Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Live Well--Toxic Relationships

I have been blessed with healthy relationships. I still wince when I hear women talk about their abundant friendships with males in comparison to their dwindling, meager relationships with women:

"Women are so fake. Women are so catty. Women just don't like me."

I think to myself,"What's wrong with you or what's wrong with the women you're meeting?"

I have had the same close girlfriends since childhood. I am nearing anniversaries with both of them that span over two decades. I can summate our success in a few factors:

1. We still live in the same area

2. Our busy schedules have kept us apart.

3. Our similar interests and values have forced an investment to see around busy schedules.

In other words, we don't spend too much time together but we make time to enjoy time spent. I think this probably works for marriages too, but I'm no expert in that category.

A partner to these few factors are maturity, forgiveness, and patience. Your friends will change. So will you. If you refuse to accept or understand this and resign to it, problems will surface as mentioned by Kathryn Hoot's  commentary about letting go of toxic relationships in Woman's Day August article called,"The End of the Road." (You may hum the Boyz II Men song too if you were a teenager in the 1990's like I was.)

She got married and had a son and her friend she partied with did not adjust well, to say the least. Instead, she refused to accept the change and even criticized her friend. Realizing the futility of the situation, she let go of her friend.

I can tell you that when I was working 14 hour shifts as a manager at Macys in my early twenties, it was no consolation to visit my best friend during a lull between working hours to find her in her pajamas at lunch time eating Bon Bons (yes, she really was eating Bon Bon's) with her two children, lackadaisically, as if she didn't have a care in the world.

I was irritated at her lack of work ethic. (You stay at home moms are of course, gasping in horror at this statement.)

Truthfully, I was irritated that it was not me that was married and staying at home with children, which is honestly all I ever wanted to do. The fact that I was making more money than my parents and owned clothes that cost more than my first car made no difference. I wasn't getting what I wanted.

These trivial matters that balloon into points of rivalry--albeit hidden and masked--can ruin relationships. In my case, the glue that held my relationship with Amanda together (the Bon Bon eater herself) was comprised of a few important ingredients (none of which were chocolate or butter cream):

1. I truly loved my friend.

This love specifically blossomed out of a life time of shared experiences, values, and family friendships and loyalties. We grew up in church together. She respected my mother, who was also her pastor, and was often greatly concerned about what she thought and felt about her. That tied into me. We had been through High School Dances and Youth Group outings, banded together through a horrible college experience, and lived a vagabond early adulthood through drugs, sex, alcohol, and disappointing parents. Shared experiences often lead to life long friendships but need more to exist beyond a customary camaraderie.

2. We were alike.

To this day, I truly treasure the bond of humor--a little off, a little twisted, a lot sarcastic, and at times requiring out-and-out slapstick. We laughed. We appreciated ironies. It was an exclusive club that you either got or didn't get. And we got it. Laughter, a medicine, often prescribed to the mentally ill and financially exhausted. We shared the same religious beliefs (although often didn't follow our convictions), the same political views (although I was more passionate about the cause and was more...well, the cause itself), we enjoyed the same activities and shared them with the same gusto. We liked the same types of people and we both loved people, even if for different reasons.

3. We were not alike.

While I feel that opposites attract, I attribute most lasting relationships to things in common. We shared the same basic values but the ways we were different complimented each other. Amanda was organized, I was anything but. We were both outgoing but Amanda was sparse in her loyalties and intimate details. Amanda was coy and discreet with her romantic conquests. I was brazen and blunt, the center of attention. There was a true yin and yang in the relationship we forged.

4. I respected her.

Everyone has their flaws. Amanda had hers. She was secretive at times (although I always knew what was up--always). She was an avoider of conflict (understanding why people have their issues helps). She was sensitive about her short comings. She broke commitments. She could not keep secrets. All of these things could be deal breakers for some. For me, I learned that I didn't need her to confess to things I already knew and didn't need to confess things to her (Danielle was better equipped for confidences). But Amanda was loyal where it counted. She was always genuine. She was open and non-judgmental of all types of people. And she never pretended to be anything she wasn't and desperately wanted the approval of those she cared about. She was a good wife, passionate mom, invested sister. People could easily observe her dedication in other areas of life--her dedication specifically to others. She was a good friend--observant. She paid attention to you. Our first year in college she knew exactly how to fix my salad down to the cottage cheese on the side and the sunflower seeds on top of the Ranch dressing. The pros far outweighed the cons. She earned and kept my respect despite arguments or imperfections.

5. The relationship was worth adjustments in my own life.

Especially in relationships where people have children and you don't, you have to learn to adjust. There are no more late night, last minute evenings. Friends who have children will now require planning, baby sitters, and 15 minute conversations that take an hour (the child will always need something--and loudly). Oh yes. And husbands you may or may not like. This is the moment you may have to walk away and wait for them. You have to make the sacrifice as the single person without children. You are on their time now and if you don't get along with the husband then refer back to points 1-4. It's all a part of the new package. Learn to adjust. Make new friends. If you forget the old ones because you refuse to change then you're the one with the issues--not your friend.

Both of my closest friends had children and were pregnant and married at age 21. I was not. I am still not. However, the experience was a milestone in my life because it taught me that sometimes you have to choose to change.

I have let go of more than a few relationships in my life. There are reasons. I will list them here and ask you to ponder your own:

1. They are mentally ill and refuse to get help.

You would think this would not apply to so many people but for me, it has. I always knew one friend was a little off but much later in life, far after she had married someone 20 years older than here and disappeared--seemingly into thin air--for the umpteenth time, she emailed me on facebook--a rant that was alarming and paranoid--accusing me of things that were preposterous (especially since I had not seen her in over 10 years). Some people are quirky or eccentric. Some people sadly, truly are crazy. If a friend is a habitual liar, paranoid, or possesses other manic qualities and they refuse to get help or acknowledge their issues, run. The possibilities of them harming you--sometimes in more serious ways than you can imagine--are quite realistic.

2. They are too different than you.

I think there are qualities you may appreciate about everyone, but some differences are too keen to ignore. If your core values are tremendously off, you may have a problem. For instance, I have had friends who have much more or much less money than me, but when the upper class friend is oblivious to the needs of the poor and spend most of their time spending exorbitant amounts of money on cocaine or your friend who lives in the low income housing puts your child in danger because her boyfriend is dealing drugs, time to cut connections. These are not class issues--they are character issues.

3. The friendship is compromising your marriage.

I feel that relationships with the opposite sex are healthy if appropriate. There can be mutual respect and admiration between a male and female that should be propitious and approved by your significant other. When a friend of the opposite sex starts making advances however, it's time to cut the connection. If you have questions about the nature of your relationship with someone of the opposite sex when you are involved with someone else, ask yourself this,"If he/she said that to me and my partner knew about it, would it be ok?" If the answer is no, then you may need to rethink your friendship. Impropriety is disrespectful although only you can make the judgment of what you deem OK or not OK.

There are other relationships that you may reconsider as well. If you are having marital issues or problems with a family member my first suggestion would be counselling although reading about emotionally incestuous relationships in the last few years has been eye opening and educational for me at the least. Here are a few selections that have been helpful to my relationships through the years:

1. The Five Love Languages -- Gary Chapman

2. The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to do When a Parent's Love Ruins your Life

3. When Someone You Love is Bipolar: Help and Support for You and Your Partner

4. The ADHD Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps

5. Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People who Drain you Dry

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