Girlfriending Part Four: My Story of Finding Mutuality in Friendship

Wish we were sharing space right now. My space is unusually sacred…or at least it feels unusually sacred this morning! My mom picked up Liam for a few hours and my heart is so thankful. After a few weeks, even the most in love mama’s heart needs an ever loving moment of quiet in her home! I rejoice in the noise and at this moment, I rejoice in the silence. And in the presence of my latte to my left. And in music playing loudly to set a tone in this space. Like I said, I wish we were sharing the space. That is, as long as you’d be okay sitting quietly with me!

Good morning girlfriends! Ahhhh I know that plenty of people will read this well after morning time, but I love the phrase ‘good morning.’ It’s happy. It’s hopeful. It’s like a latte in the early hours. Heart lifting. So good morning to you!

If you’re a process person and want to read the three posts on girlfriending leading up to this one, here you go. Part one, part two, and part three.

May I just say that this series on girlfriending has been so meaningful to me? It means so much to me that I have had the honor of sharing it with you. That you have done me the honor of reading. This topic is near and dear to my heart and I have enjoyed the process of hashing it out with you. I have a feeling I will read back in a few months and see many tweaks to be made so thanks for embracing the raw first version with me. The last two Fridays were delightful off weeks from blogging for me because vacation happened! PRAISES! It was good and I am thankful – I mean, look at that placid blanket of green and blue creation behind us!

But I am jumping back into the series today and maybe it’s the latte, maybe it’s the music, I don’t know but my fingers are tingly as I type. I’d like to tell you a story today. It’s another piece of my story and it has to do with my journey to developing mutuality in girlfriending. Ever since I tapped on mutuality as a sign of health in relationships, I knew that there was more to that point and I’m hoping to dig deeper together this morning.

When you look up the definition of the word mutual or mutuality – the most common word you’ll find defining it is the word ‘shared.’ Think about toddlers learning to share (particularly relevant in my world at the moment lol!). A huge part of sharing inevitably becomes taking turns. ‘Okay Liam, now Isaiah gets ten minutes to play with the toy. Your ten minutes are over. Take your hands off of the toy and let him enjoy it. No crying.’ Every single little human struggles to embrace the concept! And as we grow in age, it gets more complicated but we still encounter moments of struggling to share – to give and to take.

Are your relationships marked by mutuality? Do you both take time to dig at each other’s hearts at some point? Can you both easily see when one of you needs the ‘spotlight’ for a bit and go with that? And after, does she have a heart to check in with you? Of course, mutuality does not mean 50/50. There’s no such thing as striking the perfect balance. This is referring more to an overall tone to the relationship. If you take a step back at look at your time spent together from high up – is your conversational time spent talking about both of your journeys or more about one of your journeys? Big picture is the only way to take an honest look at this because certainly, we go through seasons and I may be in a season where I am the one who is simply weak and needs a lot more than the other. If we were to look at that one season, it would look whacked out of balance. Look at the whole of the relational journey.

And here’s where we come to my personal journey with mutuality. There are two types in relationships: the giver and the taker. Healthy girlfriending is marked by stepping into both roles – back and forth.

For many years, I was the chronic giver.

To some, it may have looked awesome. I had plenty of close friendships and they were truly enjoyable. Friends shared honestly with me because I tried to listen with compassion instead of judgement and spoke words of life. Sister, if there has ever been a good conversationalist/question asker – it. is. me. I can keep you talking for hours. One question leads to the next. I may start with a general question but after you give your answer I can pick up on what’s potentially behind the answer and ask the next question. Before you know it – we are knee-deep. Kind of like a personal psychologist LOL!

For a long time, I felt great about playing that role. It felt good to give. It was natural to me. Often, it was even what I would say was a role God had given me to walk out. He met me there and He helped me love on people right where they were.

But, can you see the pitfalls to always being the giver? Can you read beneath my words to see the roots of my actions?

You probably can, smartypants! You guessed it – being the giver was, in reality, self-protection, insecurity and pride all wrapped into one big ball of being a ‘great conversationalist.’ Self-protection: if I can keep you talking my vulnerability is nice and low in the relationship. Insecurity: is it okay for me to be needy? For me to ask for attention? How do I even DO THAT????????????? Pride: I’m not needy. I’ve got my junk together people. You’re the one who needs me.

UGLY. Not healthy. Not good. It took a lot of years for the Lord to start prodding me into more and more discomfort with always being in the giver position. Because life happens. We ALL hit moments of genuine need and we have innate and God-given desire to put it all out there to a trusted friend for feedback, input and prayer. At first, it started as this little thought quietly within me ‘Grrrr who can I even talk to about this? Is anyone here for me or do I always just have to be there for them? Surely someone can pick up on the fact that I need to talk, why isn’t anyone initiating with me???’ In other words, ‘What’s wrong with these people?’ LOL. You see where this is going.

Well, the Lord is thorough if He is anything, my friend. He did prompt the discomfort and dissatisfaction within me, but then He started showing me the next step. Oh shoot. It’s not them. It’s me. I have created this. In essence, I had trained my friends to receive from me. I had told them, through my actions, ‘don’t worry. I don’t need you to think about me. This can be all about you.’ (PS – I should mention that not ALL of my friendships were like this. There were treasures of friends just waiting for me to crack open so that they could return the favor. This was simply the pattern that the Lord was trying to teach me about.)

How had I created this? By making sure that I was the one mostly doing the question asking. By giving answers to their questions that were honest but short and quickly followed by another question aimed at them. By not really letting there be moments of space or silence within the conversation. By not being weak in front of them when I felt weak. The list goes on, but I think you get the gist.

This did not add up to mutuality in my girlfriending. It added up to a tired and spent me.

Now what’s a girl to do with this kind of realization? Well, for a question asker, asking different questions was the right answer. Which did NOT feel good. It did not feel natural. I was retraining myself as much as anyone else. A few things that the Lord started to lead me in were:

– Asking myself before we hung out, how do I feel? Is something going on that I really should be transparent about? Do I feel strong or do I feel frustrated? If the answer was frustrated then I needed to make sure I didn’t keep the conversation moving at lightning speed…allow for some silence.

– Finding some key phrases that worked for me. They were like little flags I could throw up in an effort to shift the dynamic away from me giving to me receiving. Some of my phrases were/are: “Actually, I kind of need to talk.” “I’m struggling.” “Can I get your feedback on something?” “Would you pray with me about something?”

– Forcing myself to talk. Not every one of my friends is as skilled in asking questions as I am. In those cases, they are skilled in different ways that I simply am not. So, in some situations, I know that they won’t ask me the series of prodding questions that I would ask to help someone to open up. Not because they don’t care or they don’t want to hear the answers…the question asking just isn’t in their skill set. In those cases, when I need to talk, I use one of the phrases above and then make myself talk for as long as possible. It sounds so weird and awkward doesn’t it??? If it does, that may mean you’re a chronic giver like I am!

I am so very thankful to be able to say that the Lord has changed a lot in me regarding this area. I have many friends and family members who are great at listening when I need a listening ear. They are great at supporting me. We enjoy mutuality. But it is because I allowed mutuality to grow within our relationship. I could have kept going and going and kept that door safely shut. I am so deeply thankful that He helped me shift, though. I still LOVE being the giver because He made me that way! But now, I realize that there is nothing He created to only give. All of creation gives and takes. Flowers drink up water and sunshine and receive pollen from bees. Clouds give out water and then they stop giving out water. Horses run hard and then stop to eat the grass and drink the water. At work, we work hard for the morning and then stop to eat food at lunch and give our brains a rest. It is the design of His creation! Mutuality is laced throughout everything He does because HE IS MUTUAL. He receives from us. Mind blowing. Not because innately He needs us but because He chooses to need and receive from us. If He chooses to be a taker sometimes, then shoot! I better get on the bandwagon, too!

A few notes in closing. First, not every girlfriend relationship is totally mutual. Again, refrain from thinking in terms of a 100% goal and look at big picture patterns. There are relationships that are very dear to me that aren’t necessarily marked by mutuality. There are other reasons those relationships are meaningful and important to me. Second, I have obviously only talked about givers because that’s what I am intimately acquainted with. If you have the courage and grace to honestly take a look and see that your pattern is more in the camp of being a taker – way to go! That takes guts to admit but it’s a very very positive thing to realize. My simple tips would be to start praying about it with the Lord and then to start going into time with a friend with a few questions ready to go to get them talking for a change. If you need to talk about something deeply – do it. But then, pull yourself together and at the end say something like “Thank you so much for listening and talking with me about that. But I want to hear about you now! Tell me something that’s going on in your life.”

Whew! This one was really something! I feel spent in a good way :). I am CERTAIN you have thoughts on mutuality. Please reach out to me with your thoughts! My journey towards mutuality is not complete or perfect. He is still prompting me and teaching me…so thankful for that. But all I can say is that the more I have made space for mutuality, the more beautiful, life-giving, and rich my girlfriending has become. I am convinced it matters.

Happy weekending my friend! I pray it’s full of rich and mutual interactions :).

Lots of love,
Abi

P.S. Here’s one of my dears. We became friends in high school Freshman year book class. We’ve been bridesmaids in each other’s weddings and now we share the experience of raising boys. Treasure. Yep – this was Freshman beauty at its best folks.

1 Comment

  1. That was a really great post! Mutuality is definitely something I am slowly learning the past few months, so your words connected deeply!

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