Our relationships help shape who we are. And the closer the relationship, the more of an impact it has on us. This is why Paul quotes the Greek poet and dramatist Menander to the church at Corinth:
Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character" (1 Corinthians 15:33).
It's hard to overemphasize the importance of friendship. And while we're always going to have complicated relationships with others and we can't make people behave the way we'd like, we should hope that our closest friendships bring out the best in everyone.
Some relationships are downright toxic, and it's in our best interest to distance ourselves from them. But sometimes, we just allow our friendships to devolve into unhealthy patterns. And if we're not vigilant about course corrections, those friendships can ingrain bad habits and attitudes.
Here are four signs that you're in an unhealthy friendship, and it's time to have some tough conversations and make adjustments.
1. You always end up gossiping about others
It's so easy to get together with friends and spill the tea about all the people and situations you have in common—often in unkind and unpleasant ways. But when we talk about someone who isn't present in judgmental and critical tones, we're gossiping. And the Bible is pretty clear about the dangers of gossip. In fact, in Romans 1:28–29, Paul equates gossip and slander with evils like deceit and murder!
If you find that you and your friend have fallen into the comfortable habit of gossiping about others, it's time to recognize it and make plans to turn it around. Why not agree that if someone comes up in conversation, you'll focus on the encouraging and positive?
2. You get each other into trouble
One common joking friendship cliché that you might be familiar with, "This is my best friend. When I want to get into a little trouble, this is who I call." Unfortunately, for a lot of folks, it's kind of true. When they get together with their friend, they end up involved in activities, situations, and conversations they would typically avoid.
At some point, we need to surround ourselves with people who encourage us to be our best and take part in pursuits we can be proud of.
3. You don't want to see each other grow
Close friends can find themselves rooting against one another. Why? Because sometimes we're afraid our friends will outgrow us. It can be difficult to imagine ourselves maturing, so we do little things to undermine our friends and keep them at our level.
When you notice a subtle tendency to sabotage one another's spiritual growth or personal success, it's a sure sign that some work needs to be done. Friends should want to see each other develop and mature. If you're not in one another's corners, how can you expect anyone else to be?
4. You don't talk about faith
Once we decide to follow Jesus, our faith becomes a significant part of our life. It bubbles over in us and impacts our goals, desires, and how we make decisions. That doesn't mean that we need to shoehorn faith discussions into every gathering, but it's definitely a red flag if it never comes up—especially if you and your friend are both committed believers.
For some reason, when faith comes up among friends, it can feel a little awkward. That's okay. Push through it. Our closest friendships should be a place where we're comfortable expressing the things that are closest to our hearts.
Recalibrating our relationships
The issues addressed here don't necessarily mean that a relationship needs to end.
But when signs like this are present, it's time to roll up your sleeves and do a little work. Left unattended, the closest friendships can hinder both parties from excelling and growing. And sometimes, it's simply because both parties have slipped into a groove that's comfortable and easy.
If you feel like your friendship is getting a little unhealthy, here are a couple of things you can do:
- Make some personal changes. Without condemning your friend or calling attention to yourself, start influencing the relationship in more positive directions. When other people come up, defend them. If your environment is steering you and your friend into trouble, change the settings you spend time in. Have some excellent alternative hang-out ideas ready. Start conversations about things that matter to you. Sometimes the entire friendship can be recalibrated when one party starts making different decisions.
- If it's evident that things won't get better without some dialogue, be wise. Don't bring it up in a way that it looks like the other party is the problem. In fact, you might not even present it as a problem. Talk about changes you'd like to see in your own life and how your friend can help facilitate them.
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