HOW TO EVALUATE YOUR FRIENDSHIPS
Alison Johnson, PsyD
Friendships are very complex relationships. Aristotle outlined three different types of relationships:
1) Friendships of utility: these are the types of friendships which are not very deep. They have a certain “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” kind of feel to them. A good example of this type of relationship might be a friendly next-door neighbor who waters your plants when you are away, and you feed their cat when they go on vacation.
2) Friendships of pleasure: these types of friendships exist primarily because you enjoy the persons company. These friends are more “activity buddies.” A good example might be the friend whose company you enjoy at a knitting club.
3) Friendships of the good: these friendships are the longer-term variety where mutual respect exists between the two parties. The individuals in the relationship share values, goals and ideals. These friendships may originate as far back as high school or college, but they can develop later in life too.
Most of the friendships which take up our time, thoughts and energy are the third kind. They involve more maintenance and care and, from time to time, evaluation. Evaluating a relationship often happens when the friendship looks as though it may be struggling. However, evaluating your friendships, even when they are going well, can ward off difficult times or provide an opportunity for personal growth.
Here are some useful guidelines to help you step back for a moment and evaluate your friendships.
1. What is the overall health of your relationship?
Shasta Nelson is a relationship expert. She has identified three markers which designate a healthy friendship—the first being positivity. To measure this, take note of whether you feel good or bad after hanging out with this person. The second is consistency, which has to do with how often you see or connect with the friend. And the third concerns vulnerability. When a friendship satisfies these guidelines, “we feel like we can share ourselves, be acknowledged for who we are, and feel known,” Nelson says. An unhealthy friendship is lacking one or more of these components.
2. Now that you have met the “real person” inside are you still motivated to stay in the relationship?
Most relationships have a honey-moon phase. That is to say, a period of time where their very best version of themselves show up to play. This is the “face-book” stage, where everything about them is wine and roses. A platonic relationship, just like a marriage, heads into a period of time where one or the other partner becomes disillusioned with their new found friend. This often occurs because people are attracted to others who seem like themselves, only to discover all the ways in which they are not! If we are not able to negotiate through this period, a relationship will often break up. Compromise, acceptance and focusing on the positive traits of your friend will go a long way to pushing through this awkward phase of the friendship.
3. Is your friendship toxic or needy?
We hear this term, “toxic relationship” thrown around all over the place and used as the reason for a break up of a friendship. “Toxic” and “needy” are sometimes used interchangeably without much thought. The truth is that we all have “needs” in a relationship. It is the way some friends go about getting those needs met which leads to a relationship becoming “toxic.” Unlike “needy”, toxic relationships are often manipulative and dishonest, and characterized more by selfish motives. Consider your friends motives when discerning between “needy” and toxic.”
4. Is there a healthy balance?
Sometimes, you can evaluate your friendships by listening to that small inner voice which tells you that you are giving more than receiving benefits in the friendship. Resentment is a very telling sign that you are working harder in the relationship than your friend. Obviously, you will need to take stock of this balance over a period of time. Sometimes a friend can be in a season of much greater need. However, the overall balance sheet should even out over time.
5. Is it you or your friend?
Healthy introspection should also be a part of your evaluation. Before you cast blame and responsibility on your friend, take a moment to look at your contribution to the conflict or deterioration of the friendship. This also gives you some control over the situation. It is much easier to change your behavior than to try to change someone else. If it is all someone else’s responsibility, then you are nothing more than a hapless victim with no power to make any changes! Everybody is reacting to one another. Nobody behaves in a vacuum. Look for patterns in your relationships. Ask others if they can give you feedback (not judgement) about your behavior in the friendship. Where is there room for you to grow personally in the relationship?
6. Is there enough gratitude and positivity?
It is not uncommon for a friendship to enter into a period where the interactions become increasingly draining or negative. This sometimes happens when the reciprocity of the relationship goes off balance. It may be due to one of the friends going through a particularly trying time where he/she needs an exorbitant amount of support. This is a time to inject some fun and positivity into the relationship. Consider respites from the negativity by doing something fun together to restore the balance. It is very difficult to be negative and use words of gratitude at the same time. Gratitude is the antidote to anger and contempt.
5. Even the best of friends can’t read minds
Before you break-up with a friend, consider whether you have been entirely honest and open with them. Is your friend even aware that they are doing something which annoys or hurts you? Sometimes we push down our thoughts and feelings until “the last straw moment,” when a whole litany of complaints and resentments come spewing out like red hot lava. It really behooves us to communicate more openly with our friends so that this can be avoided. If you start to feel a little “crispy” about a friendship, try talking to them before you become completely burnt out. For example, you could tell a friend that her complaints about her work are stressing you out. She might be totally unaware of this. Then, she may be able to make a change in her behavior to avoid hurting the relationship further.
6. Parting ways
In a situation where the friendship is becoming a burden and there does not seem to be a way to resolve the conflicts or imbalance, it is probably time to separate. This needs to be done mindfully and sensitively, particularly if you live in the same community and/or share other friendships. Make sure that the cause of the break-up is not just attributed to your friend. Talk about your own thoughts and feelings and your role in the relationship difficulties. Here are some approaches:
the direct talk: where everything comes to the surface. Awkward but sometimes really necessary in order to see where each member of the relationship stands and set boundaries for the future.
taking a friendship break: this might help to calm things down or gain better perspective on a situation. A time period should be decided.
the slow back-away: a less direct method but this method can avoid hurting someone’s feelings or work better with someone who won’t listen to boundaries. This is the least preferred method because it is less honest.
the burst: this technique is usually abrupt and to the point in situations where a relationship is toxic or hurtful. However, the directness ensures that the other person clearly understands your intentions and boundaries.
Friends and the nature of your friendships are always changing. That is the essence of friendships. Friends might not be forever friends – but, how you make, keep, and break-up with friends is a forever challenge.
“All true things must change and only that which changes remains true.”
— C.G. Jung
Stay true to yourself and your friends! - Alison Johnson, PsyD