The Economics of Relationships: When to De-Invest

A good friend of mine is a counselor. He is also a drinking buddy. Many a time he has graciously talked me through some difficult times while out for a drink, and his words always stick with me. I will find myself mulling over his insights for days, weeks, even months.

Recently, I asked him what was the right thing to do. Would this be wrong, would this make me a bad person? And his response was not what I expected. He started talking about economics. About cost-benefit analysis, this idea that you make decisions by comparing the cost of doing something with it’s benefits. As he went on, he explained that it wasn’t so much about whether it was right or wrong for me to do or not do something, but rather would it cause me more pain to do it vs not do it.

And I have been thinking about this a lot. It has totally reframed how I approach my relationships. How I view conflict, tension, and pain. It’s changed how I view my responsibility in my relationships, particularly those that have become unhealthy for me. So rather than wondering what is right or wrong, I am wondering if it will hurt me more to do it rather than not. Rather than wondering who is the villain or the victim, I wonder about the investment value.

So this week, I wanted to share my reasons for de-investing in relationships.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words
You’ve heard the saying before, “Actions speak louder than words”. And it’s true. People will say things and make promises that they have no intention of keeping. You can tell someone that you love them a thousand times, but until your behavior matches that, it’s just words. Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day. Promises are nothing, words are nothing, without the action. We can apologize for our mistakes over and over, but if our actions do not change, the words become meaningless.

People may not tell you how they feel about you, but they will always show you. Pay attention. If their actions are telling a very different story than their words, and that story is hurting you, it’s time to start listening to the story their actions are telling you, and re-evaluate your investment.

You’re Constantly Defending Them
If you often find yourself in a position where you  need to defend someone, chances are there’s a consistently unacceptable behavior you are trying to justify.

A friend of mine was with a guy who was, to put it bluntly, an asshole. He was very rude to her in public, very rude to her friends, and very difficult in social situations. And she would constantly defend him. Explain that he was just insecure in social situations, that he had a rough childhood, that he just had some quirks.

As kind as she was, as compassionate as she was, as patient as she was, by defending him she communicated that his actions were also okay. And so they never changed. In fact, they only got worse. When we defend and excuse our loved ones bad behavior, we give them permission to continue that behavior. And more so, they have no motivation to ever work on that behavior.

Loving and understanding someones pain is a wonderful quality. But we need to be compassionate with ourselves first. And that means setting respectable standards for how we are treated.

They Constantly Blame You for Their Behavior
It can be quite difficult to recognize unacceptable behaviors from your loved ones when you are convinced that you are somehow responsible for those behaviors. You might tell yourself they don’t reach out to you because they are busy, or because they don’t want to be a bother. Or that those jabs and put downs are just jokes, that teasing is their love language. Or that they don’t take your emotions seriously because when you were a kid you threw a lot of temper tantrums, so they have conditioned themselves to shut you down.

In other words, you justify their mistreatment of you because they have convinced you that you are the “wrong one” or the “crazy one”. You defend their actions, because those actions aren’t changing, and so you must be the cause.

But there comes a point when you realize that people who truly respected you and cared about you would encourage you to grow, not resent you for your accomplishments. They would support you when you struggle, not use your past as a way to intimidate or disparage you. They would build you up, not tear you down. And when you told them you were hurt, they would want to change that.

 

 

Relationships are hard. All relationships. The longer the relationship, the more work they are going to take. And over time you may have to re-evaluate your cost-benefit analysis. Are you investing more than you are getting back? Is your participation hurting your bottom line? Has the relationship lost its value? Or do you just need to step back and take a break while you re-evaluate?

And then you need to decide, what hurts you more: leaving, or staying?

My final thought for you is this: Go where the love is.

 

-Darci