Dear Abby: I read your column faithfully. The letter from “Devoted Mom to Livermore, Calif.,” really touched a nerve with me. She said she wanted to end friendships with her old “career” friends because she no longer had anything in common with them and would rather spend her free time with her husband and daughter. How sad.
People use the word “friends” too liberally. I believe a person is truly blessed if he or she can name five “true friends.” By that I mean people who will be by your side through thick and thin; back you up and ask questions later; someone you can call any time of the day or night. Through childhood, marriage, children, divorce, whatever life throws your way, these friends are there. The common thread is the quality that made you friends to begin with. You may not see each other but when you pick up that phone or e-mail, it’s like you never left off.
It’s a shame “Devoted Mom” doesn’t understand that the true meaning of friendship. —Kathy G., Bally, PA.
Dear Kathy: I agree. True friendship is a commodity so precious it should not be discarded lightly. That letter brought in some interesting mail. —Abby
Hi Kathy: I don’t get that “Devoted Mom” was distancing herself from close or “true” friends. I don’t even get that she’s in touch with the truth as to why she no longer wants to interact with them. What I do get is that the relationships weren’t working for her anymore.
If I were one of her friends I'd have to be willing to look at the situation responsibly, that I drove her away. What works is to hang out with those who are committed to telling the truth, keeping agreements (with you and all others) and who are willing to support and be supported. With a "friend" there is always an experience of growth and of value, that life is working. Clearly that was not "Mom's" experience with any of them and therefore I highly support her decision to recess herself from those relationships—but, not the way she did it. More about this below.
The problem is that most everyone has a different definition of a working relationship. By far most people are stuck in trying to make a relationship work, trying to make it better, trying to hold on to it, or trying to change the other. By “working” I mean that how each is relating/communicating with the other, and all others within their respective social/familial circles, is satisfying, validating, and uplifting for all concerned. It’s not just that your life is working but that your relative’s and friendly neighbor’s lives are also—none are relating with someone addicted to abuse or drugs except that all concerned are soliciting professional support, or all children are doing well in school. Such a friendship is described as a mutually satisfying supportive relationship. It works because both bring problems to the other and then do what it takes to resolve the problem. Neither complains about his/her job, spouse, or health for any great length of time; it’s unethical to dump a problem in another’s space which one is unwilling to solve. Put another way, one uses his/her friend as a sounding board for feedback and direction.
For example: “I feel dumpy, I need to lose 15 pounds,” triggers a series of conversations that ultimately effect a 15 LB loss. When the truth is told a problem (an unwanted situation) disappears. Such is the power of the truth. Most who call themselves friends don't ever get to the truth of the problems each have; the implied agreement is: "I won't call you on your stuff if you don't call me on mine. I'll support you in mediocrity and I expect you to do the same for me." It's called a nonverbal mutually agreed upon enabling contract.
If you don’t know how to prevent someone from dumping problems in your space that never get resolved, then the source of the problem is you and your leadership-communication skills. You are in fact an enabler. The way you communicate either supports others in growing or, it keeps those around you stuck. The finest gift you could give others is to recess yourself from everyone and commit yourself to 25 hours of counseling (or three hours with a communication-skills coach) so as to identify the source of (and disappear) your addiction to “helping” others. Helping creates dependency and keeps others stuck. Helpers surround themselves with someone who needs fixing so that they, the helper, don’t have to address their own problem.
For example: A seemingly healthy person enabling their overweight or alcoholic partner, all the while sincerely believing that it's their intention to positively support their partner.
Re: “Mom’s” dumping: One thing that won’t work for “Mom” is the way in which she distanced herself. The ground of being from which her decision was made, to cull the crowd, will produce undesirable results for her and her family. It doesn’t work to simply dump another. To dump is abusive. It has powerful consequences. You must give them a way to get back into an interactive supportive relationship with you. The way to extract yourself from a relationship that’s not working is to issue an ultimatum. It communicates:
“More often than not, I don’t feel good in our relationship. I don’t appear to be having a positive influence on you and yours. I need to know that the way I communicate, the way I relate with others, impacts them positively. Something about my communication-leadership skills invalidates me as a valuable supportive person. I need to know that I’m not the source of your problems. I need to know that I am not addicted to enabling. Towards this end I’m taking a recess from you until you can tell me...
- ...you’ve not had a drink for 6 months in a row.
...you’ve handled your debts to everyone's satisfaction.
...your children are behaving and doing well in school.
...you have not interacted with your abusive spouse for a period of six months in a row.
...you have completed 25 50-minute sessions of counseling.
—in the meantime you can trust that I am working on my own leadership-communication skills. 'Interacted' means, no telephones, no messages, except for logistics such as childcare etc., or emergencies. Even then, no chit chat, no 'How are you’s?' No gifts."
For clarity: One’s leadership-communication skills are always powerful. One can communicate in such a way as to cause his/her friends to grow or they can cause their friends to stagnate and stay stuck in mediocrity—both are extremely powerful outcomes. The way to discover what you have been up to, what your intentions have been (however unconscious they were), is to look at the results you and yours have been producing. It’s merely ignorance to have kept keep another stuck, it’s unethical to choose to continue to keep another stuck.
Thank you, Gabby
Cast a vote as to whether or not you liked this letter