Happy St. Valentine's Day! Last year around this time I wrote an entry on my former blog celebrating love and my relationship with Michael because he had just proposed on the 12th. My, how time flies! Fast forward one year and all those months of wedding planning and marriage preparation seem far behind us. Now we've been married 4.5 months and have a baby on the way (God is good!).
As I mentioned in my post about social media within marriage, once we became engaged Michael and I got serious about our priorities and how we'd be spending our time as we moved closer and closer to marriage. This mindset (along with having to narrow down who exactly you should or should not invite to your wedding) caused us to take pause and examine the relationships surrounding us.
In a lot of ways we've narrowed our circles in the past year because, simply put: once you're married you have less time...so it's important to prioritize the kind of friendships you want to keep in your life and spend time reaching out to. Because let's be real: when you're married and don't have that much time to go visit your friends for the weekend, spend hours on g-chat, Skype, or the phone, you really don't want to use that valuable time maintaining connections with people that have been lukewarm (aka "meh") in trying to keep in touch with you. Who has time or energy to waste on people that simply don't care about your day to day life?
Healthy versus Toxic Relationships
What's healthy: Think of the people you interact with and currently strive to keep in touch with.
Are these people positive, supportive, understanding individuals?
Are they patient? Do they listen to you?
Are they forgiving if you don't talk to them for awhile or accidentally do something to hurt their feelings?
Does a conversation with them leave you feeling fulfilled, happy, excited, or inspired?
Have they expressed joy over your successes and/or been consoling when you're struggling?
Can you have a constructive discussion or debate when you differ in opinions or have a problem to resolve? Will they give you the benefit of the doubt?
Would they consider disagreements or hurt feelings to be "water under the bridge?"
If so you are blessed and these are most likely healthy relationships! This Valentine's Day perhaps you can take a moment or two to thank these people and tell them you appreciate them. These are the people, after all, that you want to stick around as you plan a wedding, go through a pregnancy, and can count on to be patient and understanding once you have a newborn that leaves you sleep-deprived, short on time, and possibly forgetful due to the blur that can become your life as new parents (I'm mentally preparing myself already). When I find these individuals I do my best to hold onto them and I certainly thank God for bringing them into my life.
What's toxic: Again, let's look at some of the people currently in your life.
Are these people negative/pessimistic?
Do they call you for support with all of their issues without asking or listening to how you're doing?
Do they hold grudges against other friends, family members, co-workers, etc? (red flag!)
Do they spend most of the time you talk complaining about...everything?
Do they gossip about others? (red flag!)
Do conversations with them usually leave you feeling negative, depressed, frustrated, or sad?
Can you have a constructive discussion or debate when you differ in opinions or have a problem to resolve or does it look more like them belittling your views or refusing to see where you're coming from?
Are they quick to accuse or blame? Do they fail to give people the benefit of the doubt and/or criticize the intentions of others without knowing details?
Would they consider disagreements or hurt feelings to be "water under the bridge" or will they hold your faults and mistakes against you?
If this sounds like someone in your life, you have a few options depending on the circumstances. I'm no expert, but I did recently complete a year of full-time volunteer service working in a domestic violence agency, so I'd like to think I've gleaned some abilities to notice red flags and how to handle some of these scenarios involving unhealthy relationships. If a person is naturally pessimistic and they bring you down unintentionally, talking to them about it may be an option. Sometimes people don't know how they come across and are willing to work on changing. However, if the person bullies, blames, demands, belittles, is quick to lash out, or slow to forgive, you may need to cut your losses and move on. Also, if they tend to gossip and vocally hold grudges against others there's a good chance they would act this way toward you if you ever make an unintentional mistake. I've learned the hard way over the years that some people will be this way no matter how nice, apologetic, patient, and sincere you are with them. Is this the kind of person you want around your home? Around your children? It doesn't matter if you don't yet have kids - imagine you will someday and this question still applies. I think the obvious answer is: NO.
If you'd like to read some other brief descriptions of toxic relationships, check out this blurb on Oprah's website or this article from Psychology Today. For some reading on the more serious topic of domestic violence (the ultimate form of unhealthy relationships) I'd direct you to this government website and this visual explanation of the power and control wheel which is a great tool for learning warning signs, evaluating potentially dangerous relationships, and safety planning for those in crisis.
As a nation we have plenty of ways to reduce stress and improve wellness - through eating clean, being "green," leading an active lifestyle, etc. Too often we forget the impact our relationships can have on our overall health and well-being (both good and bad).
So this Valentine's Day, let's rejoice and celebrate the love we find around us! Let us thank God for all the good, supportive people He places in our lives. Likewise, let us work towards eliminating toxins and pray about any relationships we find leave us feeling frazzled. Life is too short to be surrounded by anything but love.
"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.... He who loves transgression loves strife; he who raises his door seeks destruction."