Scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory today announced they have for the first time…
From daily interactions with strangers and casual acquaintances to classmates, coworkers, close friends and relatives, social contact is part of being human.
Long-lasting friendships grow and flourish when two people achieve an easy and comfortable balance, when they stop keeping score of the give-and-take, when they know they can count on each other to come through in times of need.
But when those deepest of connections turn sour, what can a person do?
Suzanne Degges-White offers some reassuring words to live by: “It’s not you. It’s not me. It’s the relationship.”
Degges-White, chair of the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, is the co-author of the newly published “Toxic Friendships: Knowing the Rules and Dealing with the Friends Who Break Them.”
Co-authored with Judy Pochel-Van Tieghem, the book tells real-life stories to shed light on why friendships turn “toxic.”
Written in plain language for “any adult dealing with any relationship,” it also lays down the 10 golden rules of constructing healthy relationships and provides advice on how to respond when friends violate the code.
“We need to be able to connect as human beings,” Degges-White says. “Even if you try to create a wall of safety, you still have to interact with others. Technology is not going to stand in for real relationships; even if Amazon delivers, we still have to see the UPS driver at our door.”
Friendships typically go wrong when trust is broken, she says.
When two people shift their relationship from “acquaintance” to “friend,” it often starts with a process of self-disclosure: “Here’s something about my life; tell me something about yours.”
Eventually, Degges-White says, those motions of “getting below the surface” typically lead to a true emotional investment. People make friends with others who they find authentic, honest and trustworthy; they expect equity in their sharing.
“We’re investing,” she says. “But if we’re not getting back what we think we should get back, we might start withdrawing.”
And if uncoupling begins – if sharing and investing veer onto a one-way street – most start to ask questions, sometimes consciously and sometimes not.
“What do I do? Do I ask about it? Do I bite my tongue? Do I walk away?” “Who can I expect to give me what I need? Are my expectations realistic? Maybe I need to look at my own behavior.” “Am I better off with – or without – my friend?”
This, of course, is when it’s time to step back and breathe. It’s not you. It’s not me. It’s the relationship.
Next, it’s time to look at “The Ten Rules of Friendship.”
- Trust and confide in your friends.
- Show them empathy.
- Offer acceptance of their other friends.
- Provide emotional support.
- Volunteer assistance when you can.
- Repay favors without being asked.
- Stand up for your friends when they aren’t around.
- Try to avoid “bringing them down.”
- Offer “constructive feedback” only when alone with a friend.
- Avoid mean-spirited comments about friends’ other relationships.
“Toxic Friendships” devotes one chapter to each rule; Degges-White and Pochel-Van Tieghem then examine each rule from life-spanning perspectives of early childhood, tweens, older adolescents, young adults, mothers, mid-life adults and older adults.
Another chapter is for, and about, parents: What to do if your child’s friend has broken the rules? What if your child is the violator? How to deal with other moms and dads at the little league games, or in the car pool rotation?
Other chapters cover acquaintances that are not necessarily friendships but on the job and within civic groups or church congregations.
“It’s wisdom,” she says, “and good, juicy stories.”
Degges-White found inspiration for the books five years ago when she conducted a workshop on friendship for the American Counseling Association. Afterward, members of her audience were eager to talk more on what they deemed “a great topic.”
“A lot of people told me, ‘Let me tell you about this unbelievable friend I have,’ or, ‘Let me tell you about this bad experience,’ ” she says, adding that she also collected countless anecdotes from around the globe, thanks to some of the 2 million followers of her blog on the Psychology Today website.
First came “Friends Forever: How Girls and Women Forge Lasting Relationships,” which Degges-White wrote with Christine Borzumato-Gainey in 2013.
The new book is more of a “friendship repair clinic,” she says.
“I want people to feel like they have a new understanding of the value of relationships,” she says, “but also the value of the actions they’re undertaking and the value they’re bringing.”
Readers will find questions to ponder in the hopes they discover the best solutions to fix or preserve their friendships. “The kneejerk response is seldom the right one in any relationship,” she says.
They’ll also likely to see themselves reflected in the stories of others. “Those normalize your own experiences,” she says. “We all want to know that we’re normal.”
Normal applies to Degges-White, whose best friend is named Beth.
Beth is a P.E. teacher in Country Club Estates, Ill. She and Degges-White met when they were both in their early 40s; Beth is three weeks older. Their kids are about the same age. The pair “clicked instantly,” and their connection has matured in the seven or eight years since.
“She’s compassionate, kind and genuine,” Degges-White says. “There’s nothing I would not tell her about my life. She gets me without me having to explain myself. We’re invested deeply in each other’s wellbeing without having to see each other every day.”
A book launch party is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 12, at The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. All are welcome.