It is often said that our friends are the family we choose. We rely on our friendships for love, support, entertainment and a good dose of reality, among other things. Frankly, it would be remiss of us to underestimate the true value of a great friendship.
My support system is perhaps 90 per cent grounded in my friendships. This is because friends are the people who I feel most connected to, based on interests and needs, as opposed to family, over whose existence in our lives we have little to no control. This is not to say that family cannot be a great support system (it often is), however, the friendships we create tend to be more fulfilling simply because those connections are deliberate.
We have all, at one point or another, found ourselves in situations where we need help from others. Nothing compares to a friend who shows up for you when you need them most. Whether that is to cheer us up out of a funk, kill our cheating ex help us through a difficult break-up, remind us that we are awesome when we feel like crap, or simply to hug us when we need it. And while we sometimes wish we could rely on ourselves for all the things we need in life, being able to count on friends is pretty damn awesome.
Of course, friendships are two-way streets. We have to be willing to give as much as we get for a friendship to be meaningful. That is, both parties have to feel fulfilled — they are both getting what they need and deserve from the other person.
I have always found it strange that people expect friendships to remain functional when they do little to nothing to ensure their survival. That’s like allowing your car to run down or not putting in gas and then get mad when it breaks down mid journey. In other words, it makes no damn sense.
Like romantic relationships, friendships must be maintained. We have to show the other person that we are as committed as they are to the cause. Moreover, it is easy to recognise when the other party in a friendship is fucking messing up. Let’s face it, sometimes we are the bad friend; we are the ones not pulling our weight and providing what the other person needs.
I have amazing friends. One of the things I do to maintain this is by auditing my friendships. I take some time to (re)evaluate my relationships with my loved ones. I ask myself the following questions:
- Is this friendship healthy? If not, why?
- Am I happy in this friendship?
- Are my efforts being reciprocated?
- Am I at fault for the breakdown, if there is one?
- What can I do to make things better?
- What would the other person need to do to meet my needs?
N.B. It is important to note that we don’t get or want the same thing from all our friendships so it is imperative to judge each friendship on its own merit and not in comparison with our other relationships.
After answering these questions I try to work out a way forward. Now this is the hard step (I still struggle through this part). It means speaking to the other party about the status of the relationship if it is in trouble. It can be difficult to say “I am unhappy in our friendship” to a friend – especially because we don’t know what their reaction will be. Say it anyway. Be honest about how you feel because if you don’t, you risk losing that friendship. The more you withhold the way you feel, the harder and longer it takes to resolve the issues. You may begin to resent your friend or you may allow it to get so far that you just drift apart until there is nothing left.
When approaching your friend, take the following tips into consideration:
- Approach your friend in a calm way
- Say what you must in the nicest way possible
- Try your best not to cast blame
- Take responsibility for your part in the breakdown of the relationship
- Listen to your friend
- Don’t just state problems; suggest solutions
- Highlight what is right and not just what is wrong in the friendship
- State and reiterate your commitment to the relationship
If all goes well your friendship will be one step closer to its better days. Try not to get back to this place by working on the things you’ve both decided will help to move the friendship along to more bountiful terrain.
Despite your best intentions however, things may not workout in your favour. When having the conversation, take note of your friend’s disposition. I suppose defensiveness is a normal reaction but if the person seems uninterested or unwilling to deal with the issues you are raising then that may be a sign that they don’t value the friendship. While you would love to fix the broken part(s) of the friendship, it is important to identify whether or not the relationship is salvageable.
It might be difficult to accept but some friendships do not deserve saving. Toxic friendships in which selfishness is the order of the day are ones you shouldn’t be hurting yourself trying to repair. Some people will always take without giving because that’s just who they are. You have to know when to walk away.
How do you maintain and keep your friendships healthy?