Saturday, September 26, 2009

When the Bully Rats are our "Friends"

I recently listened to an episode of "This American Life", where I learned that, on average, half of people's relationships are with friends whom we care a lot about, and yet, these relationships are rife with negativity and animosity. So why do we stay in these friendships? We stay for reasons we seemingly impose on ourselves: out of a sense of loyalty, belonging, or hope that the other person will change. We stay friends with "frenemies" because we think we must. We stay despite the feelings of anxiety, anger, and angst these relationships evoke.

Going back to my earlier post about "bully rats", I've been thinking about how to reduce the stress we experience within ourselves and within relationships. So what to do when our "bully rat" is a friend?

Here's a strategy for confronting what's unhealthy in the relationship: First, sit down with your friend and acknowledge what's good and healthy about the relationship. When is the relationship fun, supportive, comforting? Second, acknowledge what challenges your relationship faces. When does the relationship devolve into negativity, competitiveness, blame, shame, etc.? Finally, make a pledge that you will seek to avoid that which makes your relationship undesirable. Ask your friend to do the same. And pledge that you will hold each other accountable to the pledge against these undesirables. If either of you can't agree to the contract or don't uphold the agreement, it's time to move on. Give yourself permission to do this: Everyone deserves to be loved unconditionally by our friends, or else the "friendship" is just another bully rat in our cage.