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Remedies for unhealthy friendships

I just received a letter from a priest friend. Our friendship has been a great gift to me for it has drawn me closer to Christ. I cannot, however, say that about all the friendships in my life. 

Some of my past friendships were based on utility. For example, in my teen years, I noticed how certain friends would hang around me when a car was available. When my car was tied up or unavailable, I didn’t see them too much. This kind of friendship – based on utility – is unstable. “Wealth adds many friends, but the friend of the poor man deserts him” (Proverbs 19:4).

Some friendships are based on mutual likes. People get together because they like to play or watch sporting events. Their mutual interest draws them together, and can even maintain their contact through life. These kinds of friendships are more stable than the first, but they may not have much depth or strength.

The friendships that are the most lasting and rewarding are also rare. These friendships are based on mutual respect, admiration, and love. Friends are friends not because of what they can gain from the other, but because of the good they see in each other. These friends seek the best for one another and strive to help each other lead virtuous, holy lives. They may have many things in common, and would find their friendship useful and helpful, but these friends do not use each other. Their relationship has healthy boundaries. While there is warmth and affection, the virtue of chastity is respected and protected. There is effort in cultivating these kinds of friendships that eventually contains the joy and lightness of love. The effort is no longer effort, just as our Lord said, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.”

Spiritual fitness calls us to cultivate good friendships. They are true gifts from God. Take a few moments to read and reflect on Sirach 6:14-17.

Sometimes friendships can grow unhealthy. Here are some signs to look for:

1  Exclusiveness: there is a resentment of the intrusion of others.

2  Jealousy: since all energy is focused on the one person, others are seen as threats.

3  Absorption of mind: the friends think of each other continually.  

4  Tendency to manifest more affection than appropriate: can lead to a breaking of good boundaries and unchaste behavior.

Remedies:

1  Awareness that one’s friendship is not healthy.

2  Confidence that emotional dependency can be overcome.

3  Physical separation.

4  Restoration of other relations such as family, and other friendships that have been lost or weakened by the unhealthy friendship.

5  The cultivation of other interests.

Many saints have reflected on the gift of friendship. Friendships were a part of Jesus’ life. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were His friends (see John 11). Jesus even referred to His own apostles as friends, “I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father,” (John 15:15).

Friends reveal their hearts to each other. There is intimacy, trust, and love. Ultimately, friendship is rooted in the mystery of the Trinity. God, the Holy Spirit, reveals the perfect friendship between God, the Father, and God, the Son.

We are united to God in a filial relation at baptism that hopefully moves to a deep friendship with God. And as our friendship with God grows, we have a greater and greater awareness of being a son or daughter of God.

So, as we maintain and deepen our friendships, it is most important for good spiritual fitness to maintain and deepen our friendship with God, who is the source of all friendship.

“The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face ... (and God said to Moses), ‘You have found favor with me and you are my intimate friend,’” (Exodus 33:11, 17).