Do relationships have a shelf life? Perhaps the better question is should they?
What do you do when you feel that your relationship – be it a friendship, work relationship, love relationship, or relationship with a family member – start to expire or grow toxic?
UUUUG! Not good right? Feels bad to think about it because we have all been there. We have all had a relationship of some kind take a turn and go bad.
Just like soured milk or rotting fruit you can’t keep it around. It has to be disposed of properly.
It wasn’t that long ago I was faced with the decision to keep my friendship or walk away from the relationship. My friend was caught up in bad habits – destructive behavior that consumed her and our relationship. When her problems began to spill over into my life, I had to let our friendship expire.
It wasn’t without warning. I very openly told my friend that we would be parting ways if her behavior wasn’t curbed. She made choices, thus I made mine. One that was for the betterment my life and health.
I think it important to recognize that these types of toxic relationships can exist in a myriad of places – work, school, and even within your own family.
So what do you do when the relationship is starting to sour and it’s a family member or at work – places you don’t really want to leave or let expire.
What do you do then?
How do you extend the shelf life?
There are tactics that you can employ to slow the expiration process down and hopefully stop it.
One of my favorites is putting up boundaries. This can work exceptionally well in a family, work or school setting. Participation from the other person or group of people is not necessary – this might be the best part.
So what is a boundary?
Simply put a boundary is a set of limits or a dividing line between. :) This makes me happy that such a tactic exists. There is safety in this tactic.
When there are people in your life that you would like to try to keep around, say like at work, family members or certain friends at school, but they cause you pain or sadness – you can put limits in place to keep them from hurting you. Limits that will keep them away from the deepest part of you so that you are safe.
This is a boundary: draw a metaphoric ‘line’ that is a safe distance away from the core of your being and put that co-worker, family member or school mate on the other side of it. Keep them on the other side of the line away from you. They are not allowed in your inner world and inner thoughts and feelings if they cause you pain and hurt. They don’t deserve you and your whole self.
Using this tactic you can try to remain connected to your family, work and school without getting caught up in drama. You take back your power in a bad situation by setting healthy boundaries with toxic people.
Here are a few real world examples from my past that help illustrate how boundaries can help keep you out of harms way.
I have had a few coworkers in my life who really like to gossip and like to talk crap – about EVERYONE. It’s no good. I have to work with these people on different projects from time to time so I really can’t tell them to go to hell or shut up you sound like a bunch of dummies! I have to remain diplomatic and reserved to continue to work peacefully and productively.
My boundary: when the conversation runs away from the task at hand I politely say to this group of people, ‘Hey guys, I am on a tight turn around with this other project. Can we finish this up so I can get back to my project?’
I don’t care if they think I am a kill-joy. I don’t have time to get involved in the gossip. I have more self-respect than to participate. I don’t need to build a relationship with people who talk crap about other people. They are toxic. But since I have to keep them in my life because of work, I will extend their shelf life to keep the peace at work.
Family is the same way. I excuse myself from conversations and situations that don’t involve me and that could cause me to get emotionally charged or upset. I just don’t care to engage any more in things that don’t involve me or things that I can’t change.
I have learned over the years that people are going to live their lives how they chose to. Not a lot I can say or do to affect their choices. This is okay by me as long as their bad choices don’t badly affect me. With that in mind, I set up the boundary and keep myself safe from harm while keeping a relationship with family members who have the propensity to cause pain or participate in bad behavior.
It’s not my job to judge or fix other people – nor is it yours. I can only affect my life with my choices. Have to let that other stuff go and walk away. Life is too short.
Wise friend once told me – don’t borrow trouble.
So what about relationships when you are a teen?
This seems to be a harder concept for teens.
Why is that?
I watch my teen-aged daughter struggle to let go of toxic relationships even when they become belligerent and confrontational. Talking with the teens I know through my daughter, this is the case for both the boys AND the girls.
If you are in high school this is difficult because you are stuck in a relatively small area with the same people for four years. Add in social media and texting and it makes acting with any type of autonomy nearly impossible.
The kids are stuck in a shit storm of ill behaved teens with little to no tools on how to navigate those children who choose to behave badly. What does your teen do when another teen posts a negative statement on Facebook? Or gets into a pissing match over Twiter? I am guessing she fires back with something she thinks is devilishly witty hoping to ‘show’ the attacker who’s boss.
Its was as my daughter entered into the summer before her senior year of high school when she started to step away from the kids that she has held onto even though they weren’t always the right fit.
For her it was less of an official, ‘I am no longer your friend.’ But more of her reaching out to other people and making new friends; friends that she has more things in common with. She gracefully moved to a different friend group.
It doesn’t mean you have to hate on your other friends or bad mouth them. It just means that maybe your time might be better spent with people that make you happy and are more fun to be around. It doesn’t make your old friends bad. It just means that maybe you have grown apart.
The bottom line for teens is to find like-minded peers to share their time with doing things that they like to do. If your friends are bringing you down or putting you down – its time to find new friends. Rachel Simmons Author of Odd Girl Out and Co-Founder of Girls Leadership Institute says, “There is always a better friend out there for you!”
I say when the friendship stats to smells bad like rotten food looks like that friendship has expired!! Time to dispose of properly!
Tips from teens to walk away from a friendship gracefully:
- Don’t talk about it ending your friendship online – don’t passively speak about it on Facebook either, its no one else’s business so keep it to yourself
- Do make new friends by inviting people over for dinner or a movie
- Try new things with new people you know – don’t be afraid to reach out to people you know but haven’t really hung out with
- Mutual friends are a great place to start! Text them and get a group together to go bowling or Jump Street (local trampoline hang out) – just get out and have fun getting to know new people
- Don’t rub it in that you are having a great time with your new friends. It will be hard to resist the temptation, to shout it to the world, but remember you wouldn’t want your old friends to rub it in your face either. Just keep it on the low for now.
These tactics work whether you are a teen or an adult. If your relationship is stinky you might want to let it expire and find a fresh one that suits you better.
You will be happier for it!
Until next time, much love and respect!
PS a really cool book that has information about setting boundaries – Pulling Your Own Strings by Wayne W. Dyer