Just about everyone has helped a friend through a hard time. That’s what friends are for, right? But have you ever had a friend be – consistently, always and forever – the one going through the hard time?
You talk through the breakup with the guy and just when you think your phone will stop ringing, your friend is out of a job, yet again. You make up your pull out couch, and then you have to listen to the blow by blow of your friend’s dysfunctional family circus every night, as you do the dishes and vacuum up the remains of all the comfort food that is coming out of your grocery bill.
There is a joy in reaching out with love. A generous heart is a sign of strength. And when you look back on your own life, who do you remember? The people who were there for you when you struggled. So how do you draw the line between support and codependance? What is the difference between a friend in need and a leech?
If you are afraid that you might be cleaning up someone else’s life, take this litmus test to determine if your friend is really a friend. Ask yourself these three questions to bring you clarity.
1. Do they get along with your other friends?
Sometimes we can’t see what is obvious to others. Emotional involvement can create an intimacy that can pull you in, especially if you are lacking intimacy in other areas of your life. When this person meets your other friends, do they warm to the needy individual? Have any of them approached you with concern? Are you afraid of what your other friends think of this relationship?
If you are really torn, trust a friend you look up to. Pick the person in your life who has shown the most maturity over time, and ask them straight out for their opinion. Be honest with them about details – have you loaned this person money? Does this friendship worry you? You probably already know the status of this friendship, but hearing yourself tell another person might help to bring things into focus..
2. If you were having a hard time, would you call this person or someone else?
Unhealthy friendships are one way and healthy relationships are two way. Even if your friend is going through a hard time, do you feel that they would be able to listen to you? Would you respect anything they had to say to you? When you want to have fun, does this person come to mind?
If a friendship starts in low times, a “bad weather” friendship can begin. Two people confess their pain to each other, but the happiness in their lives is shared with other people. It’s a codependent therapist relationship. There is a place for these, but they often have a time limit. Misery loves company, so if one person has pulled out of the sad situation they were in, it’s doubtful they will want to stay connected to the other person for a long amount of time. If your compassion just turns to low frequency inertia after interacting with this friend, you have a choice to make – your happiness or the company of this friend.
3. When you think of your life without them, do you feel relieved?
This simple question will give you an answer if you admit your first, honest reaction – before you start making excuses like, “well, I would be relieved, but I wouldn’t want to hurt this person.” The core of all relationships is a desire to be in someone’s life, and a desire for them to be in your life. If this core drive is gone, so is the friendship. Sometimes we all need a break, but if your shoulders relax and your breathing slows down when you imagine your life free of this friend – well, it’s time to move on.
It’s never easy when you realize that a relationship isn’t what you wished it was. There is a mourning period when someone leaves your life. When it’s a healthy relationship, the mourning is a wash of memories and warm feelings. When the relationship is unhealthy, it’s a realization of how much the person took from you. Anger arises, often not at the person, but at yourself. Why didn’t you act sooner?
So if you find that the person you have given your energy to is just taking it all, don’t delay. You can put that energy toward people who love you back. That’s what friendship is really all about.