Unlike romantic relationships, you can’t just agree to break-up with a friend. But what happens when a friendship has become unbalanced, demanding … or even toxic?
First, honestly ask yourself this question: is the problem all theirs? (It rarely is.) What part have you played? For example, Kayla no longer wanted to spend time with her strong-willed friend Trista, because Trista was always the one who chose their activities. The problem was not entirely Trista’s bossiness, but Kayla’s inability to state her desires. The resentment could have dissolved if Kayla could simply say, ‘I know you like to choose, but actually I want to do this today.’
Many friendship conflicts can be resolved by simply saying something. In our culture we prefer to avoid conflict, which often leads to unspoken resentment. This will eventually overflow, and we find ourselves blurting out hurtful and angry words. Or we just freeze them out. At best this is ineffective, and at worst it is cruel.
Instead, think about your boundaries and state them kindly. Penny became burned out, in part because she found it hard to say ‘no’—especially when she didn’t have a real ‘excuse’. She had to learn that it was okay to say, ‘No thanks, I just I need some time out.’ And Penny also learnt that her friends’ reactions were their responsibility, not hers. Her circle of friends became smaller, but more uplifting.
In a healthy friendship, there is a balance of give and take, an ability to state your needs, and room for the nature of the relationship to change over time—all this is natural and healthy.
But if a relationship becomes imbalanced, you need to consider what you’re expecting of the friendship. Are you able to set your boundaries so that there is more equal give and take? Or are you expecting too much of your friend, and finding yourself disappointed?
The Bible sums up the nature of friendship perfectly is these few words: ‘… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity’ (Colossians 3:12-14).
True friendships are a gift from God—they are uplifting, nourishing to our soul, and they encourage us to grow. But you may also need to wrestle with the friendship, to make it positive and kind for you both. If your friend chooses to reject your boundaries, let them walk away. But almost any friendship can become better when it is bound with love.