Types of Friendships That May Need Some Adjustments
The term "breakup" isn't commonly used when friendships end, but if you've ever experienced it, it does feel like a breakup. There are lots of feelings that go along with this...both positive and negative. Depending on the circumstances, there can be true loss and grieving or possibly even relief when friendships end.
Why do friends break up?
Let's look at three types of friendships that may end in breakups.
1. The Toxic Friend
We've probably all had a friendship that's been toxic. The most common toxic relationship is when a friend is prone to negative conversations. This could be gossip, backstabbing, or enjoying telling many long details about someone else's problems and relationships. We may find ourselves drained or very disinterested in the topics at hand. Regardless of your many attempts to change the subject or keep things more positive, this friend keeps coming back to a negative focus and storytelling. Let's hope we practice being assertive and have at least one conversation setting some limits about what we may or may not be willing to talk about. An example might be, "I'm friends with her, too, and I prefer not to discuss things that may have been said in private." If you're feeling really bold you might add that you wouldn't share things this friend shared confidentially with you.
One of the maxims in dealing with this kind of pernicious conversation is that anyone who talks TO you about others, will also talk ABOUT you. Let's not be deceived. It can be very flattering at first when a friend confides in only you (or so you think). It may take a while before you realize that all conversations are heading down the same pathway.
2. Debbie Downer
(sorry to all the wonderful Debbies out there!)
This friend is a cousin to our toxic friend, but with Debbie the focus is always on her, her life, and how badly people are treating her. Her role in life is generally that of the victim.
Don't confuse the need to sometimes let our hair down honestly with friends and discuss how tough a situation has been with the very different scenario of chronic complaining. We need friends to be a sounding board for our woes. The problem is the chronicity of the complaint and not the complaining itself. This "downer" friend usually feels that he/she is right and everyone around him/her is wrong...sometimes that includes feelings that God Himself is not on their side. Hmm...what could be wrong with that picture?
3. The Imbalanced Friendship
Sometimes we may realize that what we thought was a friendship is really a ministry. What I mean by that is that the relationship revolves around our care-taking and ministering to the other person. By all means, please minister to neighbors, relatives, and folks from church who are in need. There is a specific biblical admonition to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27). Keep on in those efforts.
What I'm talking about here is the one-sided relationship. This kind of relationship is characterized by one person being on the giving end and another person being on the receiving end. Conversely, I may have a friend who's financially in need and I may always want to treat for lunch or keep my eye out for sale items for her kids. It's only one-sided if the other party expects that I do all the giving and never reciprocates in any way, not even being a listening ear or helping with my dog when I go away.
It is fine to befriend someone who is in need. The problem only arises if I was actually expecting a mutual relationship and it didn't happen. Usually both parties wind up resenting the other. "Ministry" type relationships work best when the one doing the ministering sets limits on how much time they can realistically devote to the relationship. Mercy is a gift and compassion is God's heart for a broken world. You'll get more back than you give as long as you aren't looking for a true mutual friendship. It's just a different category of relationship.
One further note, sometimes Christian women think they're doing a good thing when they permit themselves to be used by a domineering friend.
Just the fact that she may be domineering means there are character issues here. There is a specific biblical admonition in Proverbs 29:25 that tells us fear of man (people pleasing) is a snare. When we stay connected to people because we fear they'll get mad or hurt if we don't, then we're probably not in a healthy, authentic relationship. It's one sided and it's promoting the character flawed friend's sense of entitlement. God calls that unsanctified mercy. That means He wouldn't be extending mercy to a person who has a lifestyle of taking advantage of people, especially His beloved sheep. (NOTE: The key word is lifestyle. It's not taking advantage when someone can drive your kids while you have no car or a broken ankle. You may never repay them with rides, but you probably will find a wonderful way to say thank you from your heart and in deed, also.)
These scenarios are very tough and I'm sure there are many more categories of friendships that are worth considering breaking up.
I think it's honest to admit that I may indeed have been one of these kind of friends at various points in my growing up in God. People showed me a lot of mercy and stood by me and I would do so for a friend who may be visiting one of the toxic friendship styles mentioned above. We're looking at the possibility of "breaking up" because the difficult relational style has been prolonged. The “friend” won't hear feedback because they feel so very right about their demands and selfishness.
Next month we'll discuss how these friendships may end and, of course, take a glance at reconciliation. When is reconciliation the best route to take? When is a breakup necessary and how can that be worked out in a Christian manner?
Susanne Ciancio, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Christian Counselor. She has been serving the Christian community as a professional Christian counselor in Essex county and the surrounding area since 1986. Beyond her private practice in West Orange, NJ she is involved in teaching, consulting, and pastoral supervision in various churches in the area. Click here for Susanne's website.
EDITORS NOTE: While Susanne can’t answer specific counseling-related questions, she welcomes your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about what kinds of topics you’d like to see addressed here at Circles of Faith. Click here to contact us.