When is it time to give up?
How to decide if a relationship is worth saving

I was talking with my friend Natalie recently about whether it’s okay to give up on a difficult family member.  Natalie explained that one of her cousins from Long Island stopped speaking to her almost three years ago when she didn’t invite her to her son’s baptism.  Natalie talked with her about how the four-hour distance was too far to drive for the baptism and she seemed okay with this.  They made plans to take a trip to Maine a month down the road to visit another family member.  But after their conversation, her cousin stopped calling her and wouldn’t return phone calls and texts.  She continued to reach out to her periodically for over a year.  She felt regretful that she didn’t just send an invitation and let her cousin decide if it was too far to travel.  But she never got the chance to fully explain this because it appeared her cousin had written her out of her life.  For the past year she has stopped trying to contact her leading Natalie to the question, “When is it time to give up?”       

Is my relationship toxic?
Most often, we feel like letting go of a relationship when we realize it’s just not good for us.  This can happen in a romantic relationship, with a family member or a close friend.  However, this is not an easy decision. There are many mixed emotions involved.  For family, the idea that blood is thicker than water makes it harder to let go when rifts occur.   And many would argue that you should never give up on someone you love.  Deciding what to do if a relationship becomes toxic is a very personal decision and one that only you should make.  Here are a few guidelines that may help you make the best decision possible. 

In her book Take Time for Your Life author Cheryl Richardson offers some helpful questions to determine whether a relationship drains you or fuels you:

  1. Am I able to be myself with this person? Do I feel accepted by him/her?
  2. Is this person critical or judgmental of me?
  3. Does the relationship provide an even give and take exchange of energy?
  4. Do I feel upbeat and energized when I am around this person or depleted and drained?
  5. Can this person celebrate my successes?
  6. Does this person share my values and level of integrity?
  7. Do I feel good about myself when I’m with this person?

Think carefully about your answers and if you find that you are not yourself, always feel depleted of energy and often criticized by someone, it’s time to get more serious to making some changes going forward.

How can I deal with a toxic person?

If we asked 1,000 people how we should handle an unhealthy or toxic relationship we are likely to get the following suggestions:

  1. Cut the offending person completely out of your life.
  2. Grow a spine and fight back.
  3. Try to let it go in one ear and out the other.

Since none of these options sound like a lot of fun we should consider an alternative.  The first step in repairing any relationship is accepting that we don’t have the power to change another person or make them act the way we want them to.  However, we can find the means to communicate in ways that create positive and lasting changes in the relationship.  For example, if you change YOUR approach to family members, it can force the others to change their approach to you.  It’s like a mobile – if you tug at one hanging part, it reverberates throughout the whole piece.   One way to do this is learn how to talk with the person in a loving and honest way.   Richardson believes if you feel there is any hope of healing a relationship, you need to state very clearly what you need to see changed.  She uses this example as a starting point in communicating your feelings and concerns:
“In an effort to honor our relationship I need to tell you the truth.  When you _____ it makes me feel _____.  Are you willing to stop doing this so that we can move closer instead of further apart?”

Fill in the blanks for your own situation, but consider this approach of creating healthier boundaries and open communication going forward.

What if I decide to let this relationship go?

“What people think of you is none of your business.”  Deepak Chopra

You may discover, after all this soul-searching, that this relationship is just not good for you.  You may also recognize that your desire to continue in it just isn’t there. If this happens, it’s time to make peace with letting it go.  Ruminating about who did what or said what isn’t healthy and it allows negative emotions to rent out space in your mind.  Instead, work on accepting what is and use your experience in this relationship as an opportunity to learn and grow.  There is a beautiful poem about relationships called “With Every Good-bye You Learn”.  Try reading it because those five simple words are the truth.  

Diane Lykes is a Principal of Synergy Counseling Associates in Albany where she specializes in individual and couples counseling, educational training and clinical consultation.  She can be reached at 466.3100 or lykes-synergy@nycap.rr.com


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