Letting Go of a Relationship That Stresses You

Research shows that having ambivalent friendships in your life—relationships where interactions are sometimes supportive and positive and sometimes hostile or negative—can actually cause more stress than relationships that are consistently negative.

This is, in part, because you never quite relax when you are around these people, but you don't keep your guard entirely up either, so you are more vulnerable when there is conflict. It is similar to chronic stress, where your body never fully recovers from the stress you experience before becoming triggered by the next stressor you face in life. Ultimately, it takes quite a toll.

Relationship conflict and stress have also been shown to have a clear negative impact on health, affecting blood pressure, contributing to heart disease, and correlating with other conditions.

Your relationship conflicts truly take a toll on your physical health and affect your emotional well-being as well. This can be tough psychologically. It can leave you feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, and less confident in handling other stress you face in life. 

It is in your best interest to reevaluate your relationships, identify the taxing ones, and minimize or even eliminate these negative relationships in your life. The following plan can help you to minimize the stress of ambivalent relationships when you need to.

Your Social Circle Relationships

three teenage girls (16-18) laughing
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Make a list of friendships in your life. Include everyone you think of when you think of your ‘friends’, including those you only see on social media, those you see regularly, and everyone in between. Also include romantic partners, if they're in your life now or may come back into your life at some point.

Questions to Ask When Assessing a Relationship

Your perspective can affect your stress levels.
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Circle the names of people who you know are positive: those who support you when you’re down and genuinely share your joy when good things happen to you. As for the others, evaluate the relationship honestly to see if it’s a benefit or a detriment to you.

Questions to Ask:

  • Is this relationship worth the amount of work required to maintain it?
  • Is this a person I would choose to have in my life if we just met today? Or have I been holding onto this relationship out of habit?
  • Does this person make me feel good about myself? Am I uncomfortable around them?
  • Is this friend competitive with me in a negative way?
  • Do I like who I am when I’m with them? Or do we seem to bring out the worst in each other?
  • How deeply can I trust this person? Could I count on them if I needed to? Could I share my feelings freely?
  • Do we have common interests and values? If not, do I benefit from the differences?
  • Am I receiving as much as I give?
  • If I gave this relationship the effort it deserves, would it benefit me and enrich my life?

After answering some of these questions, you should have a clearer picture of whether this relationship is positive or negative for you. Circle the person’s name if you believe that the relationship is positive and supportive, or if it could be, given an appropriate amount of time and energy. Otherwise, cross off the name.

Moving Forward

social support emotional friends
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Now put more of a focus on the relationships you have with the people whose names are circled.

Healthy and supportive relationships are worth the time and energy you put into them. Give them the time and attention that they deserve.

As for the names that are crossed off, you can decide whether you want to keep sending them holiday cards and maintain a friendly rapport when you see them by chance, or if you want to make a clean break. But don’t allow them to continue to add stress and negativity to your life. Reserve your energy for your true friends.

If some of the names you encounter are those of family members, co-workers, or people who are for some other reason difficult to eliminate or even avoid, this article on ​dealing with difficult people can help you to deal with them in a way that will reduce the stress they can bring into your life.

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  1. Rook KS, et al. Ambivalent versus Problematic Social Ties: Implications for Psychological Health, Functional Health, and Interpersonal Coping. Psychol Aging. 2012;27(4). doi:10.1037/a0029246