Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, I am thankful for the ability to walk away from unhealthy relationships.
Day #23 – Sorry … NOT gonna do it!
Early this year I wrote a post I liked about Setting Healthy Relationship Boundaries. Of course I also added some running context:
Running is a great form of exercise to be sure, and also opens up for us the possibility to seek within ourselves a sense of peace while also pushing ourselves to extremes. Yet like anything else it also offers a form of escape – which can be a good thing or a bad thing.
Let me put this bluntly – running is almost always a lousy way of establishing boundaries in relationships, because it generally is used as an escape. The same is true about traveling for work, volunteering to work off-shift hours, working holidays to avoid family gatherings and so on.
I think it is important as we get older to learn to deal with these things more directly, as I laid out in the post.
Personally one of my greatest strengths is my sense of loyalty … but it is also a weakness. It is one of the biggest things I have worked on through my adult life. I am much better than when I was younger, but it still happens. I will stick with things for far too long, investing myself where is no return, and compromising myself emotionally to the point where it impacts the healthy relationships in my life. I am so glad I have had Lisa by my side to work through all of this through the years … yes my circle is smaller, but it is overflowing with things that matter.
I have certainly seen this in blogging as well. Watching others as I have returned to focusing on blogging this month, I have seen genuinely nice people who are truly wonderful people – they are the part of the community I love. I have also seen those who will be BFFsies so long as it benefits them and then they are gone without a second thought. I have seen lies and harshness and passive aggressive behavior and more.
And I have let go of some blogs over the last couple of months that were no longer healthy – I had said that I would engage honestly and expect others to do the same with me. I also noted the ‘OMG u r the BESTEST’ commenting culture – whether to just be seen commenting, to get more cross-comments, or to always be positive to avoid looking mean/judgmental/rude … I really don’t know why. But when I see someone say something that makes no logical sense in a post, something that isn’t supported by things in their other posts or Instagram or Twitter … and THEN even in their replies to comments fail to maintain a consistent story? Well, if I say something then get attacked for it? Time to move along. And I wish I could say it only happened once … actually I wish it never happened at all.
Thanksgiving and the holidays are a great time to reflect upon our relationships. I hear so much about the great times, amazing gatherings, wonderful close families and so on … then at the same time I hear about the conflicts, the hidden agendas, the side-talk, the difficulties between spouses that come up, and on and on. And you know what? These are very often from the same people! Maybe yours is that mythical
unicorn perfect family, but chances are … not so much. The questions you have to ask are (a) do I care (b) do I end up emotionally dealing with Thanksgiving until Christmas (c) is it impacting my relationship with my significant other and (d) what do I want and can reasonably expect?
During the holidays we often feel that we need to put on a smile and ‘suck it up’ and put on a show, or perhaps we love the time of year and revel in the joy of things and can let the negative stuff roll off our backs. But there needs to be a time for honesty, for refection and appraisal. Maybe that is something better left for the New Year, to get a fresh start and recommit to a year of healthy relationships … regardless of the consequences.
Because in my opinion there are few gives we could give ourselves that is better than a life filled with healthy relationships.
How do you do with identifying and walking away from unhealthy relationships?
Mike – I saw the angst that you went through during that period and know it was tough for you – you are from everything I can/have seen a kind and caring person first and foremost. However, I know exactly where you were coming from and also have purposely pulled back away from some of the “let’s call it the the downside of social media”.
It is easier to do on social media because most of these people you will never meet or talk to in real life, so by just stopping going to their site, deleting them from your feeds is often enough to eliminate them from your life.
Family, friends, former friends and neighbors are tougher, but at some point when you have unhealthy people attempting to bring you down to their level, you can get them out of your life, but it takes courage, spunk and often a lot of patience. You are not going to change others, you can only control what you do and how you react to what others do or say.
Often walking away is the proper thing to do, unfortunately, there are other times, that you have to stand-up for what you believe is right and it often makes you unpopular in that circle or worse.
Oh well, there is no easy, simplistic answer to your question, each unique situation and person deserves, its own resolution. 🙂
Thought provoking post. Thank you Mike.
Thanks Harold – and that is ultimately what we need to get back to: you cannot change anyone else, so are you going to (a) change yourself, (b) accept them as they are or (c) walk away. Pretty simple on paper, really messy in real life.
And definitely agree on the downside of social media and blogging. I did a post also on ‘Unreality’ way back here (https://txa1265.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/the-un-reality-of-the-blog-world/) … and it is a reminder that like anything else only we can manage our relationships online as well as offline.
“each unique situation and person deserves, its own resolution”
And that is where it begins and ends, really … and for many I know, it is a lifetime process seeking that resolution.
I think my husband and I would have a lot more family drama if we lived closer, instead, I’m usually left wanting more time with my family when I do see them. It’s funny because I saw my comment on your original post and my friend is still in the same boat pretty much that she was then — legally obligated to stay in a toxic relationship (but he’s now almost 1, and I think she likes him more than she did originally, though she still frequently tells me that she doesn’t think she’s cut out for motherhood).
“she doesn’t think she’s cut out for motherhood”
She’s probably right … which worries me about the poor child. Because when it comes to a toxic relationship with a baby … I have a pretty strong thought on who is the toxic one. 😦
I promise she’s a totally awesome person! But I feel bad because she doesn’t seem to ever get much baby-free time because her husband travels for work and they don’t have family nearby. Based on my visit several months ago, he seemed more vocal than most babies, he absolutely hates not being held and it’s been a tough road for her.
I’m sorry – re-reading my response it came out wrong. It *IS* very possible to simultaneously be a wonderful person and not be fit for motherhood. We have good friends from college where the woman wanted kids … until she had them. Fortunately the father was able to be the primary parent until things hit a point where the kids and the mom could engage. Fortunately it all worked out in the end.
Sadly for your friend she is largely alone in this, and has a demanding child – which is never easy. Our younger son had a distressed birth I’ve written about, but he was colicky and a screamer and didn’t like to be put down. But Lisa could hand him to me and take a sanity break every night! It isn’t easy!
Heck … it STILL isn’t 😉
This is one I’m still working on. There have been periods in my life where I couldn’t let anyone go (even when I really needed to), then where I dropped people at the drop of a hat if they weren’t good for me (a few were owed more of an explanation than I gave), and now I like to think I’m somewhere in between? I’m incredibly loyal to family and friends, but I’ve gotten a lot better about stating what I need and not being afraid to make waves, even if that goes against someone I love (not to say I’ve become a selfish person with no thought to anyone else, but I definitely tend more towards the people pleasing doormat and I’m trying to break away from that). This year’s holidays are going to be an interesting experience. We are expected at family houses like we have done for the past few years, but we very much want to start our own traditions this year, especially if we’re in our new house this year. One of our families respects that but the other does not, and it’s already making things tough. I’m not afraid to stand up for what we want because I know if we don’t now, it will be that much more difficult when we have kids, but I wish everyone was a little more understanding
It is hard … because sometimes when we think one family is ‘ok’ with things … it is really that they aren’t saying anything … ugh!
And we definitely had the thing where we were expected to be more flexible … but then suddenly we had kids and were STILL expected to be flexible. Um, no. That was unpleasant – but when we decided that it mattered more to protect OUR family than to flex for the extended family … we were happier. Remember … you and Joe ARE a family … and as for being selfish? There is ultimately only one person who can fully and truly look out for you (and one who can try, but never knows everything).
I don’t want to compromise my mom or anyone else, but I had to help her end a very very toxic relationship (not my father) that had gone on entirely too long a few years ago. I was lucky in that I was able to escape it, to a degree, a few years prior, but when I came back, and saw what was happening, and they realized that I wasn’t going to stand for them treating her like that, it blew up. But we got out. She is an amazing woman, and loyal to a fault, but that is the problem–I’ve learned by watching that sometimes, you just have to up and go.
There is a real value to objectivity – and I count on my wife for that, though I have gotten much better through the years. There were many times when she would ask me ‘WHY are you doing this?’ and so on .. and the same is true in reverse. We get blind to the impact of our own misplaced loyalty.
Walking away is difficult. Sometimes you end up being so used to them there, you don’t know what’d you do without them and yet, after we parted ways, I was happier! I’ve had some friendships which were extremely draining for me and I’m glad I’m at that point in life where everyone is going off to university so losing touch is common and I didn’t have to actively cut ties.
… and then in 5 years you can connect on Facebook and not have to actually deal with them 😉
LOL we are still facebook friends but I don’t actively seek her out/follow her on IG and since Facebook is creep in the sense that they just /know/ – they stopped putting her posts on my newsfeed too!
haha – shows you my perspective, since Facebook didn’t even exist until after our 20th high school reunion 😉
Toxic relationships- now there’s a thorny topic. Where does one draw the line between self preservation and ‘Christian’ love. Charity and forgiveness? Obviously an abusive relationship has to be escaped. But can I avoid a family member because they don’t share my life values, or I don’t want my kids to be influenced by theirs? Difficult questions. No easy answers!
I don’t think there is a conflict – I look at it like opening the door and getting smacked with a baseball bat. At first you try to work on it from all sides, and you certainly forgive the person (maybe they thought it was a burglar?) and you go on with things.
But when you get to the point that you have done everything in your power and no matter what, when you turn that handle, you know that a smack from a baseball bat is coming. Then you need to decide – are you willing to spend the rest of your life healing from those hits, or will you stop opening the door.
And ‘toxic’ is pretty serious – I don’t think it would include someone who buys you an ugly sweater for Christmas every year or someone whose kids believe a well balanced meal includes cake, chips and soda. 😉 And even life values are often easy to have differences without it being a conflict – unless the other person MAKES it a conflict … then we are back to the baseball bat and you have to hope they respect your wishes to not discuss certain things or engage in whatever actions around your kids or whatever.
But even those are rough generalities and not really answers 🙂
sometimes the baseball bat is not a metaphor. I too am grateful that I am a grown up and can walk away. Finally you find yourself at a safe distance (the other side of the grave, no physical distance is far enough) and you wonder if you should have tried harder to understand, tried to ask, tried to listen, but deep down you know that it was impossible.
On the plus side, having read your next post, ‘people I’m grateful to’ I could do you a massive list!
Most people when talking about toxic relationships are referring to people who don’t make them happy, the once amusing friend who has become a bit dull or needy. Or the pretend friend who is actually manipulating you for their own benefit. No problem there, the latter gets arms length, the former i can support until the good times come back. I suppose that’s the benefit of old age, you know that you can do that and you can choose. x
Great points and thanks for sharing … and sadly I think in some cases only a permanent physical separation can cure the problem. I think in those cases you really need to forgive yourself and seek your own sense of closure since you will never get it from them.
Awesome that you would have a massive ‘thankful for…’ list 🙂
Walking away is never easy. I’ve had a toxic relationship or two in the past… people who only see you as someone who they could control or use to their own ends. It was tough to walk away, but in the end it is better (and healthier) to not have that negative presence in you life.
I always think that these things are like an injury or illness – sometimes you get so used to the way it feels that it doesn’t seem bad – until it is gone! Then you are like ‘whew’! 🙂
Wonderful post. I read this earlier today and came back to it. I honestly am fortunate to not have dealt with any real social media craziness and I really avoid even getting near some people who seem to attract issues. My husband and I are blessed with great families. And my group of friends has tightened up over the years and I truly know who is a “friend.” This has been a very hard year for me health wise and it has taken a mental toll. I don’t discuss it because it is private but having great friends and family is a blessing and that includes positive bloggers like you. You brighten my day and I appreciate your wise posts. It’s a nice feeling when you grow up and can cut out the BS. If something about a relationship doesn’t feel right or lopsided I am so ok with walking away.
You truly are blessed … and that makes me very happy for you 🙂 I know when we were dealing with all of our infertility and miscarriage issues, and also the 9+ months it took Lisa to recover after Chris was born … we learned an awful lot about who we had assumed were our ‘friends’.
For me this has been one thing that seems to become easier as I get older. I was bullied by “friends” too often as a kid because I was passive and afraid to stand up for myself and afraid of rejection. I did walk away from a couple of those friendships but never felt good about it. I think now I’m better at not getting involved at all, but I agree that when it’s family (or, ahem, someone elses family) it is very complicated. I went through a big situation a few years ago that I feel is finally resolved. I agree that you have to surround yourself with the people who are healthy for you. Luckily my own family is wonderful and loving.
I’m glad to hear that – I think it is always a work in progress, and those things that we think are resolved … sometimes they are and other times it is like ‘whack-a-mole’ and they keep popping back up! Know what I mean? And … yeah, when it comes to ‘someone else’s family’ … total landmine to navigate. We are actually past that point, but in the early years treading on those things was difficult.
I like your analogy of opening a door then getting hit by a baseball bat. Maybe because my mother is a huge baseball fan? It took me about 40 years to realize I didn’t have to keep opening that door then apologizing for my getting hit.
It’s funny, but I have had little trouble walking away from most toxic friendships or casual acquaintances, but maybe it was easier to cut ties because by the time I made those associations, I had distanced myself for protective reasons out of past experience. (Which in some cases probably was to my own detriment and done out of fear… Something for me to think about at any rate). As always, you’ve got me thinking. Shall I gush “you’re the bestest bestie smartest most amazing blogger evah!!!!!!!!! Come subscribe to my blog!!!!!!!” ? Um, yah, there’s some pretty big reasons why I’ll never be a monetized blog, lol.
OMG U R MY BFFsie 4evs! 🙂 Yeah, right with you on the blogger poor-farm 😉 Glad I got you to thinking … it is a hard thing when you put up walls out of self-protection because you can’t always see the impact of those walls on others you might otherwise have let in.
Walking away from people is VERY hard to do but it’s something, like you, that I have gotten better (but still have more work to do) about as I have gotten older, especially now that I have Ashton. I have very little time for the things I love nevermind wasting time on people who don’t deserve it. I have a half sister I haven’t spoken to or seen in about 15 years (from my Dad’s 1st marriage). I wanted so badly to have an older sister growing up, someone to play with, to look up to, etc but it just didn’t work and I had to walk away. That was so terribly hard but once I did that, I realized it could be done and I would be all the better for it. Recently I have walked away from a few older friendships that were just one way or only when the other person needed something. That isn’t how relationships should be. I have a very small group of close people in my life, but as you said, those relationship overflow with what matters to me so I keep those people close.
Thanks for sharing, Sara … it is really not easy to walk away, it is so much easier to listen to those voices saying ‘it’s not so bad’ or ‘this isn’t worth hat response’ or ‘I shouldn’t make waves’. When Lisa and I got engaged, she really wanted to feel part of the family much like what happened with her sister and her in-laws … but it wasn’t going to be that way for her … or for me, frankly. Accepting that and resetting your expectations and boundaries is important. And realizing that having a few REAL friends is better than 50 ‘BFFs’ is something I guess I am glad I realized fairly early … though I still had many ‘healthy relationship boundaries’ lessons to learn as an adult. Still do.
Oh man, I could write books on this topic. I definitely have a hard time walking away when I should. I have had some, shall we say, “complicated,” friendships over the years, and I just can’t seem to rip the band-aid off. There’s only one person I ever actually had the courage to say, “You’re a bad friend, you make me feel bad about myself, and I can’t see you anymore,” and while it was incredibly difficult, it was also incredibly liberating.
Thanks for sharing … definitely not easy. Lisa and I were talking about it recently, trying to let someone back into our lives after 20 years … and it just wasn’t happening, because for all of the words, it was clear there wasn’t any change in the core issues.
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