Recently, I saw one more social media post—one more added to many—encouraging readers to walk away from certain types of people and to end certain types of relationships. You know how they go: “If someone is robbing you of your joy and happiness, they must be removed”; “Walk away from people who disrupt your peace of mind, self-worth, and self-respect”; “Maturity is learning how to walk away from high-maintenance relationships that drain you”; “Strength is being able to let go of relationships that create mental, emotional, and spiritual strains on your life.” Whenever I see these types of posts, the same questions always come to mind: What if you can’t walk away? What if you shouldn’t walk away? What if you decide to not walk away because you realize there’s more to gain by staying and standing your ground? Cutting people off and walking away from relationships shouldn’t be our automatic go-to when a relationship starts going or has gone south. In fact, true strength and maturity are often cultivated and exhibited by not walking away, in spite of how challenged and threatened our joy, happiness, peace, self-worth, and self-respect may be; in spite of how high the maintenance may be and how drained we may feel in maintaining a relationship; and in spite of how much of a mental, emotional, and spiritual strain we may experience as a result.
Am I saying we should accept disregard and disrespect from others just because they’re in relationship with us? Of course, not! Am I suggesting it’s okay for people in our lives to de-value who we are and disrupt or internal peace, joy, and happiness? Certainly, not! And am I advocating for mentally, emotionally, and spiritually expending ourselves endlessly and infinitely on relationships with no regard for healthy boundaries that exhaust us beyond our natural capacities and limitations? Absolutely, not! But what I am saying is that we, especially those of us in the practice of teaching, training, and coaching others in the area of relationships, have to do more qualifying and clarifying on how to effectively handle challenging, difficult, high-maintenance, and, even, toxic and unhealthy relationships. It’s an irresponsible dis-service for anyone who occupies a place or position of giving counsel and advice about relational matters to encourage people, without drilling down to the deeper recesses of their relationships, to just cut others off and walk away from relationships, even when there are justifications for doing so. Straining and draining relationships come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, so we can’t paint them all with broad-strokes. Husbands and wives; parents and children; siblings; friends; neighbors; colleagues; business partners; employers and employees. Difficult relationships exist in many forms, come in all flavors, and can show up anywhere. So, making it a habit of cutting off difficult people and abandoning relationships that get under our skin and unnerve us is a sure way to end up in, yet, another difficult relationship with another difficult person that, again, gets under our skin and unnerves us.
I once worked with a woman who made my life miserable by undermining practically every fiber of dignity within me to a point, where everyday, I envisioned quitting and walking away. But my reality was that I couldn’t. I needed my job, so I couldn’t just cut her and the job off and just walk away. What I did do, though, was learn how to confront this woman and her misery—the misery I was allowing her to transfer into my life—stand my ground, not be miserable, and maintain my dignity. Consider the wife who’s demeaned and degraded by her husband; the child who’s demeaned and degraded by their parents (or vice versa); the brother or sister who’s demeaned and degraded by their siblings; or a friend who’s demeaned and degraded by a friend. Relationships can be complicated, and sometimes answers and solutions are not so cut-and-dry. Possibly, in each of these scenarios, the one demeaned and degraded, for whatever their reasons, can’t or shouldn’t or won’t walk away. Maybe they’ve weighed the potential costs and potential benefits on each side and have decided that they’re not going anywhere because the benefit of staying outweighs its cost as well as the costs and benefits of ending the relationship. Maybe they’ve decided to confront the issues, stand their ground, and expect positive outcomes. I firmly believe in knowing when an end in a relationship is necessary because sometimes, it is. But there’s something called “long-suffering”—a virtue—and maybe the wife, husband, child, parent, sibling, friend has decided to be just that because they love the person or the people they’re in relationship with and have decided they’re going to give it their all and will expect and won’t accept anything less than the best.
Now, let me be clear: if a relationship places you or me in any kind of harm’s way, warranting any type of protective or law enforcement involvement or intervention, then, unquestionably, that’s the route we should take. And what I am not saying is that we should automatically stay in a relationship, regardless of its condition and effects, as long as it does not require protective or law enforcement involvement or intervention. My focus here is on those people and those relationships that we find to be challenging, difficult, high-maintenance, and even toxic and unhealthy. The reality is that as challenging, as difficult, as high-maintenance, and even as toxic and unhealthy as a person and a relationship may be, true growth and maturity, true strength and fortitude are developed by learning how to build ourselves up. They’re developed by building up our mental, emotional, and spiritual thresholds and muscles so that we can actually maintain our joy and happiness, our peace and sense of worth and respect, our values and our dignity regardless of how challenging and how difficult and how high-maintenance, toxic, unhealthy, straining, and draining a person and a relationship may be. Contrary to what we often hear, sometimes it requires more courage and more stamina for us to remain than it does for us to walk away. Maybe we need to set some much-needed boundaries, parameters, terms, and conditions to manage the relationship. And maybe it’s time to, once and for all, toughen up, confront the difficulties, and learn how to maintain our peace of mind in spite of difficult people and difficult relationships, because as much as we may not want to accept it, difficult people and relationships are everywhere. So, it’s best that we work on ourselves and build up our relational immune systems so that we are better equipped to handle people and relationships that challenge and threaten our peace, self-worth, self-respect, and dignity to the point where they are no real challenge or threat to us at all. Let’s not be so quick to walk away!
Like you, Katrina loves seeing people in healthy relationships (with themselves and others) that they genuinely enjoy and not just simply tolerate. This blog is dedicated to achieving that vision.