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What are the red flags that a friendship is not healthy?

red-flags2I’m continuing Christy’s story from the past post, as there has been so much interest — she provides a wonderful model for us in getting healthy.

In The Song of Songs we are urged to catch the little foxes that nibble away at our love for the Lord — and unhealthy friendships certainly do that.  I told you that Christy had an unhealthy pattern of friendships, but she had healthier friends who saw it. What red flags did they see?  Lori Thorkelson has a book called Emotional Dependency (available used from Amazon) in which she lists some of those flags:

• experiences frequent jealousy, possessiveness, and a desire for exclusivism,viewing other people as a threat to the relationship
• prefers to spend time alone with this friend and becomes frustrated when this
does not happen
• becomes irrationally angry or depressed when this friend withdraws slightly

Christy is so healthy now — she laughs about herself now. She tells how “Brooke” had the nerve to bring her boyfriend to Christy’s Christmas party. That’s when Christy began to wonder if she had the flu.

I think that most women have experienced this to some degree.  I know that I was too possessive as a young woman — when my husband was so busy and God gave me a good friend, I did expect her to be available when I wanted her to be! I ran to her before I ran to the Lord.

What about you? What signs has God helped you to see as warnings?

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45 comments

  1. I am glad you are talking about this subject, because I would really like to know how to have a “healthy” friendship – what that looks like, and I would also like to learn how to be a healthy friend. I guess my question would be – what place should a friend have in your life? What does that look like? I could really use a picture.

    I am now 50 years old, and I have been single, my whole life. I have had some unhealthy friendships and at times, I think I have been an “unhealthy” friend. I think of that verse where it says, it’s not good that “man” should be alone – but what exactly did He mean by that. What kind of friendships should we have?

    Being single, as someone said in the last blog, has it’s pros and cons. It’s true. I love the freedom that singleness gives you to be able to help people. That is truly one of the gifts that God gives you in singleness. And being single even forces you sometimes to depend upon God, because sometimes He is the only one you have and it is not altogether a bad thing – perhaps we see our dependence on God a little more clearly. He makes Himself real, and He is faithful, and that is alot!

    I guess, one of my questions would be – what should you expect from your friends – if anything? I mean I think a friend should be loyal, faithful, loving – someone who can speak truth into your life – these qualities to me are a sign of a friend.

    In my stumblings (having made these mistakes already), one red flag, I would say, in an unhealthy friend, would be an overdependence on you, where it just doesn’t feel right. I would like to say, I saw the red flag and having seen it, avoided it, but instead, I think I was more like the fool in proverbs, having seen it, ignored it, and went straight ahead. And I have also been on the opposite end of a friendship, where I have overly depended on someone and just scared them away. Now, I am unclear about what a friendship looks like – am looking forward to your discussion!

  2. I think it is especially hard to have a friendship with someone else who is emotionally dependant. I’ve found myself looking to people instead of the Lord and coming away angry and upset. The problem doesn’t seem to be in having friends, but in looking to them for your emotional security and wellbeing. I had one friend that really let me have it with both barrels when I was going through an intensely dark time. It hurt and I was devastated by her lack of compassion, but I realize now that it was for the best. I had a husband in the hospital and 3 sick kids. I had also just found out that I was sick as well. I needed someone to tell me it was going to be okay and what I got was a rude comment and the phone slammed down in my ear. It hurt, but I realize now that the Lord was right beside me the whole time.

    I think alot of us have no clue what a healthy friendship is. I also think it starts when we’re little and we interact with our family. I’d like to know what the Lord wants for us regarding friendships. Thank you so much for this, Dee! You are such a bright spot in my life! (((warm hugs)))

      1. Dee, I have a question in response to your response to Jean, how do you truly forgive someone who has betrayed you, someone to whom you have let into your heart? And should you ever confront someone like that, and what would you say?

  3. I’ve actually been thinking about this….how Jesus is my best friend. I believe the Lord brings people into your life, sometimes for a season, sometimes for a lifetime. Sometimes there is something He wants to teach you through them, or He wants you to minister to them. They belong to Him, and He is free to bring them, free to take them. They are ours to enjoy for a time, but not to hold unto. Each one is a special gift from God, uniquely created by Him, and I love to see how wonderfully He has fashioned His people. I delight to see how we fit together in the body of Christ, but there is no friend like Jesus who “sticks closer than a brother.” Everyone else will let you down at some time or another, but no doubt I do the same to them, and grace does prevail! Enough!

    Abrazos Hermana!

    1. Delightful comments! Thank you Sally!

    2. I love this post, Sally. And I agree with you.

      You said: “They belong to Him, and He is free to bring them, free to take them. They are ours to enjoy for a time, but not to hold unto.”

      I think of the verse in Galations which tells us that it is for freedom that we have been set free. I am finding that my desire is to walk in greater and greater freedom in Him, and to be set freer by Him, in my life. That concept extends to my friendships as well. I find that my friendships are healthier, deeper and more meaningful when I have my identity firmly established in Him, and where my deepest needs are being met through Him. This sets me free to have a bit of a ‘lighter’ approach with my friendships. When He is the constant in my life, I can hold my friendships with a gentler touch, watching some grow and deepen, watching some remain a bit superficial, watching some turn out not to be as I’d first imagined they might be… that sort of thing.

      I am finding great freedom in getting my needs met by Jesus… by falling in love with Jesus… and the result is that I do not have such a need to be needed by others, nor do I need others, in those needy ways that are not life-giving but rather life-draining and life-dulling.

      We all have the emotional need for connection and friendship and love. The more that I turn to Jesus to get filled-up by Him in the emotional areas of my life, the less I’m empty and seeking for others to fill me up. There is tremendous freedom in walking through my life now, connected ever more deeply to the Source of life and love… that intimacy we were talking about in the Bride of Christ/wedding gown thread.

      I need others; no doubt about it. I want others too. We were created for community. And the more that I learn how to let Him pour Himself into me, the freer I am to be connected to others in a healthy, love-sustaining way.

      Sounds simple. It isn’t. It takes work and practice, and mistakes and falling down and getting up and running to Him with skinned knees, and persistence and perseverance to not give up when I’ve been hurt or when I’ve failed again.

      But I keep remembering that it is for freedom that I have been set free. I want freedom in Christ. I want freedom with others. I want freedom within myself. I want love to flow into me, and out of me via my relationships. And I’m finding that those things are not only possible, but are the greater reality of my life because I am more and more relying on my deepening dependence on God to meet my core needs.

      1. Alexandra – I really loved your post! You’ve really helped me to have a better understanding of friendships! As you say, it’s hard work sometimes, falling, getting up, and going on! Thanks for your post, it is good, it’s given me something to think about! Thanks!

  4. I have read Lori’s dependency little book. It is good. But its hard to decipher sometimes if what I am doing or feeling are friendship doings or feelings or not, in lieu of God’s extravagant love.

    One of the sisters here said something like, it just feels wrong. I think that is the Holy Spirit and we need to listen to that feeling.

    I like what was said that Proverbs does warn us to avoid it when we see it. There is the pull at that point. And God’s loving power is there to offer an escape.

    Having said that, some red flags are those wrong feelings which don’t bring peace, we need to take heed. Calling excessively and “nick-names”. Excessive gifts, when you say she is the only one who understands. When your insides are literally twisted, like a drug user without her drugs. I have experienced all of this.

    Right now, I have distanced myself from someone I would love to be friends with, and my insides are aching. I hope my distance would, with God’s overcoming love, redeem my feelings to rightly love God and others.

    1. Love, love, love that story about Bonnie! Awesome!

    2. Thank you Dee. Contrast in 1 Samuel 16:23, I think, is a waiting servant’s heart and spirit in David. It seems like David chooses to honor God in all he does. Is that where you are coming from?

      I know coming out of a perverted way with women, I think about how in Romans 1it shows how Israel could not wait for Moses so they made an idol and turned from their natural way and the women turned to the women, and the men turned to the men and did what was unnatural. All sin is selfish and an act of idolatry choosing a less wild lover rather than God to fulfill your need

      Iron sharpen iron, Scripture says, so there is a place where friendships do strengthen each other, but I think its thinking that other person has it all for you and no one else.

      Truly, truly allowing God to love on us is the key! and the fulfillment of the greatest commandment: To love God with all and love others as ourselves. Without this, I Corinthians 13 says: we are bankrupt.

      Song of Solomon is exactly what we need to soak in or allow to infuse the love of God. (I could not comment on that thread for some reason, technical).

      May God, who is love, continue to show us how like The Lion He is in hot pursuit of our hearts and He is a Jealous Lover.

  5. Dee, what is the difference between safe and unsafe friends and how do you determine if someone is ‘safe’ or not? I’ve had several friends that I thought were safe until push came to shove and then I realized they weren’t at all. The one I mentioned above is a good example of that.

    I have an unhealthy relationship with my mom, so I’m wondering if that was where it all started. She does something for me and then I owe her……..which usually means I’m expected to listen to her tirades about the rest of the family or be at her beck and call. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced a safe friendship. I’ve almost given up on friendships and have just hid in my home, pursuing my hobbies and praying a LOT. I get out, but don’t have anyone I’d call a close friend. I want to be in a healthy friendship, but I don’t know how!

    1. Jean,
      I lead a women’s support group.
      I started it in my church for many reasons, but one reason is because I was finding that so many women (even Christian women) had been hurt by other women and were becoming wary and protective of women in general.
      Now, this group has grown much larger and draws from women from many churches in our community. Our purpose is to heal, change and grow in Christ, individually and together.
      I am currently surprised by the number of wives of pastors and wives of elder/deacons/board members and missionaries who have joined the group, seeking for a place where they can be seen and heard and loved by others for who they really are, inside. Some women are being loved by women for the first time in their lives in this group; and many of us are learning and practicing new and better and deeper ways to care about ourselves and others.

      Have you heard of a book by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Christian psychologists, called Safe People? It’s right on point to your question, and helps you to learn the 20 traits of unsafe people, how to recognize what makes people untrustworthy, how to avoid unhealthy relationships and how to become a safe person yourself!

      Another book by Dr Cloud is Changes that Heal, which might be helpful to you in understanding your past in such areas as bonding with others, separating from others, sorting out the good and bad in ourselves and others, and even how to become an adult. From experience, I can say that it is a scary thing to ‘grow up’ when you are already chronologically an adult!

      Hope those are helpful!

      1. Alexandra,
        Thank you so much for this info. I **just** checked out Changes That Heal from the library! LOL How incredible is the Lord!?! I’ll have to look into getting a copy of Safe People. Thank you for the suggestions. I appreciate it.
        Wish I lived close enough to attend your group. It sounds wonderful! Blessings!

  6. Thank you so much, Dee! I appreciate your prayers. I have the Bible study, The Friendships of Women. Do I also need the book to go along with it as well?

  7. I think manipulation is a red flag. Trying to get you to feel guilty if you do not agree or do not want to do what they want to do. Not accepting you for who God has made you to be.

  8. I have a little side note in my bible entitled “How did Jonathan help David find strength in God?” It says, “This phrase depicts Jonathan as a minister of encouragement to his fearful friend David – one who offers support in the face of a special undertaking. Jonathan’s very presence must have lifted David’s spirits. Beyond that, there was Jonathan’s certainty about God’s will for the future, his own resolve to defer to David, and his admission that even Saul knew what God had planned.”

    I think there are a few reasons why David and Jonathan’s friendship was healthy. One of the main reasons I think that this friendship was healthy was that Jonathan must have had a relationship with God himself, to recognize the anointing that God had placed upon David. I think that Jonathan must have had a humble and obedient heart toward God. He was not “threatened” by his friend’s anointing by God. And by this also, I think that Jonathan must have been secure in his own calling and what He believed God wanted Him to do. I think of all people, Jonathan could have been jealous, for He was next in line for the throne. What a humble guy – not weak.

    1. Teri, I liked about not being afraid of a friends annointing. I think that would come from a Christ centered identity.

      I also liked your comment about not weak, but humble. That is so true.
      Thank you!

  9. Hmm……this may sound strange, but I’m wondering what their friendship looked like from David’s point of view. I mean, I know what the Word of God tells us, but I’m especially struck by the fact that their hearts were knit together. I’ll have to dig in my Bible, but I also *think* I remember it being stated that they were knit together from the first time they met. (or something similar) Am I way off on this? It almost sounds like they were best friends from the start. Kindred spirits, I believe, is what the Word used to describe it.

    1. Jean, I think you are right about being kindred spirits from the start, again, I think that can only come as a result of a solid Christ-centered relationship: us with God first, then another.

  10. Too funny about the transposing 🙂 God overrode that one!

    I Samuel 23:16, in The Message: Jonathan, Saul’s son, visited David at Horesh and encouraged him in God. He said, “Don’t despair. My father, Saul, can’t lay a hand on you. You will be Israel’s king and I’ll be right at your side to help. And my father knows it.” The the two of them made a covenant before God. David stayed at Horesh and Jonathan went home.

    Christ was the center of their relationship. They were more interested in what God’s purpose was for the other, and they took upon themselves to help usher that in. Rather than having a what-can-I-get-out-of-this-relationship attitude, their devotion for each other was how can I help them towards God’s love and purposes.

    Scripture says we are to provoke one another unto love and good works. So, since God is love, we are really provoking one towards a deeper relationship with God. If this is not happening than we need to regroup.

    That is why we need to go as deep as we, individually, can daily towards letting God love us in order to rightly love another. A great book we, as a Sunday school group, read was, Wayne Jacobsen’s book, “He Loves Me.”

    Casting Crowns(a Christian band) has a amazing song: Your Love is Extravagant (I am listening to it now): First stanza: Your love is extravagant/ your friendship intimate/ I feel like moving to the rhythm of your grace/ your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place ….

      1. Hope you enjoy, and it ministers to your heart deeply.

  11. I am picking up on someone’s comment here about being betrayed by a friend “whom they have let into their heart,” I too, have had a friend like that and truthfully, I am not recovering very well. It’s been a while now, with no communication, and I have stopped trying to “bring on” the conversation, because the many attempts I have made at reconcilation, don’t really seem to do anything. But if the truth were told of how I feel, I feel extremely wounded and rejected at the same time. One part of me is angry, like how could you do this to me? You – who I trusted? It was a friend, I considered closest to my heart. If this – that friend – can’t be trusted – who can? I hear what you say about making Jesus 1st in your life, and He is the friend who sticks closer than a brother. Jesus understands because He has been betrayed too, but truthfully, all of that does not make my pain go away. I still feel wounded, I still feel betrayed. I still bleed. Maybe the feeling wounded, the feeling betrayed, the bleeding helps you to be more compassionate toward others, but can you tell me -when do you stop hurting? When can you trust? Whom can you trust? If we are all just flesh and blood, imperfect and our imperfection causes us to hurt one another, then truthfully what is the point of having friends – of letting people into our hearts?

  12. Having just gone through a “thing” with my own mother and a ‘friend’ at the same time, I have to wonder if one of the red flags of an unhealthy relationship isn’t an urgency in trying to help that person. It’s as though you have to do something IMMEDIATELY to help that person. I love my mother, but she knows exactly how to manipulate me. Now that she’s older and having so many health issues, it’s difficult for me to back away from her. She’s got her husband and inlaws to help her and even my sibling, but I find myself feeling sorry for her and feeling like I have to “fix” things for her right NOW.

  13. I think you are right Jean. That insight helps me, now. I pray we pray first then act as we sense what God is doing in the situation, and not a moment before. Thanks for sharing.

  14. What do you do when you discover that your own mother is an alligator and her health is not good? I’m afraid of walking away in case something happens with her, but close contact means I wind up in tears and feeling awful.

    Hope I’m not too off-topic with this. I’m just struggling right now.

  15. Hi Jean! I had a couple thoughts about your Mom, and honoring your parents. I think as Christians we are called to honor our parents and by “honoring” our parents, I believe we please God, the one to whom we are serving. To me, honoring means that I am going to do the best for them and sometimes the “best” isn’t to be at their beckon call. I think it is a little tricky, but I think, as we get alone with God, and ask Him, how to honor our parents and how to help them, He will show us those things, because it is His desire that we do that – it pleases Him and He will show us that balance, then when we are listening to Him, doing what He wants us to do, it actually feels really good!

    When I was younger, I had a grandfather who came and stayed with us in his later years. I loved him very much and actually had a great relationship with him, but I started to notice, every Sunday morning, right before church, he’d want to sit with me and have a long conversation. Now, I loved my grandpa, and actually liked having conversations with him, and I was a little bit torn in my heart, for I thought, he must be lonely. But I am sure, it was the Lord working in my life, helping me to see the subtle “trap”, even a trap set there by the enemy, unbeknowst(I’m sure I proably didn’t spell that right),even to my grandfather, to draw me away from church. The devil is sly. So, I told my grandpa, gramps, I really love ya, but I have to go to church. I think we have to know that when we do the right thing that God takes care of all the other circumstances. God loves people even more than we do, and He knows what is best for them and how to take care of them. He will take care of them, it is our responsibility to do, what God asks us to do and He takes care of the rest.

  16. As I feel like this is another important subject but one in which I feel as if I have a blind spot to. I know I have experienced all of those emotions of possessiveness, and envy and jealousy. Right now, I think I m learning to pull back to a safe distance. I think I have pulled back to the other spectrum of not allowing anywhere near me. I have been the one that was dependent upon another person so for me the red flags are the obsessiveness I would feel for the other person. The thinking about them all the time, allowing it to overtake my entire life to where its the only thing on my mind constantly. And I start to push other people away, especially the ones who have been in my life for awhile.

    1. I sure do wish there was a quick way to heal, but there just isn’t when you’ve been the emotionally dependent party and the friendship has been dissolved. I don’t know what it’s like being on the other end, the friend that finally says enough is enough. We need to end this friendship. Please enlighten me anyone out there that can speak to that.
      Thanks. Maybe being able to feel her perspective will help some.

  17. Right now I am separating from a friend, kind of mutual and initially it felt like I was dying. My heart was literally in pain and left arm, blood pressure when up. Its not pleasant, but decided God is the answer, especially to any kind of idolatry. Going to him and his words and soaking in music has brought faster healing for me.

    Knowing that I do not want anything to hinder my love relationship with God. That may sound pious, but its more desperation. God must be God in our lives to love rightly, even to love ourselves. We say it, talk it, but do we live a crucified life?

    “I am crucified with Christ, therefore I no longer live but Jesus Christ lives in me?” Greater love has no wo/man than this than to lay their lives down for a friend, another Scripture I have used. I want to see Christ formed in her. If that means being away from her.

    The situation with me, is she is pastoral staff, and her and I had a meeting where she basically blamed me and only wanted to talk about my issues not hers. She asked if she and the Senior pastor could pray for me. I would not let that happen until she recognized her part, which she did. It was a mess. We ended hugging and taking one day at a time. I have not heard from her for a week. Its been difficult, but I keep trying to set my mind on God, and put my affection towards him. God honors our coming to him with healing and true love.

    The key is going back to God and letting him make the crooked paths straight.

    I pray this helps, nothing on this earth compares with true intimacy with God and his people.

    It worth your entire life.

    1. This has really been very good Livingloved! And I’ve just gone back and reread a bunch of the posts and am picking out some very good things from them.

      I think it was from Alexandria that I’d gleaned the need to have a type of balance between our friendships and “the friendship” with the Lord. Anyway, whomever you were I give you credit.

      I was recently having a conversation with a friend that I’m just beginning to have more freedom for intimate chats when it hit me, we could go round and round about needing the Lord to be our best friend and the fact that we still needed people as well.I had the theory down but then I began blurting out this talk of balance. It makes perfect sense. It’s Simple/Complex>You unique, wonderful child of good intentions have to work this out with the Master!

      And of course I love all of the conversation of God being literally our greatest love and fulfillment; best friend. It’s my desire to have that relationship. I feel him pulling me in closer as if I’m about to taste something. I’m anticipating!

      This friend of mine has also been struggling regarding wanting a friend and the question then, “Am I in idolatry because this is important to me? I’m wanting one and it’s pretty important to me!” I’ve wondered that before myself.

      Livingloved, I sent you a reply from my email and as it did not show up here, it must just go to you alone when done that way. Good to know.

      There’s much to talk about.

      1. Darrylin, thank you for your intimate response. You said, I feel him pulling me in closer as if I’m about to taste something. I’m anticipating!

        Oh dear friend, yes, definitely, yes! I pray you will let him captivate you, He is a gentle lover wanting to woo you, yeah more than a friend, Hosea says, and Song of Solomon. He is everything you, as a woman ever wanted, needed, yea desired.

        You said some powerful things about wanting friends. I think scripture teaches about having friends because we are made for that, thus loving others as our selves. We should not want others to idolize us as much as a temptations that is. Even Christ, when tempted by the Devil with the glory of having charge of all the kingdoms, said there is only one God and him only shall you serve.

        Again, it must be God first. God wants to fill your appetite for more. God put that anticipation in you. You, We are made for love of all kinds. How to work that out is part of relationship with him. God will show us how to love aright.

        Let us trust God who is love: 1 John 4:8

        God bless us all!