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Coping with Emotionally Draining Friendships?

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Do you have friends in your life that leave you emotionally drained and burdened? Do those encounters leave you empty instead of fulfilled? Do you regularly have to endure their drama? In today’s podcast, Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace share tools to evaluate those relationships and offer effective approaches to those conversations in the future.

Speaker 1:    Welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.

Chris Grace:    Well, it's good to be back on another podcast. Alisa, it's so fun to do these conversations with you and to talk about all things relationship.

Alisa Grace:    Yeah. I love it. Hey, we want to be sure and remind you guys that whatever platform you're listening to this podcast on, be sure to like and subscribe to our podcast and give us a five star rating on there. We love those five star ratings. And don't forget to follow us. You can see us on Instagram and Twitter. And our handle is @BiolaCMR, because this podcast is brought to you by the Center for Marriage & Relationships at Biola University.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, hence the handle is BiolaCMR.

Alisa Grace:    That would be weird if it was Vanguard.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, that's right.

Alisa Grace:    But we're BiolaCMR.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. Hey, one of the cool things to talk about, I think Alisa is the fact that this is about all kinds of relationships. And when we talk about friendships, and a lot of people, because even if they're married, they have friendships and people that are, of course, starting off in life. One of the first things they point to is friendships. Friendships, in fact, are considered the most important influence on a person's life and their values. Even when they turn 16, 15, 14, what's interesting is already established that friendships are most important. But even before then, when a kid's in junior high, they are asking what's the most biggest shaper of their life? It's not family. They come in second. It's usually friends is at the very top.

    So there are some friendships, Alisa, that we just almost take for granted. We've had them for a long time or in some cases, the friendships that we have are just awesome. We've got the three or four people that we love or close to and it's fun. And we make friends. And we do it pretty easily. There's another segment of the population out there that are in relationships or friendships, but some of them aren't going well. And I wonder maybe we should talk a little bit about that when a friendship goes bad or when a friendship isn't going well. Suppose you get into a friendship that may be a relationship in which, all of a sudden, you realize you're getting drained from this. It's taking all of your time, all of your emotions and you leave this person and you're like, look, this is hard. What do you think, Alisa? Emotionally draining friendships are really hard, because they can leave us tired, they can leave us wondering what's going on and carrying a burden that seems to be maybe one sided.

Alisa Grace:    Yeah. And we're not talking about the situation where it's a good friend that's going through this really hard breakup or a really traumatic event in life and they're really that needy place where they're just needing you to pour a little bit more into them, because of this circumstance in life. That's not what we're talking about today. When we talk about coping with an emotionally draining friendship, we're talking about that friend that after you've been together, you walk away and you just want to curl up in a ball and cry because it just has pulled everything out of you. It's just taken everything out of you because all they do is talk, all they do is ask for your input.

    And one of the most frustrating aspects of that is when they don't take your advice. That drives me crazy. And it is funny, because we can all think of those people that we know in that way. But you can just tell that those are the friendships that leave you feeling a little bit more empty instead of fulfilled after you've been together on a regular basis even.

Chris Grace:    And there are some people that I think just naturally are really good at hearing and good listeners. I had a free in like that and I just remember he would just talk and listen in conversation. But when it came time for me to talk, he just was all ears. He would just sit there and listen and let me talk. And I found myself wanting to talk to him more and more, especially during one season of life. And there are just some people who are really good at. So some of you might find yourself with friends like that who are constantly using you because you're good at it. And you might want to see how God can use that and don't run from that. And you might find, but if it gets overwhelming and you might start to consider, hold on here, friendships should have this equality to them or I'm able to also share at times that are difficult and they listen well.

    But if you're seen as a safe place or a safe person, one who hears, what a blessing to have that? Keep that going. Now, when it becomes unequal, when it becomes draining, what's your thoughts, Alisa?

Alisa Grace:    So it really makes me think of a situation where a student that we know had a roommate that had some trauma in her life during high school. I think maybe she had lost someone very close to her and just came in really wounded and hurt. But what the student found was that it was just becoming overwhelming for her. She felt like she was being asked to fill the role of a therapist for her friend. And she just began to feel overwhelmed. And like I don't know this, I'm way over my head. I don't know what I'm doing here and I just am feeling exhausted.

    And when she came to us for advice, it was a great idea to sit down and talk about this, because, Chris, let's think, what would be some signs that if you're trying to evaluate, is this a normal give and take in a friendship? Or number two, could it be that this person is in just a certain situation right now, circumstances where they're a little more needy or am I really being validated here because this person is draining me? And it's not just a friendship, it could even be a family member.

Chris Grace:    It sure could. Yeah. There are certain signs and things to look for. I think most of us are aware that you have enough history with a friend to know, no, there are good times, there are times in which this seems to be a unique situation. I think, Alisa, the things you should look for as signs would be, if the other person is always with some drama. There is never a stable time. The student that you're talking about, let's say there's grief that went on and they were just in such pain at losing somebody, but that they never leave that pain. And it's just something that they carried with them for not just one, two, three, but five years. Okay. Now, that's a sign that hold on here, there needs to be progress in the grief.

    Or there's always more drama that replaces the grief. There was that. But then the next time it was lack of money and I don't have a romantic relationship and there's all kinds of drama that way. So too much drama leaving you too drained that never seems to have times in which you get to share or feel like it's more equal.

Alisa Grace:    Oh, that's great. I think also another sign that maybe you're in a draining friendship is that you find that you just... When you know that they're coming over, you're getting ready to spend time with them, you just brace yourself for the download before they get there, like oof, you got to buck up, get ready, because this is going to be tough. And you just realize emotionally you're having to gear up to just encounter this person.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, no, I think that's right. And if you're doing that, what's happening is your body and your brain is telling you something. Listen to that. If you're already marshaling your resources to go in, then there's already something going on. Or if you have to go afterwards and start talk to somebody about what you just heard and do it anonymously. You're like, oh my gosh! I got to share this burden. It's too much.

Alisa Grace:    No, I got to go to therapy.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. I think another one, Alisa, is it's a pretty standard reply for a lot of people to be able to learn to say, listen, I really value listening to this and I want to be there for you, but I'm going to be honest with you, it's above my pay grade. I don't know what to do. I can listen, but man, buddy, I just have been thinking this might take something a little bit more than me. You might need the free relationship advice at the CMR or you might need to go talk to a therapist or get some input from a pastor, go talk with your leader, but I just can't keep helping you because we keep going over this over and over and over again. And if that's happening, then you might say, listen, I just can't help you, it's above my pay grade. So that's another way, another sign.

Alisa Grace:    That's good. That's really good. Okay. So let's see another sign that maybe you're in a draining friendship is that they just go over and over and over the same issues. It's like it's on repeat, repeat. You just keep addressing the same chaos and drama all the time and it never gets any better. They don't ever do anything different.

Chris Grace:    No, that reminds me of my favorite movie and the movie you hate for me to watch all of the time because it's the Edge of Tomorrow. And it's fight, repeat, die, redo it. I love the Edge of Tomorrow with Tom cruise, what a great movie. And it's redoing the same thing over and over and over. And you're like-

Alisa Grace:    Okay. In all fairness I did like the movie the first 20 times we watched.

Chris Grace:    No way. First two times maybe.

Alisa Grace:    Oh no.

Chris Grace:    Okay. But anyway, it's such a great movie because it does show that we can... Now, think about that. The premise of the movie was they just keep repeating the same day over and over and over again, but they can learn a little bit, they can get a little farther. He used that time eventually to learn about his partner and to see the things that she wanted and liked, because he really didn't connect with her at first or like her, but, all of a sudden, he started to learn things. So what happens, however, is when we just hit repeat and that issue keeps going over and over again, that other person is not learning from this experience. And they're not listening to you. And if you keep going over the same ground, at least I guess I would say, you're not using this time to really learn. You're just dumping, which might help you feel somewhat better, but it's not helped me feel any better.

    So I think that would be one thing I would look for is this person always saying the same things, constantly going over the same issue, like you said, and if so, what's going on here with you because I'm not really sure you're needing my ear or my advice so much as I could be a wall or you might be talking to a stranger. You use me in a different way or we need to talk about the way you're just not hearing any of my advice or options.

Alisa Grace:    Yeah. You're just not taking it. And so another reason or another way that you could tell that you're in that draining relationship is when you start avoiding that person. It's like you just can't. It's like, I can't even. And so you're not answering their phone calls, you're avoiding going places where you know you're going to encounter them you just avoid them. And it seems like those positive feelings that you used to have for them, they're just not there anymore. That's probably a pretty good sign that you're in a draining relationship.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. And I think so. You add all those things up, Alisa, we talked some about they go over the same issue over and over again, you start to avoid them, they to always be from one drama, they go from one to the next, they go over at these same issues over and over and they really don't seem to listen to you, and pretty soon you're just not there. I think what you need to do is figure out what can you do now. If you're in that relationship, Alisa, what would you suggest? I would say this, the first thing I would tell you is, look, begin to set up boundaries. And that boundary is, sometimes you go out to lunch with this person and it turns into a three hour...

    Set a boundary and say, "Man, I'll go with you, I only have one hour. And, by the way, I'm going to take 15 minutes during this time. We're not going to end it on you talking the whole time." So set a boundary. And maybe it's the amount of time you're with them, the number of times you see them or, hey, can we talk about another issue going on? Just something else, anything else like football, something different.

Alisa Grace:    I love that. Yeah. And to that last point that you just made, I really like, Chris, because imagine that you have a group of friends and there's always that one friend who is the drama queen or the drama king and just so needy. And no matter what's going on with everybody else, that conversation always ends up turning to that one person. And they usurp all the attention all the time that you have together as a friend. And one thing you can do is as a part of that group is to acknowledge, wow. Let's say that you're the needy person, you can spend a few minutes talking about what their issue and what's going on, but then maybe you can initiate and turn the attention to somebody else like, wow, okay, well, thanks for sharing that, Chris. And Susie, we haven't really heard a lot about what's going on in your life this week. What's happening with you? And so you just take control and you direct the conversation in another way.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, that's good if there's another, maybe two or three of you in the room. Like you said, I think that's great advice. If it's just the two of you, I would suggest you can listen and be there. And if you're going in, Alisa, you made the point, if you're already gearing up for something that you're probably messed up in some ways in that you're going to start to feel unheard, not listened to and maybe even start having resentment and you're like ticked off. So I would say one of the things you should do, Alisa, if that's the case is learn to turn this to a point where if you set a boundary and this is a friend, well, go, just listen. It's okay. It's okay to be there. It's okay to be with them. And don't let resentment build up, especially if it's something that they're just going through that you feel is transitory that they'll go through a different thing later on that you know and this'll get better.

    Then deal with your own sadness maybe for a little bit, but don't take it out on them. If you're a good listener, then be a good listener. However, if you start to feel like it's just too overwhelming, maybe then you need to talk to somebody else and say, "Hey, can you help me? I don't know what to do with person X." On the other hand, you set good boundaries, go in, be there, listen, hang out with them.

Alisa Grace:    I like that.

Chris Grace:    And be a good friend. But also you have to do some things ahead of time in your heart that you don't have to do this, you get to. And maybe that's a good way to say, I don't have-

Alisa Grace:    Say that again.

Chris Grace:    Well, I think that some of us are like, oh my gosh! Have to go to lunch with this person and they're going to dump on me and they're going to... They go on and on about their issues around. I have to go because I'm a friend. Instead, maybe before you go say, "Lord, you know what? I get to do something. You put me in this person's life at this time and help me to be a good hero, a good listener I get to do something. I get to be used by your hands today. And maybe they never listen to me and maybe they don't take my advice, maybe they don't respond back and appropriately reciprocate, but I get to do something today. So help me Lord to do it well without resentment."

Alisa Grace:    I love that. I love that, because then, it's obviously an indication that you must be a kind, empathetic, compassionate listener, a good listener if that friend keeps coming to you over and over. But in the event that it just becomes too much, one other solution to keep in mind is, you're not a therapist, probably, maybe you are, maybe your licensed marriage and family therapist or psychotherapist out there listening, but you're probably not a trained therapist. And if you keep functioning in that role that is probably better addressed by trained professional, then more than being just the listening ear, you may actually be keeping them from seeking out the appropriate help that would really be more appropriate to the level of need that they have.

    And just like a therapist does, they set a 50 minute time limit. They don't go on and on and on for two or three hours, they set a 50 minute time limit. So those boundaries you were talking about. But maybe you need to encourage that friend to seek professional help. And that's, I think what you were alluding to also, Chris, is praying, asking the Lord to give you wisdom and discernment as you counsel with this person. Lord, what would be good? What would be helpful? And what would be an appropriate encouragement to my friend today? That's Ephesians 4:29. We can be a good sounding board, but we don't want to get in the way of them getting the appropriate help that they may really need.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. So if you need help discerning again, think through what it means to be a good friend, what we're called to. You may just have been blessed to be that empathic person that can listen and do it well. Maybe God's calling you onto something further. Maybe you need to go into a career if you find yourself there, into marriage and family therapy or to learn what it means to be able to listen. And then that way you will, of course, learn how to set boundaries, and Alisa, like you said, have time limits or things like that.

    But the other way to discern and to know that is recognize that God may be calling you into a special place with a special friendship. And that you don't have to do this, you get to, and so you seek out advice from others that-

Alisa Grace:    With boundaries.

Chris Grace:    And with boundaries. What do you think?

Alisa Grace:    I love it. And maybe you have a relationship question that you need some help with. Maybe you feel stuck in a certain situation in your relationship and you need some help. And so one of the resources that we have at the Center for Marriage & Relationships is called free relationship advice. And that's where you can give us a call and we can set up a Zoom appointment with you with one of our trained professionals. If you're in the Southern California area, you can actually come by and set up an appointment in our center at Biola University.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. Or if that sounds like I don't want to go through that, you just go to the website. We have a couple of cool blogs on this, on toxic friendship and relationships. We have some other podcasts on this and we have an opportunity with relationship retreats throughout the country. So we have videos, blogs and the podcast. And many of them are on this very topic. Go check those out and you'll hopefully get some good answers too.

Alisa Grace:    And free relationship advice.

Chris Grace:    All right.

Alisa Grace:    So thanks, Chris. It's good to visit with you today. You guys have a great week. We'll see you next time.

Chris Grace:    Yeah.

Speaker 1:    Thanks for listening to the Art of Relationships. This podcast has only made possible through generous donations from listeners, just like you. If you like it and want to help keep the podcast going, visit our website at and make a donation today.