Most of us have been through the oh-so-enjoyable year-end review process. You fill out a four-pager topped off with a very convincing paragraph — stuffed with a bunch of self-congratulatory adjectives — on why you should receive a raise. Then, you go through the stress of trying to neatly pack your grievances into professional wordage for the meeting with your manager. Biggest roadblocks? Poor communication (aka Nancy is a complete asshole) and lack of direction (management doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing…and so neither do you).
But while you may groan when the mass email shows up in your inbox, when executed properly, the annual tradition is an important one for fostering employee development. At the core of the performance review is the idea of relationship management: Is the relationship between the manager and the employee a beneficial one for both parties? What is going well, and what roadblocks or deficiencies need to be addressed? What are the goals and expectations of each party involved for the future?
It has us wondering: why aren’t we doing a similar review for our relationships outside of the office? There’s no doubt that, like employees, friends play a vital role in our overall success and wellbeing.
“We are biologically wired to form connections for our safety and security both emotionally and physically,” said Julienne Derichs, LCPC, a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice for over 22 years. She went on to say:
Social connections (friendship) are associated with greater happiness and a more meaningful life. These connections help us recognize our strengths, feel more involved in a larger community, and help us learn ways to deal with the difficulties in life. Loneliness has a negative impact on our health and well-being because we are wired to form connections that help us feel safe and secure.
But while establishing these relationships is important for our wellbeing, it’s critical that we constantly re-evaluate them. As human beings we are constantly growing and changing, so it’s inevitable that our relationships with others are as well. Which means that a relationship that once served its purpose as a source of support and strength may no longer be getting the job done.
Why do those friendships need to be evaluated and potentially terminated? Because those coveted spots are limited. Anthropologist and researcher Robin Dunbar found that the human brain is only capable of having a finite number of people in our social sphere — 150 to be exact. He dug a little deeper into the emotional depth of those relationships, and found that each of these people in our social network is “layered” based on the level of closeness we feel to that person. According to his research, the emotional layer we consider to hold the most meaning and connection, aka our “best friends,” contains approximately five individuals, and there are just 10 in the next-closest layer.
The stakes just became a whole lot higher. Here’s how to ensure you’re filling those coveted spots with the best people for the job.
Identify the Qualities of a Healthy Friendship
“Platonic friendships [contribute towards] our primary needs for love and belonging; [they] offer us a way for our intimacy needs to be met,” said Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, relationship therapist and Founder & Chief Relationship Advisor of Relationup, the first live relationship app that provides real-time, anonymous advice from professionals. “We get closeness, support, kindness, caring and love in these relationships. We feel a part of a community and not alone and isolated in the world.” But just like that yearly review, it’s important to establish specific, measurable criteria for what makes an effective friendship in order to realistically evaluate those in your life.
A Positive Emotional State
“A normal functioning brain is actually wired for positive social interactions, especially for females. Dopamine is released, and the reward center is triggered when hanging out with friends. We are literally wired to seek out friendships,” said Sheri Gazitt, parent educator, life coach, and founder of TeenWise, a life-coaching practice for teens that works with girls on friendship issues. First and foremost, successful friendships should foster positive emotions.
“For the most part, friendships should be positive. We should be able to trust our friends, go to them for advice, [they should] listen to us when we are down, celebrate our successes, and [we should] have fun together,” added Gazitt. “Our friends don’t need to be perfect. They can make mistakes sometimes, but the overall feeling you get from hanging out with someone should be positive.” When you spend time with those you call friends — whether it’s catching up over brunch, watching the game at a bar, or heading to the gym together — you should walk away feeling the effects of that positive interaction. Empowered, happy, content, lighthearted, [enter positive emotion of choice here].
“Important friendships occur when both people feel safe with one another, have equal power in the relationship, and equally work at keeping the friendship going,” said Dr. Wyatt Fisher, PhD, a licensed psychologist practicing in Denver, Colorado. Equal effort is key — especially in the transitional stages that occur in our 20s and 30s. Not only is spending quality time with friends no longer as easy as heading down the hall to their dorm room, but many people are focusing on their careers, getting married, and starting families, all of which make time a very valuable resource.
“While many qualities are common sense (communication, compatibility), I would argue that reciprocity is an important, but often overlooked, component of a healthy friendship. If the relationship doesn’t provide mutual, relatively equal benefit to both people, it’s going to eventually fail,” said Jonathan Bennett, certified counselor, relationship coach, and founder of The Popular Man, a blog dedicated to helping men make friends, find love, succeed at work, and live a fulfilling life.
“Too often, friendships take off beautifully only to tank because of an imbalance or lack of reciprocity,” agreed Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, PhD. “True, it’s important to not give because one wants to get, however, subconsciously one party usually starts to feel the strain of always being there. The one who lends money, the one who gets the check, the one who is the shoulder to cry on. Buddhists place emphasis on the middle way and there is wisdom to that. We must listen as much as we speak, we must think as much as we do, etc.”
While the overall vibe of the relationship should be a positive one, that’s not to say that conflict will never occur. To the contrary, recovering from fights and disagreements is a sign of healthy friendship, said Milrad. “You get upset with each other, but you always find ways to communicate and work out upset feelings. Even in the roughest of circumstances, you always know that there is enough glue in the relationship to stay connected and that neither of you are giving up on the friendship.”
Encouraging Personal Development
A positive relationship with equal give and take lays the ground work for a successful friendship. But experts advise taking a deeper look into the purpose that these relationships are ultimately serving. Healthy doesn’t always mean meaningful, and for some, that may mean cutting ties to dedicate energy elsewhere.
“Many people place having fun and mindless encounters as the purpose of friendship. Someone to hang with, to ‘Netflix and chill,’ and while that may be fun, a deep meaningful friendship should act like a game of tennis: you play with someone ‘better’ to become better,” said Dr. Bais. “A true friendship should offer unstinting support in helping you become the best version of yourself and vice versa. Quality friendships help one another deepen and grow. A litmus test is would you have been better or worse off if you had not met that person?”
Listening to Your Gut Instincts
When something is off in one of these areas, chances are, we feel it. “There is much to be said for listening to your intuition. This is something that I work on with my teen clients,” said Gazitt. “If you are having feelings of dread or anxiety when you are scheduled to meet up with a friend, that relationship either needs to be nurtured or ended. When the fights and nurturing become cyclical, it may be time to say goodbye.”
Practice becoming more in tune with the feelings associated with your interactions — and let negative emotions serve as a red flag that it may be time to consider a lay off. Bais said:
How do you feel? If you ask yourself deep down, do you have anxiety around your friend? Irritation? Boredom? Feel they are better than you or you them? All this points to something being off balance. If you can’t wait to spend time by yourself, that is also a sign. If you find yourself speaking poorly of your friend behind their back, that is a sign of trouble. Its natural to admire and envy, but if the relationship has strayed into frenemy territory, that’s a warning bell because it’s funny and cute only in the movies. If the friendship is interfering with other spheres of life, i.e. your home, professional or past time spaces, it may be time to reconsider. Question if your friendship feels rewarding, warm and exciting or stems from a sense of obligation because you were in ballet class together at age five.
That doesn’t always mean cutting things off cold turkey. Consider giving friends feedback and setting boundaries based on any negative emotions you experience, and then monitor the steps they make towards positive change.
“Friendships that work to keep you off your center are ones that you should think twice about maintaining,” added Derichs. “If you don’t feel safe and secure with these people listen to your gut feeling and create some healthy boundaries with them. A healthy boundary might be saying ‘no’ to things you don’t want to do or telling them ‘I don’t it like when you…’ If they begin to respect those boundaries then it is possible to reset the relationship norms so that you can feel safe and secure again in the relationship,”
When Friendships Fall Apart
It’s a fact — albeit a sad one — that friendships fall apart. Chances are, you’ve steadily begun adding to a graveyard of friendships already. Not all of the tombstones contain sob stories — sometimes we simply grow apart. Perhaps that friend from high school moved across the country, or you changed jobs and drifted apart from your work BFF. In other circumstances there is a more tangible catalyst for the decline: a betrayal, a clear lack of effort, a diversion of lifestyles. Regardless of the reason, we often we hold onto these friendships longer than is emotionally healthy for us.
“People grow in different ways. It is natural, but it doesn’t feel good,” said Gazitt. “People often stay in friendships even when they are no longer beneficial because society has taught them that is what is expected. It’s the whole notion of BFF: Best Friends Forever.”
But just as staying in an unhealthy romantic relationship is considered a poor choice, so, too, is continuing to put effort into a platonic friendship that no longer serves you in a productive way. Experts highlight some commonly-recurring causes behind failed friendships. When taking an analytical look at the relationships in your life, take note of any of the below circumstances that may ring true.
You’ve Grown In Different Directions
Perhaps the most common cause of the disintegration of a friendship is simply the inevitable life changes we all encounter. These developmental stages, such as job promotions, getting engaged, having a baby, or going to grad school can leave people at much different places in their lives. “People in these scenarios naturally fall together in a certain context, and when it’s over or changes, they naturally fall apart,” said Bais.
“The best part of a platonic friendship is being understood by someone close to you. To be cared about in a safe way. Where anything and everything can be discussed and support is readily available,” said Dee Nand, a relationship expert blogging about her shortcomings at solvingme.com. “The friendship falls apart when both parties grow in different directions. For example: One is becoming more religious and the other moving away from religion; One is going through the hardship of raising a family and the other is enjoying partying and being single; One is going to college and the other is working as a valet. You get the idea. You start having less in common as you grow older.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that when your friend goes off to grad school while you’re busy planning your wedding it’s a done deal. “People tend to grow apart because they don’t have the same things in common any longer. They don’t work in the same place or are no longer in school together or share the same hobbies,” added Derichs. “Friendship can maintain after those changes take place if you can continue a safe and secure connection which respects healthy boundaries. Often distance gives you a different perspective on your friendship. Maybe there are things that happened in your friendship that you didn’t like and never spoke about. Distance makes it easier to let go. You don’t call or respond to texts and soon the relationship can fade away. Good friendship take some work, just like a good romantic relationship takes work.”
They Don’t Have Your Back
“A great friendship is like a marriage. You know that person always has your back — regardless of how stupid you can be sometimes. They foster trust in the relationship and keep validating your role in their life as being super important,” said Nand. “The friendship falls apart when one person doesn’t put the other in the priority position. For example, I have a party at my house and they’ll ‘see if they can make it’ aka ‘I’ll be there unless there’s a better offer’; or they are also friends with someone I dated and they don’t immediately take my side.”
They Stopped Making You Better
“The best friendships grow together. They actively help one another to be more successful and self-confident. They want you to succeed and they’ll do everything in their power to make it happen. They’re one of your loudest cheerleaders,” said Nand. “The friendship falls apart when you have nothing to gain from the friendship. In fact, sometimes the relationship hurts you. For example, they don’t tell you the truth about a situation. They don’t point out what they see about you so you can learn to be better; They want you to feel insecure (often subconsciously). They compete with you. They make you feel undesirable by laughing at your imperfections. They talk about you to other people. You constantly feel insecure about the relationship.”
They Betrayed Your Confidence
Betrayal is hard to back bounce from. “You realize that your friend and confidant has been sharing your personal information with others. You feel like you can no longer trust them with your emotions or private details so you hold back from disclosing things to them,” said Milrad. In addition to sharing something that was supposed to be confidential with others, betrayal can come in other forms, like not paying someone back, or letting competition take priority over the friendship. “Valuing the superficial leads to things like competition, the fear of missing out, immaturity and co-dependency because one is too enmeshed in the friendship to have a healthy distance to grow as an individual,” said Bais.
They Are Inconsistent in the Friendship
One of the most most common reasons friendships drift apart is because one person is doing most of the work at maintaining it, said Fisher. “They offer to do things or get together, but they don’t follow through. Sometimes, it even feels like you are making allthe effort in the friendship,” said Milrad. “You are left with the feeling that you are not a priority and they present like a great friend, but don’t actually behave like one.”
Inevitably, one party gets burnt out or fed up (or most likely, both), and will move on from the relationship. After all, you only have five precious spots in your closest layer. Those weakest links need to go.
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