“The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which bridge to burn.” –David Russell

With the holidays upon us, I find myself, like many people, thinking about relationships both past and present.

There are those people who are so toxic that I want nothing to do with them now or ever. But it becomes more difficult when people fall into a gray area. They’re basically good at heart but haven’t dealt with some significant issues in their lives.

What I look for are patterns of behavior, people trying hard to win more battles with their personal demons than they lose. But fundamentally, it’s how I feel and respond to a person when I’m around them that matters. Do I feel calm and centered? Nervous and defensive? Inspired? Stressed?

To add yet another layer of complexity, people change over time. That includes me and my needs as well as theirs. Relationships that were once on the healthier side of the continuum can become stagnant or dysfunctional.

Am I suggesting abandoning friends at the first sign of trouble? Far from it. Instead, I look for sustained patterns in my interactions with others (both positive and negative) and try to spend more time with people who live their values (i.e., walk the walk), have good communication skills, and are willing to use them.

We talk about breaking up with romantic partners, but rarely do we discuss how to leave a friendship. Friends may have a “falling out”, but what about a thoughtful separation? When the need arises, I believe in trying to repair friendships if they were ever significant at some point.

But I also believe there are times when it’s necessary to face one another and say simply, “I wish you well, but this is no longer working for me.”

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