I was struck by something a friend said recently about a friendship she had maintained and nurtured for years. She said, “It hasn’t always been easy, but she’s worth it.” It stood out for me as an interesting qualifier for friendships-some are definitely worth the work, focus, attention and flexibility needed to maintain them over the years, and some are not. What makes one friendship valuable and “worth it” and what makes another disposable?
Another friend recently shared that one of her ongoing issues in therapy is learning how to separate and distance herself from unhealthy friendships. While she was pretty good at partner and dating choices, friends and friendships created more of a problem area for her. Why is it that friends and friendships can give us such fits? I think partly that “breaking up” with a friend feels really adolescent. We want to think that by the time we are mature adults, we are choosing our friends wisely and purposefully and that we should be accumulating friends as we age, not letting them go. And, we expect that we are so evolved that we can “work with” anything. It’s like telling potential employers that we can “work with anyone.” While I used to make that declaration, time has taught me that it’s not exactly true. Not only can I not work with anyone, I also can’t be friends with anyone either.
At the same token, there are friendships where no matter how difficult things may become-either for each individual, or with disagreements, lifestyle choices, etc.-maintaining and nurturing the friendship is far move valuable than just cutting the losses and letting it go. I think that there truly are friends that are soul mates or destined friends and we just seem to know and feel that the connection is worth the work. Some partners or love relationships fall into this category-the history, friendship and soulful connection are valuable and deep, even if the romantic relationship has “failed.” These can be incredibly tough relationships to work through to a comfortable friendship place-but well worth it when the connection is strong and it adds a positive dimension to each person’s life. While the initial instinct may be to walk away and attempt to cut all ties, the pull to work things through is stronger.
On the other hand, relationships or friendships that are abusive or one-sided, or where genuine communication seems impossible, or where you really feel like you have tried to salvage the positives and it just isn’t working-probably need to go. I think there are “deal breakers” in friendships, just as there are in romantic partnerships or dating relationships. It is perfectly okay and healthy to admit when you have outgrown a friendship or it has morphed into something that no longer enhances or fits into your life and your values.
In the end, the best friendships may not be the ones that are easiest, some are just worth whatever it takes!