Taking Care of Friendship - by Airdre Grant

Airdre Grant reflects on what makes the difference between a friendship faltering, and a friendship enduring and thriving.

Recent events in my small corner of the world have brought me to thinking about the nature of friendship. A friend of mine can't work out why she struggles to get on with her sister-in-law; another friend is watching a 30 year relationship with her best friend falter. I have been pondering these events, bearing in mind the preciousness of life and the pettiness of our concerns, and I have, luckily for them and for you, come up with some theories about the nature and meaning of friendship. There are some key components, I feel, which make up the complex weave of this incredibly important, sustaining and nourishing part of life.

All relationships are about power and control. You and your loved one, you and your dog, your children and each other, your co-worker and you, your family and the remote, you, the cat and the couch - every jack one of them is about power and control. Plus its not something fixed. It's a moveable feast. Times change, needs change, and situations demand different responses from us. In a healthy relationship, the balance of power shifts from time to time. It should.
Can't have anyone being the boss all the time. That would drive us crazy. Well, me, anyway. And the cat and couch one too. I think you have to win that one.
Solution: don't try to be right all the time, be prepared to yield.

In human relationships there is a give and take that has its own kind of self-checking mechanism. At certain times you put in more and at other times you may rely on the generosity of another (that means they put up with you when you are being a brat/pain/pathetic etc.). Mostly it works, but when you get a feeling of being put upon, you may sulk or complain or do something to indicate to the other(s) in the relationship that things need evening up.
However, if the balance gets really out and too much is taken out so that you feel taken advantage of, or worse still, used, then the relationship can be at risk. That is why you must make sure that you are always contributing equally, if not more, into the reciprocity bank of relationships. This applies in work relationships, sport teams and so on - people will carry others when they think it's fair enough, but resent it when someone looks like becoming a bludger.
Solution: don't bludge in relationships.

These can be a fearful obstacle to healthy relationships. If you have been encouraged to believe you should unconditionally love everyone all the time at every given moment, then this can create an unrealistic expectation of yourself (and others). For example, if your loved one is behaving like an idiot and you feel you must forgive them and see them as bright shining lights in all their imperfection, this can cause confusion and allow unacceptable behaviour to be tolerated. Sometimes people need to be told they are behaving badly, or that something they have done/said is bothering you.
It is important to air these concerns, if you don't want to spoil the relationship by building smouldering resentments and sour grudges. If your friend wants to carry on behaving badly then that's up to them, but you must be accountable, at least to yourself about what you feel is okay, and what is not. You don't have be a righteous drone about it, but don't tolerate unreasonable behaviour under the guise of life lessons or other such twaddle.

If you can't have a laugh then I can't see the point.
I realise that this is my view on things and you may have something that is as important to you, but in my experience a good laugh and bit of self mockery is good medicine. In truth, most of our "stuff" is more to do with hot air and vanity (see "power and control" section above) than real issues, so don't take it too seriously, and be prepared to admit that you might be the one who is out of order. Then have a good laugh and move on. This last step is very important. Do not, for Pete's sake, wallow, rehash or constantly examine every aspect of the relationship. You will bore everyone and extinguish the flame of love. Fun. Key word. Note it well.

Lastly and best of all, remember love. That's it.

It's not about you and what you can get and what your needs are. It's about love. Be a good friend, be true hearted, don't be mean, don't be a mug, and give more than you receive. Remember what Emily Dickinson wrote:

"If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
or cool one pain,
or help a lonely person
Into happiness again
I shall not live in vain."