Are you in a relationSHIP or a relationSHOP?

How to tell the difference and transform your friendSHIPs.

FriendSHIPs and relationSHIPs are usually the source of our greatest joy in life. The relationSHIPs with our family, partner, children, siblings, friends, colleagues, clients. They are also the source of some of our greatest angst and worry!

Give when you can: take when you must.

There will always be a natural ebb and flow to a relationSHIP, sometimes we need to give, sometimes we need to receive. I really love the maxim ”Give when you can: take when you must”.That for a relationSHIP to work well we need to sometimes be open to being vulnerable enough to ask for help and to receive it with gratitude. We also need to be generous to give support in when it’s required.

In a healthy relationSHIP you can feel this natural tide of giving and receiving of attention, talk time, physical support, gifts of service, compliments and so on flowing back and forth in a natural rhythm. Sometimes one person will be having a harder time, sometimes the situation is reversed, but there is this natural flow that evens itself out over time. This is a relationSHIP.

A relationSHOP is quite different. RelationSHIPs can turn into relationSHOPs very easily.

A relationSHOP is where the flow of give and take becomes unequal, one-sided. Where someone is always wanting something from the other. Where one person becomes the perpetual provider and one the perpetual receiver. The go-to place, the shop, for support, assistance, attention, whatever. How we handle it when that transition happens is crucial.

Two particular friendSHIPs spring to mind for me, both of which got out of balance, and which had very different outcomes.

Friend A was very good to me at a hard time in my life. A debt which I was anxious to repay. It turned out that that was easy: there were so many opportunities! Her life lurched from one crisis to the next. At first, I thought it was an extraordinary amount of bad luck and I was super supportive.

After 12 months of 2 am mercy dashes inexpensive cabs across London, I realised that much of it was largely self-created drama. It was an exhausting friendSHIP as weirdly she wanted to be there for me but only when I was in a crisis too. She just wasn’t that interested in having fun and enjoying the good times, just the dramatic bad times. I realised that being around this girl tired me out. She lived in a storm of largely self-created chaos which she thrived on but which drained me completely.  I am ashamed to say I did not sort this friendSHIP out in a grown-up way, I just moved country and stopped messaging.

I dealt with it very badly which I regret, but I don’t regret having this unbalanced friendship out of my life. It wasn’t a friendSHIP it was a friendSHOP. Whenever she got in touch she wanted something from me. I couldn’t just be me, I had to give support to a drama or crisis in her life, or manufacture one in my own in order to be interesting. It was a relationSHIP of provision, not equality.

“What we allow is what we endorse”

The second friendship that really springs to mind was with Friend B. We had a very equal and fun friendSHIP. We flowed between good times and bad times, we were there for each other, it worked great. Then things subtly changed over time from a friendSHIP to a friendSHOP.

She went through a really hard time. That went on over a couple of years. Our roles subtly changed to supporter and supportee. I was always doing the giving. And I did it willingly and with love. However, eventually, a number of epicly bad things happened in my life and friend B was nowhere to be seen. Literally nowhere.

The flow of energy and support had become entirely one way. It wasn’t her fault, it was just as much mine, I had allowed this to happen and trained her to think I never needed anything. As you know I always say “What we allow is what we endorse” and I had been as much a party of creating this unequal relationSHOP as she had. I had willingly become the provider, the shop of listening. It did not feel good.

But this time, however, I am pleased to say I was brave, I actually spoke up about it. I valued her friendSHIP as a person but the style of friendSHIP we had mutually evolved into was not working for me. The equality had gone. There was no ebb and flow. So my heart beating super loud in my chest I spoke my truth, gave some specific examples and said that it was not okay for me. That I wanted to go back to a more equal friendSHIP or the relationSHIP would have to cease.

There was a heavy silence on the end of the phone. It. Was. Awful. The next week, however, she appeared with flowers having thought it through. She had looked at it and realised the balance had gone way out and could we start fresh. So we did and our friendship today is more fun and more equal than it’s ever been. I am so glad I was brave and spoke up. And I am proud to have a friend who values what we have enough to change things up and make it work. She is a great girl and I love her and value having her in my life enormously.

Do you have any relationSHOPs in your life you want to re-evaluate?

When a relationSHIP has become a relationSHOP you can feel it. It feels icky. It feels tiring. It feels a bit like you are trapped. You feel you give much more than you get (or that you get much more than you give).

You may get that sinking feeling when you see his or her number on the phone. It’s important not to ignore that feeling, but to acknowledge it and figure out where it’s coming from. Then you have choices.

You can a) continue as you are but remember things are unlikely to change. Other people are not mind readers and if you don’t tell the person there is something wrong they are blissfully unaware there is anything wrong, however screamingly obvious it might be for you. So ignoring it, means you are accepting it.

Or, b) you can choose to let the friendSHOP drift and gradually disappear into nothingness as I did with Friend A. It wasn’t a particularly courageous move on my part however it did get the desired result.

Or, c) if you value and love that person you can be brave. You can speak up. You can say I want a balanced relationship with you, you are important to me, that’s why I am being brave and saying this. That the way it is now is not okay for me. Define what you need in a relationSHIP. Give the other person the choice to create a friendSHIP that works for you both or to walk away. The good ones will take it on board and your friendSHOPs will be transformed into genuine lasting golden friendSHIPs.

Do you have a few friendSHOPs in your life that could do with a changeup? Today is a great day to re-evaluate: you deserve to have the best!

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