There are some relationships in our lives that have an expiration date. This does not mean they were not meaningful relationships; or that you didn’t learn, grow, or benefit from them at some time. So how do we know when it may be time to let go? A concept I recently heard about was this idea of a “driveway test”. Essentially, when you are driving away or leaving a particular interaction reflecting back on what you took away from that experience. If you were left feeling drained or unhappy in some way that is important information to consider. Of course, there may be times that either we or the other person may be experiencing moments of difficulty resulting in some strain on the relationship, this test isn’t necessarily speaking to one unpleasant interaction, rather if you are finding there is a repeated pattern. Researchers from Harvard recently published the findings of a longitudinal study that examined the lives of the participants over nearly 90 years and found that to have a “good life” really came down to having meaningful relationships. An aspect of cultivating such meaningful relationships is identifying those relationships in our lives that are not or no longer positively contributing to our lives. Nonetheless, this is a loss like any other and breaking up, whether with a significant other, friend, or even family member, is difficult and may elicit feelings of grief. Grief for the loss as a whole and/or grief for what that relationship once was. Remember, we do not enter into relationships knowing they are bad or unhealthy from the get-go and oftentimes relationships are not all bad all the time. Therefore, give yourself permission to create space for a multitude of feelings, feeling sadness for the loss, while also recognizing it may be necessary for your overall well-being. Here are some signs that the relationship may have reached the end of its road:
Frequent feelings of sadness/depression/anxiety/tiredness following interactions
A term I came upon while watching Netflix’s Indian Matchmaker was “energy vampire”. These are people who tend to take up all the space and you find yourself feeling drained by the relationship. While you may feel others bring you down. It is important to recognize if you find yourself feeling this way time and time again.
The relationship is one-sided
You may find that over time, you have become the person to put in more effort into the relationship. Perhaps you are the only one initiating contact or plans. Perhaps you are frequently showing up for the other person in some way (i.e. being the shoulder to lean on, or being present for big moments), while the other person does not make the same space for you. Alternatively, perhaps you are the one that is not putting as much time into the relationship and are not prioritizing it, you may need to re-evaluate the worth of the relationship or why you may not feel the need to prioritize it the same way you used to.
Frequent boundary violations
Boundaries vary for each individual. For some that may be allowing space to share their feelings, while others enforce strict limits regarding contact during work hours, etc. Whatever our boundaries, it is our responsibility to communicate those to others. However, if you are finding that your boundaries continue to be tested or ignored, you may then have to re-evaluate the relationship as a whole.
Your growth is being stunted
As we progress through different developmental periods and milestones, we may find that our goals have shifted or changed in some way, differing greatly from certain people in our life. You are unlikely to be exactly the same as every person in your life, however if your core values differ greatly then you may find you are growing away from others, rather than together. Additionally, there may be people in your life who are not happy for your successes, but wish for you to remain as their idea of who you should be. In such cases, these relationships are not contributing to, but rather taking away from your growth.