Are You Growing Apart or Is It Time to End the Friendship?
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Friends are integral to our lives. They're often the family we choose and with us for mundane moments and transformative milestones.
Whether you've connected during childhood, at work, or through common interest, great friendships help us live longer (seven years longer, on average), make us happier, and support our best selves.
At least, they should.
Perhaps you still keep in contact with classmates from elementary school or pals from college. They may have introduced you to your significant other or helped you get your dream job.
But all the good in the world can't turn back time, and many people find they grow apart from the people they used to hold dear, which is a normal and common reason why friendships end.
“We may have different groups of friends that serve different purposes—from friends who enjoy going on adventures to ones who may indulge our homebody side—and healthy friendships allow us to be authentic, comfortable, and loved,” says Kailee Place, licensed professional counselor (LPC) in Charleston, South Carolina, in an email interview with Business Insider.
Sometimes, however, circumstances create permanent fissures in the relationship. “Friendships can be protective and rewarding, nurturing and uplifting,” explains Dr.
Jessica Nicolosi, a New York-based clinical psychologist said in an interview with Oprah magazine.
“If a friend has the opposite impact, we may want to reconsider our relationship and reconfigure that person’s role in our lives.”
Here are signs it may be time to move on from your friendship, or at the very least, seriously re-evaluate it, according to relationship experts.
While nobody is perfect, major betrayals, ” seducing the friend's significant other, cheating, or stealing money—are red flags,” Melody Li, an Austin-based licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), told Business Insider in an email.
“Your boundaries need to be respected by those around you,” Genesis Games, a Florida-based licensed mental health counselor who specializes in working with young adults struggling with relationships and with high conflict couples, tells MyDomaine. “If you have clearly discussed these and they continue to violate them, this might be a sign.”
Healthy friendships are also grounded in authenticity. “Close friendships involve valuing the thoughts and emotions of another person,” says Dr.
Amanda Zayde, a New York City-based licensed clinical psychologist, in an interview with Oprah magazine.
“If your friend becomes easily enraged and doesn't make an effort to see things from your perspective, you may want to consider whether the friendship feels healthy,” Dr. Zayde adds.
Beware of the friend who's always asking for favors or emotional support withfering to help you in return, says Ashleigh Edelstein, LMFT-A to MyDomaine, an Austin-based licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in helping young adults navigate intimate relationships. For example, “Maybe they're conveniently busy when you've had a really bad day, or go radio silent when you need a ride to the airport,” says Edelstein.
In this case, it's important to remember that friendships are by definition, mutual relationships, says psychologist and friendship expert, Marisa Franco, Ph.D.
Sure, there will be times wherein our own needs take over, but in the long run, says Franco, “If only one person is offering support, then it is not a healthy relationship to continue.
” Both Edelstein and Franco say a healthy friendship requires both parties to give and receive.
Friendships are built and maintained on mutual respect and support, so if you're trying to convince yourself why you're friends with someone, there may be something deeper going on.
“If you're always walking away from them feeling down on yourself, or having to talk yourself into why that person is your friend, that person might not be right for you at this time,” says Fati Marie, California-based certified integrative holistic health coach at Encinitas’ Four Moons Spa, in an interview with Oprah magazine. Check in with yourself, says Marie, and take small steps back and away from situations that bring you two together.
Vulnerability often exposes us to potential hurt and disappointment, but experts Brené Brown say it's also a place full of opportunity to experience love, joy, and belonging.
That said, friendships work best when both parties are free to express themselves.
“Friends who can't have a balanced conversation about problems in your relationship may not be friends worth keeping,” says Jill Whitney, LMFT, in an interview with Business Insider.
A good friend may not agree with you on something, but they will listen to what you have to say, and respectfully. “They'll care about your feelings and perspective,” adds Whitney.
If, your iPhone battery in its final few bars of charge, “you leave interactions with [your friend] feeling utterly drained or worse than before, consider whether you need to create a boundary or take a break from them,” says Edelstein. For example, maybe your friend is overly negative and complain about every little thing, says Edelstein, or they constantly ask you for advice with no intention of taking it.
If you're nodding your head to more than a few of these friendship red flags, consider “there shouldn't be more wrong with a friendship than there is right,” Mahzad Hojjat, Ph.D., Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and co-editor of The Psychology of Friendship, tells NBC Better.
Similarly, in healthy friendships, says Franco, there's cooperation where each friend considers their own needs and their friends in order to find solutions that work for both parties.
“When our friends tear us down, they are betraying their role as a friend, and if a friend does not seem invested in your success, or if, even worse, they seem to want to see you fail, it may be time for the relationship to end,” adds Franco.
With a finite amount of time each day (and the energy you have to spend, for that matter), wouldn't you rather channel that time into people who are going to lift you up, rather than drag you down?
While ending a friendship with an acquaintance through text may suffice, the closer you are, the better it is to part ways in-person, agree Franco and Edelstein. “To honor the pain and the years of friendship, you both deserve to understand why. This will help create a sense of closure,” adds Games.
“You want your friend to be able to ask questions so that they can get closure on the friendship,” says Franco. Otherwise, you may risk prompting “ambiguous loss,” a term that leaves a party in limbo because it wasn't clear why things ended. “Ambiguous loss leave people ruminating and unable to move on,” says Franco.
A face to face conversation, or video chat or phone call at the very least, will allow the setting of boundaries moving forward, especially if you will continue to see this person; for example, you share mutual friends, have class together, or are co-workers.
“Decide what you want to say ahead of time so you don't suddenly get stage fright or accidentally say something hurtful,” says Edelstein, who also advises meeting somewhere neutral, and to begin the conversation by letting your friend know you've thought a lot about what you're about to say.
However, says Edelstein, “If they start to become abusive or nasty, it's OK to immediately end it.”
As far as social media goes, Franco suggests doing whatever you need to do for your mental health, even if that means unfollowing or unfriending them.
Adds Edelstein, “If you suspect that your friend might get upset or cyberstalk you, it's best to quietly unfriend them after you've had the conversation. If you have any mutual friends or connections, let them know after you've ended the friendship, not before.
” Another thing to avoid? “Zombie-ing,” says Franco, “wherein you your ex-friend's posts and generate confusion for your friend about whether you truly want to end the friendship.”
Though it may be painful to end a friendship, you can eventually choose to take this chapter of your life as a learning experience on how to develop healthier friendships moving forward, says Games.
7 questions to ask yourself to decide whether or not you need to break up with a close friend
Despite what the Spice Girls would have us believe, it's not true that friendship never ends.
Research actually confirms what we've all experienced: Most middle school friendships don't even last a year. And while some adult friendships last throughout life, some make us feel we've been sentenced for life. So how do you know when to make a break for freedom?
Sometimes it's obvious: A so-called friend steals your money or your partner, or in the case of Taylor Swift, your back-up dancers. Now we've got bad blood, indeed.
But sometimes it's not obvious: Do you tough it out with a friend struggling with addiction? Can you stay friends with someone whose values undergo a radical change? Do you leave behind a boring friend or remind yourself true friendship isn't about entertainment? And of course, what to do when a friendship starts off strong and just fizzles? Nothing happened, but there's just nothing there anymore. Is it OK to let go?
Fundamentally, you don't need a checklist of legit and non-legit reasons to end a friendship. Go with your gut and your heart. That said, here are seven questions to ask yourself to make those fuzzy situations a little bit clearer:
You don't want an entourage. sanjagrujic/Getty Images
Some people are friends with you because of what you can do for them. Red flags include friends who repeatedly try to sell you something, ask to borrow money again and again, or keep tabs on favors. (“You owe me house sitting because I took care of your dog.”) These friends routinely cross the line between friendship and business.
The transaction might also be more subtle — you're friends with them because they admire you with cartoon hearts in their eyes and in return you get a shot to your self-esteem. You're friends because they hold you back just enough that you can blame them, rather than yourself, for not accomplishing your dreams.
In sum, if you leave every interaction with an urge to wash your hands, look closer and see if you might using them or being used yourself. In the end, you want friends, not an entourage.
Unhealthy habits can circulate in a friend group. Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
Back in 2007, a now-famous study in the New England Journal of Medicine tracked the spread of obesity through a “deeply interconnected social network” of more than 12,000 people, underscoring that social ties link to health behavior.
Turns out healthy (or unhealthy) habits can circulate within a smaller friend group, too. For instance, unhealthy psychological habits a tendency to put each other down or to complain constantly can spread from friend to friend. Or unhealthy body image or disordered eating habits might be a culture in your circle.
More seriously, if you're battling a substance abuse problem normalized by a friend group (“If we all drink until we black out, doesn't that make it normal?”), it's difficult yet crucial to drop friends. Indeed, showing up at the same bar with the same people will inevitably lead to the same behavior.
Ideally, friends work together to eat better, team up to exercise, or weather the horrors of stopping smoking together. But if your friend pulls you down, pressures you to drink or smoke after you've made it clear you're trying to change, or otherwise ridicules your attempts to take care of yourself, it may be time to distance yourself.
If your friendship is very intricate, that may be a red flag. lechatnoir/Getty
Manipulation, fundamentally, is managing the emotions of others, and not in a good way. It's sulking to get someone to feel bad, it's being especially nice to butter someone up.
It's really hard to put your finger on whether or not it's happening, because being the target of manipulation is being the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling water — it's only after you're out that you realize the full extent of what was happening.
But there are clues: Your friendship may feel unnecessarily intricate. You're at a loss for words when others ask you about the friendship. “It's complicated,” is the best you can muster.
Another clue: Without quite realizing it, you've changed for the worse as a result of this friendship (less happy, less secure, less confident) but somehow you're the one always doing the apologizing. Or you may just feel something is always off. You even ask your friend “what's wrong?” but the answer (or the resulting silent treatment) just makes you more confused.
Any of these clues may be signs of emotional manipulation.
Indeed, a 2016 study unsurprisingly found that manipulation hung together with lower levels of important friendship characteristics being able to express personal thoughts and feelings, providing comfort when needed, simply being fun to be with, and always being there for each other (which, by the way, in research-speak is called “reliable alliance”).
It doesn't mean you have to be friends. Jacob Lund/Shutterstock.com
Sometimes we force a friendship when we have a similar background and similar lives. Similarity somehow makes us think we should be friends. But it doesn't matter if you went to the same elementary school or look spitting images of each other.
What's really important? Well, a 2012 study assessed over 1,400 people; some of them had friendships with people of a different race, sexual orientation, or gender, and some of them did not.
Those with cross-category friendships placed less value on having similar lives, values, and experiences as their friends.
What did they focus on instead? The true building blocks of friendship: trust, honesty, respect, and being there for each other.
You should be a friend, not an employee. iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Do any of these sound familiar? You justify selfish and inconsiderate behavior: “I'm sure he meant to clean up this mess he left when he borrowed my car, he was probably just busy.
” You initiate all the ideas, make all the plans, and are responsible for changing them if they're not convenient for your friend: “Oh, you decided to meet a Tinder date tonight? Um, sure, we can reschedule.
” And finally, you do all the emotional work — talking them down, shoring them up: “Of course you're amazing. Sure, let's talk about all the ways you rock. Again.”
If you're doing all the work in the relationship, you're an employee, not a friend. Time to consider going on strike.
A good friend shares in your struggles and successes. JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images
This one may sound cliche, but it's important. Friends shouldn't be your iPod earphones — never around when you need them but getting tangled up in things when you're not.
The research on friendship is rife with words “reciprocal,” “mutual,” and “shared,” and if none of those come to mind when you think about a particular friendship, it might be time to back away.
Indeed, all those graduation night songs about “I'll be on your side forevermore” and “I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on,” while cheesy, are about more than swaying with arms around each other's shoulders. Good friendships represent an equilibrium of mutual support. Even dissimilarities between good friends manage to balance each other out.
Of course, over time the balance will shift back and forth — you will inevitably have a major life crisis at the same time your friend gets a promotion, but good friends are there to share in your successes and your struggles. You don't have to link arms and sing, but you should feel sure than in your friendship, winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call.
True friends let you be yourself. NBC
Let's end with the big one. You're not the same everywhere you go — you behave differently at a job interview or visiting grandma than when hanging out with your friends, but if you feel pulled to change or hide who you are, or you feel ashamed after hanging out with your friend, it may be time to try on other friendships.
To wrap up, decades of research and millennia of common sense tell us that connecting with true friends is one of the best things we can do for our health and happiness.
Breaking up with less-than-true friends is a tough decision. Indeed, there must have been a time when you were good friends to each other, or you wouldn't be in struggling with the question to begin with.
Now, friends will come and go from your life. Some will be context-dependent, a work friend or a school friend. These are all fine. Not every friend needs to be a Golden Girls-style pal and confidante. But real friends shouldn't hurt, manipulate, or use you, or pressure you to be someone you're not. A true friend inspires you to be better, happier, healthier, and more “yourself.”
This Quick and Dirty Tips story was originally published on Business Insider on April 3, 2017.
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