I moved from Sydney to Melbourne a few years ago. In doing so, I left behind my dearest friends who’d been by my side through the ups and downs of life. Friends who are good for my soul and who I couldn’t imagine not seeing regularly. But I knew that our friendships would withstand the physical distance. When we catch up every few months it’s still like we saw each other yesterday. Friends like that are precious and beautiful like diamonds.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our friends were like that?
Why we need friends
Our brains are wired to seek social connections. And beyond our partner, children and family, friends are the next most valuable connections we have.
Friendships can impact all areas of our life, including our marriages, children, families, health and plans for our future. Australian research has shown that people with solid friend groups were 22% more likely to live longer. Conversely, bad friends can increase the likelihood of stress related health issues.
As mums, it’s even more important to have friends who understand what it’s like to raise children. Friends who don’t require an explanation for not having an interruption free conversation in months, for running late again, for being so exhausted that you can’t remember where you were meant to meet for coffee.
You have much less time than you used to have to invest in friendships but you probably need them even more.
Fortunately, I’ve made some amazing new friends in my new home. Including some of the precious diamond type.
Are your friendships healthy or toxic?
Jim Rohn famously said “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”.
Interesting thought, isn’t it?
(Sadly, it’s not implying that spending all our days with little children is anti-aging!)
Are the friendships you’re investing in adding to or detracting from you and your life?
Friendships evolve over time and some that started well may have changed. They may have naturally become less important or even become toxic. Others start out badly.
How do you know if a friendship is healthy or toxic?
Let me introduce you to two people. (These are fictitious people that I’ve made up to help illustrate a point.)
Do you have friends like Alison or Sofia?
If you’re nodding to many of the things on one of those lists, then you’ve uncovered the state of your friendship. Everyone has bad days but you’ll see behaviour trends in your friendships.
So, what now?
If you have friends like Alison, tell them how amazing they are! Those are the friendships to invest in. In a healthy balanced relationship, you’ll both experience positive benefits to your well-being and other areas of life.
If you have friends like Sofia, consider if you can evolve the friendship to a healthier one.
Perhaps start with setting some better boundaries. For example, say no if you don’t want to help them with something or ask her to stop saying something that is unkind.
Get another perspective from your most honest, authentic friend – they’ll care about you and will give an honest opinion about whether the friendship looks like it can evolve and be saved.
Or have an honest conversation about how the friendship is affecting you – maybe your friend will be willing to hear this and adjust.
How to end a friendship with a toxic friend
If you don’t think the friendship will ever be healthy, let go.
Friendships are voluntary relationships. Voluntary to enter and voluntary to leave.
Here are a couple of options to end the friendship.
- Let it fade
Gradually reduce the frequency of your interactions until the friendship naturally ends. Stop initiating catch ups or communication and don’t agree to hang out (simply decline rather than making up excuses). Keep conversations surface level.
This approach can take a long time and you may not feel great throughout. It can also make them pursue you more and you may eventually find yourself having to progress to the next option.
This approach is better suited to friendships that aren’t particularly close, are brand new or where you have already started to grow apart naturally.
- Tell them directly
Organise to see them and respectfully explain that you don’t think you should hang out anymore. Don’t blame them, but explain the impact on you. You can also tell them how you’ve valued the time you’ve had together. Let them talk but if you know the friendship is toxic, don’t let them talk you out of looking after yourself.
If you don’t mind keeping in touch infrequently, then let them know what that means but if you’d rather not talk to them at all, be clear about this.
This is a better approach if your friendship has been a close one, is particularly toxic, or there’s been a particular problem to address.
Every friendship is different so think about what approach is most appropriate. Don’t choose to let a friendship fade just to avoid having to deal with an issue that needs to be dealt with. Often having the hard conversation is the right thing to do. Just be as kind and respectful as possible.
It might hurt your friend initially to end things but if you allow a toxic friendship to continue, you’re hurting yourself. Their response doesn’t mean that you did the wrong thing. Ending things also doesn’t mean you hate them, but it does mean you’re respecting yourself, your health and needs.
Ending it won’t feel good at the time.
It’ll be uncomfortable and awkward and you’ll probably feel guilty but the benefits will be worth it.
You’re worth it.
Here’s your Action Plan for today:
- Identify the diamonds among your friends and tell them how amazing they are!
- For the toxic friendships:
- Can this friendship evolve to a healthier state or should you end it?
- If you need to end it, how and when will you do this?
You have limited time and energy to dedicate to people outside your family. Give it to the diamonds who value it and who reciprocate your investment.