D. Validate the relationship. Let them know you want to stay friends.
E. If appropriate, say ‘I’m sorry.’
5. If you save the friendship, don’t dwell on the resolved rift.