Some relationships are incredibly pernicious. We often develop relationships out of convenience, without considering the traits necessary to build a successful bond with another person—important traits like unwavering support and shared trust and loving encouragement.
When a relationship is birthed out of convenience or proximity or chemistry alone, it is bound to fail. We need more than a person’s physical presence to maintain a meaningful connection, but we routinely keep people around because … well, simply because they’re already around.
It’s easy to develop a connection with a coworker or a schoolmate or someone who’s always there—even when they’re not adding any real value to our lives. And it’s even easier to stay in those relationships. That’s because old relationships are convenient, and starting new relationships is difficult—it requires work. But so does anything worth holding on to.
We’ve all held on to someone who didn’t deserve to be there before. And most of us still have someone in our lives who continually drains us: Someone who doesn’t add value. Someone who isn’t supportive. Someone who takes and takes and takes without giving back to the relationship. Someone who contributes very little and prevents us from growing. Someone who constantly plays the victim.
But victims become victimizers. And these people are dangerous. They keep us from feeling fulfilled. They keep us from living meaningful lives. Over time, these negative relationships become part of our identity—they define us, they become who we are.
Fortunately, this needn’t be the case. Several actions can be taken to rid ourselves of negative relationships.
First, you can attempt to fix the relationship. This is obviously the preferable solution (albeit not always possible or worthwhile). People change over time, and so do relationships. You can change how your relationship works—be it marriage, friendship, or family—without completely ditching the relationship.
Sit down with the person who’s draining the vitality from your life and explain to them what must change in order for your relationship to work. Explain that you need them to be more supportive, that you need them to participate in your growth, that they are important to you, but the relationship in its current state does not make you happy. Explain that you’re not attempting to change them as a person; you simply want to change how your relationship works.
Finally, ask them what they’d like to change about the relationship. Ask them how you can add more value. Listen attentively, act accordingly.
Or, if you’re unable to change the relationship, you can end it altogether. This is incredibly difficult, but it applies to any relationship: family, friends, lovers, coworkers, acquaintances. If someone is doing nothing but draining your life, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell them “This relationship is no longer right for me, so I must end it—I must move on.”
It’s OK to move on. You owe it to yourself to move on. You owe it to yourself to be happy with the relationships you have. You are in control.
Moving on is sometimes the only way to develop new, empowering relationships. Starting anew, empty-handed and full-hearted, you can build fresher, stronger, more supportive relationships—important relationships that allow you to have fun and be happy and contribute beyond yourself. These are the meaningful relationships we all need.
It’s also important to do your part. You too must add value to the relationship. Not by buying gifts or commoditizing your love, but by showing up every day and rigorously exhibiting how much you care, demonstrating your love through consistent actions, continually going out of your way to help the other person grow.
You see, both people must do their part to grow the relationship. Only then will both of you be satisfied with the relationship you’ve built.
There’s an entire chapter in our new book, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, dedicated to exploring your relationships in a meaningful way, including a discussion on how relationships change over time and a section about how you can re-prioritize your relationships so they add value to your life.