As a psychotherapist specializing in intimacy issues, I continually hear clients questioning the relationships in their lives--not just romantic connections but friendships, family ties, and sometimes even casual acquaintanceships. Typically, I tell these clients that no relationship is perfect. No person or situation can or will live up to your expectations 24/7/365. Even the best friendships hit the occasional rough spot. The trick is knowing the difference between a rough spot and an insurmountable obstacle.
I also see clients in serious romantic relationships who push their platonic friendships to the side, choosing to place the entire weight of their emotional lives on their intimate partner. This is especially true with married men, who seem to consistently undervalue their need for male friendships and the support (and the emotional release valve) these relationships can provide. This is not healthy for the individual or for the romantic partnership.
Unfortunately, not everyone makes a great friend. Plus, friendships require ongoing effort just like romances. (And some require much more effort than others.) The trick is deciding which platonic connections are worth the struggle. Regrettably, there is no clear-cut formula for knowing if a friendship is or is not worth the commitment it requires. However, certain considerations are nearly always in play.
- Do you have fun together? A primary reason for being in almost any relationship is that you enjoy it. Otherwise, why bother? So if you dread spending time with someone, if being with that person feels like a chore, then perhaps you should move on. On the other hand, if you and the other person have at least a few common interests that you can enjoy together, especially if those interests are an important part of your life, that's generally a solid relationship foundation.
- Do you trust each other? Trust is a key element in all healthy relationships. If you and another person trust one another, if you consistently have each other's backs, that's a good sign. If, however, one or both of you is consistently lying or keeping secrets, that's a serious issue.
- Can you amicably disagree? No two people are going to agree on everything. Nor should they. In any relationship, conflict is inevitable. More importantly, it is useful, as it helps us define our personal and relationship boundaries. In good friendships disagreements are growth opportunities--chances to learn new ways of thinking and relating. So if you and another person are able to amicably disagree at least occasionally, you've probably got a solid friendship. If not, then even the smallest issue can escalate into a smoldering long-term resentment.
- Do you have similar values and beliefs? As mentioned above, no two people are going to agree on everything. However, to make a friendship work you typically need at least a bit of common ground on important issues like family, work, money, religion, politics, etc. If one of you feels forced into a certain belief system, accepting it (or pretending to accept it) only to avoid rejection or to make the other person happy, that's a serious relationship issue. At the very least, when your values and beliefs don't align you should be able to amicably disagree. For instance, you might say, "I'm voting for Hillary, you're voting for Trump. I disagree with your decision but I respect your right to make it. Now where should we go for lunch?"
- Are you free to be your true and authentic self? OK, this is a loaded question, applying to a lot of areas. What it boils down to, however, is this: If you are behaving in a certain way because you are worried the other person won't like you otherwise, you are not being your true and authentic self. Over the long-term, this is not healthy for you or your relationship. Good relationships involve separate people with separate identities, with each person free to think and act as he or she wishes. If you feel uncomfortable doing that in a particular friendship, then that friendship may be fear-based and/or enmeshed, both of which are far from ideal. In good relationships, neither individual feels put-upon, unappreciated, less than, exploited, used, or not good enough. Both people respect and value the other person exactly as he or she truly is.
- Is your relationship able to change and grow? People are not stagnant, and neither are friendships. In strong relationships, when individual growth occurs or is sought, both parties accept and even applaud this fact. However, some friendships have a shelf-life. Consistent resistance to change and growth by you or the other person means it's probably time to move on.
- Are you both vested in the friendship? Relationships are not solo ventures. If you want to nurture a friendship but the other person seems disinterested, there is probably not much you can do about that. In other words, one-sided relationships are not really relationships; at best, they are desires for a relationship. If that is the case for you, it may be time to accept and grieve this fact so you can move on to something healthier and more emotionally fulfilling.
Once again, there are no set rules for determining when a friendship is and is not worth keeping. And this article is not written to convince anyone to either stay or move on. Ultimately, you must decide this matter for yourself. However, if you're questioning a relationship and you find that you've answered yes to more than a few of the above questions, then you've probably got something that is worth the effort.