A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Friends forever?

How to know when to let go

Gloria recently finished up studies to become a master gardener and began creating a beautiful garden on her property. As she planted, fertilised, and weeded, she began to enjoy the result of her labour. However, whenever one of her closest friends came by all she did was criticise. “The bushes you planted aren't getting enough sun.” “Those shrubs are far too close together and will crowd each other out.” “You're not providing enough water for all the flowers you've planted.” After her friend would leave, Gloria lamented to her husband: “Every time she comes over it's constant criticism and by the time she's gone I'm very angry and upset.”

Gloria has a dilemma: what do you do about a friend who acts in clearly unfriendly ways? It's problem which many people face. This issue is so prevalent that psychotherapist and advice columnist Lacey Worrell devoted an entire column to it saying of all the issues which come her way, “the big question that appears to be on your minds – What do you do about a 'friend' who treats you badly?” Then she listed a variety of questions she received, all around the same theme – a friend who is constantly rude and outspoken; a friend who gets stuck babysitting a friend's daughter every single day without compensation or even a thank you; a friend who insulted her family, etc. 

Even the apostle Paul experienced a disappointing friendship. Earlier in his ministry, Paul speaks highly of Demas friendship writing: “Our dear friend...Demas sends greetings.” (Col 4:14, NIV) Later, there is this sad reference: “Demas...has deserted me.” (2 Tim 4:10) This very issue may have been in the mind of Aesop, the ancient Greek writer when he noted: “A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy.” Here are some ways to evaluate and, if necessary, end a friendship.

Ask these questions of yourself. You need to be in charge of your life and your circle of friends. One way to determine whether or not a friendship is healthy and helpful is by asking these kinds of questions:

• How do I feel when I'm with the individual?

• Is this a person who lifts me up or loads me down?

• Does the individual bring too much drama to my life?

• Is there equality in listening and supporting of each other?

• Am I able to be my true self with the person?

• Is it stressful or uncomfortable to be with the individual?

• Am I emotionally drained after being with the person.

After honestly answering, trust yourself. You'll know when a friendship isn't working as it should. If that's the case, then become proactive about who you want in your life and who you will spend time with.

Your friend disrespects you. Disrespect comes in many forms: insensitive comments, unkind actions, harsh criticism. If that's what you're getting, then it's time to consider getting out. True friends care about each other and are careful not to offend. They treat each other with warmth and gentleness. When the opposite occurs, there's friction and the friendship weakens. One woman became disappointed and frustrated with her good friend. “Lisa is increasingly negative and given to making negative comments about me, about our friendship. She recently told me that she would have no problem ostracising me if I get married before she does, because she doesn't want me to be in a different stage of life than she is. At this point I feel awful after spending time with her so now I actively avoid her.”

Your friend lies or is deceitful with you. Karla met her best friend, Dee, when they both worked at the same place. Even after Karla left they remained close, often talking several times daily by phone. Yet, during the decade they were best friends, Dee hosted parties never inviting Karla. “This included a party of 300 for her daughter's graduation. She also had a jewellery party and I love jewellery – she’d told me about it the next day. I confronted her and...her excuses were evasive like “you don't know my daughter” or “blame my husband because he mailed the invites”. True friendship is based on honesty and openness, not as in this case, deceit, lies and subsequent hurt.

Your friend has a history of substance abuse. That in itself shouldn't be sufficient to end a friendship. After all, good friends don't abandon each other when one is struggling. However, if the alcoholism or drug abuse impacts the friendship, then it's time to re-think things. This is what one man had to do. He explains: “For some time we've all known that Quinn had a prescription drug problem. Initially he was taking the pills for a back injury. But the pills began to take over his life and impact our circle of friends. The final straw came when he showed up at social event at a fine restaurant. He was obviously high. His language was incredibly rude and crude toward the restaurant staff. We were all embarrassed and kept apologising for him.” One by one, his friends began distancing themselves from him because of his addiction.

Your friend abandons you. Walter Winchell said it best: “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” The Bible reminds friends to “carry each other's burdens.” (Galatians 6:2) A good friend hangs in there with you when you're going through a tough time. A poor friend disappears when the going gets rough. It's just that simple. A personal crisis reveals who your true friends really are. After Rebecca's 42 year-old husband died suddenly of a heart attack, she remembers: “As hard as that loss was to me, there was this additional pain: two of my closest girlfriends quit calling. I don't know if they didn't know what to say or how to act or what. But it was disappointing and painful and left me feeling abandoned.”

Your friend betrays you. Gabriella learned of a new position which had recently opened in her company. Over lunch she talked about it with her close friend who also worked with the same firm. The friend persuaded her it wasn't a very good position and might only be temporary. “Because of our conversation, I took a pass on applying for it. Two weeks later I was shocked and deeply hurt to read in the company newsletter that my friend had been appointed to the very position we talked about.”

Your friend wants all your time. Beware the friend who won't give you space. Nicole tells of dating a guy “who was not very healthy for me. One night I went out with other friends. As we were driving, we realised my boyfriend was following us and trying to get us off the road.” The driver finally pulled into a parking lot. Nicole's boyfriend got out of his car and walked to hers. “I could tell he was enraged with jealousy as he tapped on the window and started yelling at me to get out of the car. Everyone in the car was silent and I started crying.” Her boyfriend was persuaded to leave but “that night I decided I had been treated badly long enough, and that I would break up with my boyfriend.”

Use this friendship measurement. Susan Shapiro Barash offers this quick assessment to determine the authentic friend, ‘the real deal.’

• Is your friend truly empathetic?

• Can you count on her in any circumstance?

• Does she know her bounds?

• Can you lose touch after months or years and pick up again immediately?

• Do you have the same worldview?

• Does it matter if you do not have the same worldview?

“If your friend fills the bill, you are blessed with an authentic friend,” she adds. 

Three Ways to let go of a Friendship

When you become certain a friendship no longer works for you consider taking these methods of ending it.

1.     Do it gradually. Let your friendship end slowly, not by words but by actions. Don't respond as quickly to calls and emails. Decline invitations. Distance yourself little by little.

2.     Do it in person. Try preparing yourself to have a conversation with your friend indicating you'd rather spend less time together. Do this face-to-face or, if that is just too uncomfortable, do it by phone. Do your best to be non-accusatory and non-judgmental. Don't go into a lot of details.

3.      Do it with maturity and respect. Always be mindful you are dealing with another human being who has feelings. No matter what may have transpired, be kind and compassionate. When ending a friendship apply this biblical instruction: “Be kind and compassionate to one another.” (Ephesians 4:32)

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