How To Decide If Relationships Are Really Worth the Agony

Let’s face it; relationships are tough.

While some are definitely harder than others, they all challenge us at times. Even the best ones. This is why we should give thoughtful consideration when entering into new ones.

Some are chosen for us: family, teachers, coworkers, and Uber drivers. Sometimes we get lucky. Our parents and coworkers are wonderful people and the teacher is inspiring. But, sometimes our luck runs out. The Uber driver is a disgruntled, ex-husband, who rambles incessantly about alimony, working three jobs, and his bad luck at the blackjack table. Suddenly, a twenty-minute ride to the airport feels like forever.

Thankfully, we do have control over other relationships: friends, lovers, and Facebook followers, to name a few. When chosen wisely, we’re able to build positive, supportive networks that enrich our lives. However, poor judgment often results in ghosting, unfollowing, and other awkward situations.

But, awkwardness is easy when compared to escaping truly toxic relationships. These can wreak havoc on a person’s life and they’re not as simple to get out of. This is why we should choose wisely. Before making new connections it’s helpful to learn about the person’s background and what worldview they bring to the party. Their mindset about life’s most important issues is a good indicator of what that “party” may ultimately look like.


Worldview is a person’s belief system about four core areas: attitude, ideology, philosophy, and religion. Attitude describes their basic approach to things, such as optimistic versus pessimistic. Ideology defines their values concerning economics and politics. Philosophy addresses fundamental questions of life and the universe, while religion encompasses beliefs and practices related to spiritual matters. The individual interpretation of these areas reflects their personality and behavior patterns. 

One’s belief system begins to form during early childhood. Children are raised according to their parent’s or caretaker’s own worldview. They have no choice or input over where they live or go to school, how many siblings they have, whether they attend church, or which political views they’re indoctrinated with. 

Years later they’re exposed to different ideas and opinions, which are often in direct conflict with their own. Some people seek out further understanding and change their positions accordingly. Others reject thinking contrary to their own and remain bonded to what they’ve been taught.

This unwillingness to see another’s perspective is problematic. We should be wary of those unwilling to listen to and consider other points of view. Rigid thinking keeps people stuck in old patterns and prevents the growth necessary to thrive in relationships. 

Because relationships form the foundation of our mental and emotional health, we shouldn’t make snap judgments about a new acquaintance. We’re all on our best behavior with people we don’t know well and only reveal our true selves with those we’re closest to.

“Sometimes you have to get to know someone really well to realize you’re really strangers.” ~Mary Tyler Moore

Fortunately, there are warning signs to watch out for.

Unhealthy Behavior

Most toxic people exhibit certain characteristics. Controlling behavior is big one. They want to dictate how others live their lives. How they dress, who their friends are, how to manage their careers, etc. Sometimes it’s unintentional, but if done consistently and on purpose, it’s for purely manipulative reasons.

At times it may be for a good cause, like the other person’s health. Suggesting to a loved one that they should quit smoking isn’t necessarily being a control freak. However, badgering them daily about their habit probably won’t persuade them to stop and will place added strain on the relationship. Being controlled by someone, whether it’s through their bad habits or constant nagging, robs us of our truth and freedom.

Passive-aggressive behavior is also destructive. Consisting of negative emotions, it’s expressed in subtle ways meant to coerce another person’s conduct. Passive-aggressive people hide their true feelings and refuse to discuss whatever is bothering them. Rather than solving problems through honest communication, they deny their anger. Controlling people often use this tactic.

Diminishing someone’s personality, whether overtly or covertly, is another red flag. Beware of anyone who uses character assassination to put others down. Watch how they treat people in subordinate positions, like the server or cashier. People who respect themselves treat others the same way, regardless of who they are.

Accountability is a hallmark of healthy people. They own their mistakes and recognize that being human means we all mess up at times. Justifying bad behavior by blaming others (i.e. “look at what you made me do”) is a copout. Nobody’s perfect and the ability to laugh at oneself is a desirable trait.

Likewise, negativity can ruin friendships. It slowly chips away at an otherwise good relationship. No one enjoys being with people who constantly see the dark side. When life rains on our parade, as it often does, it’s helpful to have a tribe to remind us that the sun will shine again.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” ~Maya Angelou

Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships begin with honesty and mutual respect. We don’t have to agree on every issue, but respecting another’s thoughts and opinions is crucial. 

It’s also important to be considerate of their feelings, even if we don’t understand their motivation. Life experiences shape our feelings and those can vary greatly from person to person. A casual remark, made in jest, might stir a painful memory. That’s the time to be transparent and explain why it’s hurtful. Educating others through honesty helps them understand us better.

Growth equals success in any relationship. Learning what works, what doesn’t work, and committing to positive change cultivates a healthy environment. People who encourage and support each other enjoy greater satisfaction. Those who don’t will struggle to get along. Think of that coworker who isn’t a team player. They won’t step outside their job description to help anybody else.

Values like integrity, compassion, and accountability can’t be compromised without selling out who we are as people. Honoring those values makes us happier and more fulfilled. We should never lower our standards for anyone. People who share the same values have rewarding partnerships compared to those who don’t.

Four people with their arms around each other in a healthy relationship

Another component of a healthy relationship is goals. Do you want the same things in life? Whether it’s having children or starting your own business, a shared vision provides the incentive necessary to work together. Flexibility should exist wherever compromise is possible, but having eyes on the same prize helps a lot. It keeps us focused and moving in the same basic direction.

All relationships add some meaning to our lives. They provide a sense of purpose by being a part of something larger than ourselves. They also offer emotional and social support to fight stress. Think of the worst moments you’ve suffered and how they were made bearable by the compassion of another person. 

Despite our best efforts, we are human and will fail on occasion. Acceptance of this fact and the ability to forgive – ourselves and others – allows us to develop as individuals.

During good times the shared camaraderie brings us happiness. We have others to celebrate life’s many joys. During hard times they’re a network that will sustain and care for us.

However, relationships are a two-way street. Each person has a responsibility to themselves and the other person. Before investing our time and emotions, we should carefully weigh what the potential return on investment will be. And are we prepared to offer what they need from us?

Some connections are casual while others are more permanent. Knowing a person in-depth is essential to deciding whether to move forward with a relationship and if it will stand the test of time.

Choose wisely.


Weekend Coffee Share | Self-Love

Weekend Coffee ShareIf we were having coffee this weekend I’d ask you what your thoughts on self-love are.

Because love, like charity, begins at home and I’m curious as to whether you agree with this idea.

I don’t feel it’s possible to love others if we don’t love ourselves first. 

And it took a long time for me to learn this important lesson. I always believed that a good person puts the needs of others first. To do otherwise was just plain selfish

So, I focused on doing for others and often neglected myself. Who doesn’t love a martyr, right?

That’s not to say that we should shirk our obligations and always put ourselves first; that really would be selfish! But, we have a responsibility to take care of our own needs, as well. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t understand this and wasn’t able to strike a healthy balance. Occasionally I’d become resentful of the people I sacrificed for when they didn’t seem “grateful enough.”

Eventually, I learned about codependence. This is a relationship where both parties are over dependent on each other. A codependent individual needs to be needed in order to feel okay about themselves. 

Once I realized that I was engaging in this type of behavior I began the hard work to change. 

Wants vs Needs

An important first step was to learn the difference between wants and needs. We tend to use these words interchangeably when they actually refer to very different things.

Wants are the things we wish for like tickets to a concert or a new car. They vary from person to person and change over time. These are the “extras” that make us happy but aren’t necessary to live a meaningful life.

Maslow-HierarchyREVThe excitement we feel in attaining them is somewhat short-lived. As time goes by that initial thrill wanes and they’re replaced with a yearning for the next desire.

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow devised the Hierarchy of Needs. This five level pyramid begins at the bottom with the most basic needs and moves upward toward the final level that he calls self-actualization. It is here that honesty, independence, awareness, objectivity, creativity, and originality reside. 

Maslow’s theory is that only a minority of people are able to self-actualize because it requires these more uncommon qualities.

Needs are those things we must have to live healthy, functional lives. Food, water, and shelter are the obvious physical ones. They remain constant over time. Emotional needs refer to those necessary for good mental health: self-esteem, approval, and a sense of security. 

The ability to differentiate between the two is important in how we prioritize and make choices in everyday life. We’re also better equipped to recognize this ability, or a lack thereof, in other people.  


 Self-love is the act of valuing your own happiness and well-being. When we see ourselves as worthy of kindness and compassion, we more easily view others in the same way. 

Love Yourself REVAs an important component of self-esteem, it enables us to have confidence and a positive self-image.

Without it, we feel the need to constantly “measure up” to self-imposed and societal standards. If that doesn’t happen then we feel like failures, unworthy of respect for ourselves and others. 

This challenge is based on the work of  Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston. She tells us that self-love is our birthright, that we aren’t required to earn it, but we must believe in it in order to achieve our best selves.

That can be a tall task in today’s world. The race to be smarter, younger-looking, healthier, richer, thinner, etc. is overwhelming. We’re barraged with products and services that can “improve” and make us more successful. 

To overcome this, I remind myself of this quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

Tell me who admires and loves you, and I will tell you who you are. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Changing negative behaviors requires diligence and strength, but we must first be aware of the behavior. Once we identify these unfavorable attitudes towards ourselves we must remember that only through growth can we change.

We always have the opportunity for self-improvement; growth is ongoing as long as we want it and are willing to do the necessary work to achieve it.

Cultivating self-love requires attention and practice. This should be our focus and hopefully, the moments of negativity will dissipate. The goal is to replace it with a spirit of kindness and caring, not only for ourselves, but others as well!

Revised & reposted from 2017








Remembering the Sabbath

A row of ornate brown wooden church pews

Ahh…Sundays; who doesn’t love them?

Well, probably all the folks who have to punch a clock. This means anyone employed in a service industry, such as retail, restaurants, or the medical field. I spent many years in the retail sector and don’t miss working evenings, weekends, and those frantic holidays.

Some of you may remember when stores were closed on Sundays, or had reduced hours. The idea was to keep the day open for church and family. My first job at 16 was at a grocery store, which was open from 9am to 9pm, Monday through Saturday. We were closed on Sundays. A few years after I started they began Sunday hours from 10am to 2pm.

For Christians, Sunday is a day of worship. I have fond memories attending church with my grandma where the members were called “born again.” As a small child I didn’t understand; I thought being born was something you only did once. Later, after listening to enough sermons, I understood the concept. Whenever someone asked if I went to church I said that I went to the Born Again one on Cedar Avenue.

The building was small with a center aisle leading to the altar, which consisted of a raised platform with a rail around it. In the center was the podium that held a large Bible. All the women sat on the left side and wore dresses and what appeared to be doilies on their heads. Pants were not allowed. They also weren’t permitted to wear jewelry other than wedding rings. The men sat on the right in dark suits and shoes. It had a simple design; minimalist with no ornate architecture or stained glass windows. The church was plain like its members.

I enjoyed the hymns and listening to my great-aunt’s voice quiver as she tried to hit the high notes, but failed. The organ was played by the pastor’s daughter, an awkward teenager who managed a few notes off key each week, but I still thought it was lovely. She wore a doily and I was jealous. Neither she nor I were old enough; you had to be 18. But, they made an exception because she played the organ. 

A child's praying hands

After the gathering prayers there was a Bible study for the adults, while the kids had Sunday school in one of the back rooms of the church. I loved Sunday school and hearing the stories from the Bible. We did fun crafts with cool things like pipe cleaners and pasta noodles. There were songs and Bible verses. If we minded the teacher we usually got a cookie. After that the children joined the adults for the main service.

I tried desperately to pay attention, but it was hard. The pastor was a nice man who gave long-winded exhortations and heavily punctuated them with the word “Lord.” What I remember most were his stories of hell; that fiery pit of damnation, where all sinners went after death. Sinning involved things like gambling, dancing, and going to the movies. Spending time in beer gardens would earn you a one-way ticket to the devil’s house, as well. Then there was the sin of coveting. You could covet your neighbor’s goods, including their wife, but it wasn’t advisable. Interestingly, I never heard him talk about coveting your neighbor’s husband.

I was still young and had no interest in gambling or beer, but I did like dancing and movies. And jewelry. I was guilty of wanting some things the other kids had, so that meant I was a coveter.

He went into great detail about the horrors these evil-doers could expect and described their “grinding and gnashing of teeth” when they were thrown into the fiery pit. I didn’t ever want to go there, but worried constantly about whether I could tow the line.

Sometimes people from other Born Again churches came for something called Fellowship. I liked Fellowship Sundays because they involved a luncheon and yummy desserts like Grandma’s pineapple squares. In a room off the kitchen they would set up a long table filled with mismatched dishes for a potluck feast. These delicious foods were put in the oven on low temperatures until the end of the morning services. The kitchen was right next to the church where the congregation sat and the tantalizing aromas made it especially hard to focus on the pastor’s lengthy sermon.

It was fun playing with the kids from the visiting churches, whom we only saw once in awhile. The downside was the extra long homilies. Our pastor and the visiting one both took a turn at the pulpit and it cut into the fun parts of Fellowship.

Holy Bible on a stand

There’s also nice memories from our Sunday school holiday programs. Prior to Christmas and Easter each year, we would receive a typed out Bible verse on a scrap of paper, which had to be memorized. If I received one longer than two sentences I panicked. I was terrified of forgetting my lines and believed anything over two sentences was tempting fate.

Ater our Christmas program we received a small box of candy wrapped and tied with a pretty bow. For Easter we received a small chocolate bunny, but these gifts came with a stern reminder of the true “reason of the season.” We were never to forget that it was Christ’s birth and resurrection. I always thanked Jesus before enjoying the Christmas candy or biting the ears off the rabbit.

Christmas caroling is another wonderful memory I have of those days. It was always snowy in December and we crunched over the icy sidewalks singing in our best voices. People would open their doors or come onto their porches smiling broadly and nodding. Sometimes they joined in with our singing. After we finished they would clap and thank us for bringing them good tidings of great joy. It made me feel quite important and happy inside. After all, it’s not everyday that you get to bring good tidings of great joy. Usually, you have to be at school or work, if you’re a grown up.

Caroling at the nursing home was another story. As a little kid I didn’t understand why some of the old people didn’t smile and nod. Or clap when we finished. A few of them would stare at us, expressionless. They suffered from awful bedhead and their eyes appeared to see things I couldn’t, and it scared me. It also felt far too warm for the weird smells that circulated. I thought a few cracked windows might do the trick. There was a mixture of sadness and fear in my heart every year that we visited. Once we were back outside in the fresh air there was relief. I never outgrew these feelings and they remained as I visited my own parents in their respective nursing homes. For different reasons, of course.

Our memories are selective and we tend to recall happy times, while letting the somber ones slip away. Reminiscing about those early years at the Born Again church makes me happy. It’s a strong connection to my elders who are now all gone. My grandma, great-aunts and great-uncles. The friends I made back then are also gone from my life.

I left the church around the age of 15. I wanted to wear makeup and jewelry and go to the movies and dances. I wanted to play card games and do a lot ot the things that were frowned upon. I believed you could be a good person with or without the doily.

But, I learned the stories of the Bible, the Ten Commandments, and that we’re supposed to love our neighbors. I learned about forgiveness and being forgiven. Despite rejecting some of their practices, I kept the truly valuable lessons.

I’m grateful to my grandma for helping instill the tenets of what it takes to be a good and decent person, with or without the church. She gave me many gifts throughout my life, but that was the most precious of all.

Every time I do the right thing or make the right choice I think of her. And that’s a legacy that I know she would be proud of.

Photo credits: Pixabay