I always struggle with knowing where to draw boundaries with certain people. And it’s no surprise that the closer the relationship, the more difficult the decision. I am quite aware of the difference between loving detachment and emotional cutoff. With some relationships I am just called to endure with grace and patience and loving-kindness.
But are there some relationships that just need to go away? In a word – yes.
Every time I say yes to spending time with one person, I am saying no to a multitude of others. Our time is finite and it’s quantity in our particular life is unknowable. I have found that we can spend many unproductive hours trying to cultivate relationships that yield little results for either party, or the benefit feels so lopsided that I see them as an intrusion and I resent them.
I am not just talking about personal relationships, but business relationships as well. As a sales person I have had to walk away from clients who had high demands and delivered little in return. Often these were the people that got my stomach acid churning and made it difficult for me to keep a positive attitude as I made my next sales call. Deciding to cut them loose always came with a sense of relief – and gave me more time to be with the really wonderful clients that I have or cultivate new ones.
If I am a leader, one of the goals is to develop other leaders and release them. I have to be wise in my time investments and careful with my choices. Does this person have the capacity to learn and become a humble and worthy leader or will my time be better spent with someone else?
It is always particularly hard to end toxic relationships in our personal life. It is often these people that make the most demands on us, get the angriest with us, and use manipulations like guilt and shame to try to control us. It is easy to recognize these people. When they leave a voice mail I am reluctant to call back. When I interact with them I feel uncomfortable and trapped or anxious and alert for signs of hurting their feelings. After being with them I feel emotionally drained and relieved to be away from them.
We cannot walk away from all undesirable relationships, but with some of them we must. A firm, but kind break-up is usually best. For those who hate conflict (most of us) this is not easy, especially when their attempts at reconnection through manipulation follow. In those cases I need to remind myself that I will suffer less if I hold fast. After ending a difficult or unhealthy relationship I find it is best to spend time with an energizing person who will fill us up and help reinforce our decision.
How do I decide who to leave behind? This is a decision that is often best made through prayer, and the input of wise and loving friends or mentors.