Psychotherapists have long believed that a relationship that you choose reflects your feelings about yourself. For example, if you don’t value yourself, your friends won’t either. They won’t think twice about standing you up, phoning at the last minute to cancel plans, or forgetting to contact you altogether. They don’t consider your feelings or needs. Don’t blame them; they just mirror your low opinion of yourself. (See “How Wanting to be Like Gets You Rejected.”)
It gets worse: If you’re self-critical or disparaging, you invite unsolicited advice, criticism, and discouraging comments. When it comes to a relationship, you get what you believe you’re worth.
Why We Put Up with Bad Relationships
When personal insecurities dominate you, so will unhealthy relationships. The more insecure you feel about yourself, the more you’ll settle for less than you deserve. Three reasons someone may tolerate unhealthy relationships are:
1. Low self-esteem. You rationalize a partner’s lackluster behavior because you don’t believe that you deserve better.
2. Fear of loneliness. You harbor fears of abandonment and isolation, so you accept friends’ shoddy conduct.
3. You’re a caretaker. You neglect your own needs because caring for others is the only way you feel valued.
The Healthy Relationship Test
Try this simple test. After getting together with someone, take this quick three-question emotionally inventory:
- Do I feel lighter after being with this person?
- Do I feel encouraged?
- Do I feel valued?
If you can answer yes to all three questions, that relationship is a keeper. Of course, even good friends have bad days; it’s OK to give them a pass now and then. But if a relationship consistently leaves you feeling disheartened or bogged down with disappointments, dashed expectations, or score-keeping favors, it’s time to move on. Confront the person, start a dialogue. Do your best to be heard. You’ll never regret trying to save a friendship. (See “5 Ways Group Therapy Empowers Your in Relationships.”)
Friends that Grow Together, Stay Together
Only when friends can evolve and grow together will relationships withstand the test of time. A healthy relationship is a constant source of inspiration and a place that you can always turn to for support—someone who will champion you in a heartbeat.
If a relationship often leaves you feeling unappreciated and neglected, ask yourself how you might be enabling that person’s treatment of you. Challenge yourself and speak up. You’ll learn that saying “no” to unhealthy relationships opens the door to healthier and more rewarding ones.