A healthy, close friendship should allow for encouragement, constructive feedback, and even correction when necessary. But unhealthy friendships will hold you back or take you down a road God has not planned for you.
We were created relational beings. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” and he created Eve. From the very beginning of human existence, people have been doing life together.
As hard as it might be, when you're changing your life to live as God commands, sometimes friendships have to change or terminate.
Early in our marriage, we always hung out with a couple, Sam, and Liz*. Brad and I were saved but still living with one foot, sometimes two, in the world. I was just realizing the value of words, the power of images and how I needed to guard our marriage.
Sam and Liz were unmarried but had been together for several years. They argued, often. One time while we were out for dinner they argued, loudly and one of them left the restaurant. Liz was often telling Sam that he had no business telling her what to do or how to live her life.
It was not a healthy relationship.
We had only a few years under our marriage belt and our relationship was still very impressionable. The problem was, the wrong impression was being made. I realized we were beginning to treat each other like Sam and Liz treated each other and it was wrong.
Wrong for them and wrong for us. Because they weren't married the threat to leave was almost always brought up in an argument. I found I was starting to think this way too – that when a disagreement came up leaving was a valid threat.
As I began to search for the characteristics of a healthy marriage I saw that their relationship didn't display any healthy qualities and was it was not a good influence for us.
If I didn't want to end up divorced or stuck in an unhealthy cycle we needed better friends. Thankfully, God answers prayers and within a matter of six months after praying about this unhealthy friendship, work schedules changed and we were no longer able to hang out with them – ever. It was totally a God thing.
As the Lord leads you to change your life you may need to evaluate your relationships and deal with unhealthy friendships.
Here are some ways to identify unhealthy friendships and tips for dealing with them.
Identifying Unhealthy Friendships
They won't allow you to change – In Restoring the Lost Petal, I talk about how friends won't allow friends to go down paths they shouldn't. On the flip side, friends who won't accept positive, healthy changes in your life are not good for you.
They don't respect your convictions – They don't need to share them but they do need to respect them. Would you allow someone to continue to smoke in your home after you quit and directly told them smoking is no longer allowed in your home? Don't allow friends to disrespect your convictions. It's okay to disagree but not to disrespect.
They push you to unhealthy choices – You have control of the choices you make. You cannot blame others for bad choices, however, a healthy friendship will not pressure you into doing something you've decided you don't want to do.
They are critical of the new you – Good-natured teasing is normal but if your friends are harshly critical of the new life you're attempting to form, they may need to go. If drinking Saturday night is replaced with Saturday night worship service that should be okay with them.
They accuse you of being a prude, a snot, or holier than thou – It does hurt when a friendship changes. But if your friends are accosting you with unnecessary (and false) accusations it is not okay. Changing your life for the better doesn't make you wrong.
Handling Unhealthy Friendships
So how do you handle relationships that have gotten unhealthy?
PAST is an acronym for Pray, Accept, Set boundaries, and Terminate.
Pray for them – Prayer is one of the most effective ways to break down walls, soften hearts and guide conversations. Ask Holy Spirit to show you how and when to discuss changes with your friends. In the midst of changing your life old habits are hard to break but don't give back to them what they are giving to you. Ask the Lord to show you how to keep connected with them in spite of your differences.
Accept them – Your revelation is not theirs. You cannot expect them to be as excited as you are about your revelations, changes or new habits. It is easy to Bible thump your friends without even realizing you're doing it. You weren't persuaded to change by condemnation, argument or improper judgment – your friends won't be either. Remember, unsaved, unchurched people are not going to act like saved and delivered believers. Don't be shocked when they act unlovingly or criticize you.
Set Boundaries – If your friends are not willing to respect the changes your making, it may be time to set boundaries. It doesn't mean you're rude, unloving or harsh but you must be firm and stand your ground. Unhealthy friendships may never turn around, but you do not have to be on the damaging end. Protect yourself emotionally and spiritually by setting firm boundaries.
Terminate the Relationship – The truth is, some friendships will need to end. You cannot go higher with God when you're being weighed down by negativity. When friends will not accept the changes in your life, or they intentionally try to hold you back you back they aren't real friends.
Even before marriage, I had friends I needed to part ways with. Some have come back into my life in healthy friendships, others have not and it's for the best.
When I was walking out my healing journey it was important for me to surround myself with positive influences. I didn't give up on my friends, in fact, 15 years later I'm still praying for a few of them. Sometimes our healing requires letting go of more than just memories and feelings, it requires letting go of people too.
For more information about beginning your healing journey, check out my book, Restoring the Lost Petal.
* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.