We all need a friend from time to time. To laugh with, cry with, just be ourselves with. But sometimes we look around and the friend we really need isn’t there anymore, and the friends we do have just don’t cut it somehow.
If that rings bells, then it may be time for a friend audit.
We tend to think of friendships as things that just happen – we meet people, discover things in common and become friends. Before we know it, we are surrounded by friends, at work, in our personal life, old friends from university, new friends from the school gate. Hundreds on Facebook that we’ve accumulated along the way.
But pause and take a proper look at our friendships and we may realise that we have quantity over quality, with lots of friends that don’t really know us. Or that the really important people have drifted out of sight, still connected but not in our day-to-day lives in the way they were. Or worse still that some of the friendships that occupy us the most are not serving us well, take too much out without giving much back, or are actively toxic. This can leave us feeling alone and unsupported, especially when we need a shoulder to cry on.
So it’s sensible not to leave our friendships to chance, instead paying more attention to these important relationships so that over time we can nurture and build the friendships that sustain us, and fix or move away from the ones that weigh us down.
A good place to start in this conscious curation of our friendships is to carry out a quick audit of the friends you have, to identify which relationships are serving you and which aren’t.
These five questions can help you consider your existing friendships. Pick the five friends you spend most time with and work through the questions for each friend.
Five questions to ask yourself about your friends
Do I enjoy them? Do they bring me joy?
A great place to start when thinking about friends is to consider whether you enjoy them. It might seem an odd question, because why would you be friends with someone you don’t enjoy hanging out with. But it’s surprising just how often our friendships aren’t enjoyable and bring us little pleasure.
So just like Marie Kondo advises with possessions, consider whether a friend brings you joy.
It doesn’t have to be constant joy and good friends should sometimes be challenging in a way that might feel uncomfortable. Equally they may need your support as they go through difficult times. Life is not always easy after all. But if you have friends who never or rarely bring you joy, then it’s worth thinking about whether they’re a friend you need in your life.
This friend looks like: a friend you laugh with, who leaves you energised and with a warm glow after spending time with them.
Does their friendship help you through challenging times?
We sometimes ask whether our friends meet our needs. Do they support me? Are they around for me when I need them? Do they meet my need to feel loved?
The trouble with this approach is that no one but yourself can meet your needs. Your needs are yours alone to meet and expecting anyone but you to meet them for you is a recipe for unhappiness. People can love, support and be around for you as much as they like, but if it doesn’t meet your own standard or definition of what you’re looking for, then your need won’t be met.
So what you should instead be asking yourself is whether their presence in your life helps you meet your own needs. Does a conversation with them when I’m suffering give me the clarity I need to move forward? Does time spent with them nourish and restore me, helping me meet challenges with renewed energy and resolve? Does their very existence in my life calm and strengthen me?
Friendships should never be demanding or transactional. But if they nourish and strengthen you in a way that lifts you up, you can still give you a huge amount.
This friend looks like: a friend you want to call when you’re in pain or suffering.
Do they love you for who you are?
Ever tried to change someone? Chances are it didn’t work, and that they got pretty unhappy with you in the process.
Yet how many of our friendships do we think could be better ‘If she just stopped talking about herself so much’, ‘If he wasn’t late all the time’, or ‘If she didn’t let me down so often’.
Wishing for a different person is ultimately frustrating and unrewarding for you because people very rarely change. And being on the other end of that relationship – with your friend wanting you to be different – can be deeply unpleasant.
So the third question to ask is, do they love me just as I am, in all my imperfections? And then can they celebrate my good bits – achievements and qualities – without bitterness or jealousy?
This friend looks like: a friend who is quietly confident in who they are, allowing them to be with you just exactly as you are
Do they listen deeply, without trying to make things ok?
There is something powerful about telling your problems to another human being. The act of speaking them out loud can help to give us perspective, can feel like a release and enable us to develop our thinking.
But not all friends are good listeners. Some will constantly interject to share their own experience and anecdotes. That’s fine when you’re swapping experiences and finding common ground, but when you need the space to say what you need it can be frustrating.
Likewise there’s a real skill in allowing a friend to talk about difficult stuff without minimising their issue, telling them it will be alright or offering solutions. More often than not, we want to be able to talk about what’s troubling us and to have our feelings understood. ‘You’ve got this’, ‘It’s no big deal – dust yourself off and keep going’ or ‘Have you tried talking it through?’ whilst well intentioned can actually sound like ‘you’re being silly feeling the way you do’. Skilled friends will allow you share what you need to and recognise that your feelings are valid, with a ‘That sounds really tough’ or ‘That must be making you feel awful right now’.
This friend looks like: a friend who’ll let you offload until you’re done
Do I want to be friends with this person?
This last question is the most important of all, and one to trump all others. Because if, despite all of the rest of it, you don’t want to stay friends with this person, then you shouldn’t.
We’re adults and there is nothing in this world that we have to do. Pay our taxes, look after our kids, or wear clothes in the street. Of course there may be large and scary consequences if we don’t, and it might therefore be unthinkable to choose that option, but it’s still an option and we should be honest with ourselves about what we choose.
When it comes to friends, that means there is no one we have to stay friends with. It may cause someone else pain, it may be frowned upon by others, it may cause some awkwardness but it’s still a choice to be had. And that knowledge can set up free.
Just be careful that you’re judging the friendship over the long term and not through a difficult patch. Good friends should challenge you if they see you behaving in a way that doesn’t serve you, and that can be uncomfortable and difficult.
Likewise friends can sometimes need to lean heavily on us in times of need, and a friend going through difficulties can still be a worthy friend.
But with that in mind, if you no longer want to be friends, then stop. You’re a grown up.
This friend looks like: the friend you’ll make an effort to keep in your life
To sum up…
Pay conscious attention to maintaining a set of friendships that sustain and nourish you by carrying out a regular friends audit. Ask yourself:
1 Does this friend bring me joy?
2 Does this friendship help me through challenging times?
3 Does this friend love me for who I am?
4 Does this friend listen without needing to make it about them or trying to make it ok?
5 Do I want to still be friends with this person?
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