Can I be honest with you? Sometimes dealing with people is exhausting.
Whether you’re dealing with an irrational child, a soon-to-be ex-husband, a too-easily-offended friend, an outrageous Facebook post, or some random jerk, there are times when we all just want to throw our hands in the air and walk away.
And then there are more serious events. Terrorist attacks. Domestic violence. Verbal abuse.
So why do we do it? Why do we continue to be in relationship with others? Is it worth pursuing relationships beyond what is absolutely necessary?
We were made to live in communities, in tribes. We were made to form “packs.” Life without some form of community is desperately lonely. Some people argue that community has the power to end homelessness (and I agree).
The key to happy fulfilling relationships is twofold.
First, you need to reduce or eliminate toxic relationships.
There are all kinds of toxic relationships. People can be selfish, or thoughtless, or opinionated. Sometimes you realize that you or your friend has changed over time, and there is no longer a benefit to being friends. Or you may realize that you always feel worse after being around a certain person.
There is no shame in reducing the amount of contact you have with a toxic person. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that the other person is a bad or evil person – it just means that the other person is not good FOR YOU. You don’t have to like your husband’s racist boss, and you don’t have to spend time with him. You don’t have to like your girlfriend’s college roommate who just rubs you the wrong way, and you don’t have to spend time with her.
Sometimes, however, you may need to eliminate a toxic relationship, because it is abusive in some way. Abuse is never OK. Be it verbal, emotional, or physical, an abusive relationship will always do more harm than good. In cases of abuse, ending the relationship is the best option for both you AND the abuser. Getting out keeps you safe, and it sends an important message to the abuser about the consequences of abusive behavior.
Second, you need boundaries.
Most of these boundaries are fairly easy to negotiate. We create boundaries through our body language, our actions, and very occasionally, our words. Whenever you feel anger, resentment, or hurt, that’s a red flag for a possible boundary violation. Figure out what it is, and then address it. This can seem awkward or difficult or embarrassing, but true friendships can survive the awkward, difficult, and embarrassing moments of life. If the relationship suffers from boundary setting, it may be abusive: the unwillingness to honor boundaries is a sign of abuse.
People, like life, are messy. But they are worth it.