Monday, September 20, 2010

The Challenges of Ending Relationships

Relationship endings aren't often what we would like them to be.
I found this post on the Elephant Journal. What I liked about it was that the author is writing about trying to shift a longstanding pattern of guilt and enabling when it comes to her friendships. This isn't something I experience in many of my friendships, but I do think it has colored a few of them over the years, and it certainly has colored a couple of romantic relationships I have been in.

Of one friendship in particular, she writes:

I started to notice that “Shelby,” the girl I had called my best friend for the last several years, kind of wasn’t anymore. I saw that our relationship revolved almost entirely around me either accommodating or assisting her in troubleshooting her various crises… often crises of her own making. After years of patience, and telling myself that Shelby was just going through a tough spell, it slowly dawned on me that Shelby was addicted to drama, and determined to keep me embroiled in it. I began to feel like an accomplice every time I humored her through a conversation about how untrustworthy her husband was and how justified she felt in hacking into his email to see whether or not he was doing anything fishy. I started to view her as the untrustworthy, fishy one.

But when I tried to step away from the crazier aspects of our relationship, or express my real opinion about her behavior, her resistance was palpable. It was all downhill from there. After months of painful pull-aways and one teary but pointless confrontation, I eventually resigned myself to being one of her many “ex friends.”

If you have had a strong connection with someone for a long time, it's hard to let go. And I think those of us steeped in discussions about compassion, kindness, and being ethical can easily get trapped into trying to find "the perfect" way to end things. The desire to live up to the values you believe in can get really intense when a long-standing relationship is involved, precisely because most of those values tend to be tied to how you interact with others and the world around you.

I had a good friend for many years who became increasingly destructive and abusive. We used to have wonderful discussions about philosophy, politics, religion, and writing. We'd go to concerts together. Hang out at coffee shops and pubs together. I consider him one of the people who helped me break out of my social shell and connect more with others. So, there was a lot to like about our friendship, and I'm glad it happened.

However, as the years went on, he got increasingly rigid in his views, and also paranoid about how others related with him. The bosses at his jobs were always conspiring to get rid of him, and never listened to anything he had to say. Other friends were turning against him, as had his mother, step father, and sometimes his sister as well. I went along with these conversations for too long. I wanted to be supportive, but mostly I ended up just aiding his paranoia and sense of persecution. Then, I found myself having to stand up against a decision he made that negatively impacted others, and I, too, started being viewed as an enemy. Things unraveled slowly. We'd fight about the same things we used to freely discuss. I would call him on his drinking and driving, and he'd get pissed. I started to stop calling him, and ignore his calls. And finally, there was an ugly incident where old arguments flared up while out at the bar, and he decided to respond by pouring a pitcher of beer on me.

He tried contacting me, first directly, and then through a mutual friend for several months afterward. But I had no interest. It was done. And I felt there was nothing I could say to him that would make the ending any better, nor do I think I could now. This came in the early years of my practice life, and probably the only difference is that this friendship most likely wouldn't happen now. Our interests and ways of living just wouldn't match up the way they had when we first met.

Over the years, I have watched myself longing for "good endings." It's an impossible place to be because it requires you to try and control what you can't control. No matter how "Buddhist" I act (whatever that means), the relationship is going to end however it ends.

What is your experience with relationship endings? What have your learned?


NellaLou said...

Most of my endings in the past have been fade outs, like at the movies. It's hard to get a sense of ending that way though. The most pointed ending was my divorce a couple of years ago. Not spiteful or bitter just the statement "This is done." We're still "arms length" friends but not part of each other's lives on a regular basis.

Of the two I've found the latter definitive approach preferable even though it seems harder. There is no ambiguity left, no doubt about the position, no wavering, no emotional push and pull. It states and sets a boundary.

And endings are boundaries being shifted. Boundaries are necessary. Without them anything goes and people get a lot more hurt.

This viewpoint may seem a little rigid, however, like in the examples you've provided with weak boundaries, unhealthy situations can continue indefinitely.

If anyone's ever been involved in a co-dependent relationship they'll recognize how long such things can go on.

I personally find it easier to relate to those who know themselves well enough to say "I won't go there" or "Here's my limit" because that level of personal investigation takes maturity and security. With those it means not having to constantly bolster up insecurities. It inspires confidence in their participation in the relationship. They know what they want. They want to be with whoever they are in relationship to. It adds to the trust factor.

It is hard to trust someone who doesn't seem to know where they're at or what their own position is.

I came across an article today that put it another way.
How to blow someone off like Steve Jobs

Nathan said...

Most of my endings have also been fade outs. I have a few longtime friends I'd consider in fade out mode right now. Haven't talked to either in about six month now, and it doesn't seem too important for me to try and get a hold of them now.

I would have to agree that it's easier to have clarity, and clear boundaries set, than to sit around and wonder where things stand.

Sara said...

Great post! I can relate to this so much.

I sometimes think it's easier to breakup romantic relationships because breakups are acceptable...with friendships they can be much harder!!