How to Break Up with a Friend

Ending any relationship, whether business, romantic, or platonic, is never very comfortable. Depending on the nature of the friendship, sometimes you can just let it fade away (a choice you don’t have in the workplace or romantically!).

Sometimes, though, closure is best, and you’ll need to have a conversation to clarify the situation. Maybe someone isn’t fading out as you would expect in response to your unavailability, or maybe he or she is directly asking for an explanation. Perhaps the relationship has become so toxic to you that you need to sever the ties kindly but clearly.

Maybe you need to do it because the friend or friendship has changed so much that you don’t want the friendship to continue or you recognize that the friendship has been unhealthy for you from the start.

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Some examples include friends who are:

1. constant energy drains
2. untrustworthy
3. narcissistic
4. critical of you
5. flaky and unreliable

Although it’s tempting to continue to tolerate the friendship because it seems so difficult to end, it’s better to move on, allowing room for better friends to come into your life.

The people we choose to hang around with should add to our lives, not detract from them regularly and consistently. All friends go through tough times during which they might exhibit the qualities above, or worse. When it’s a chronic, incurable situation, though, it’s time to end the friendship and move on.

Like any other relationship you’re ending, be direct, kind, and respectful to other person. Focus on your needs, not what they’re doing wrong (“it’s me, not you”). As much as you don’t want to be close to the person anymore, you don’t want to turn him or her into an enemy; you want to create a neutral situation.

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When preparing for any difficult conversation, it’s a good idea to have your talking points in mind and to bring the conversation back to those points as much as possible.

For example, under most circumstances you probably shouldn’t tell a friend that she drains your energy and you don’t want to hang around with her because you feel exhausted after you see her. Instead, when facing questions, you might want to keep coming back to not having that much in common or how you just don’t feel the connection to the friendship that you once had. When pressed for more information, just keep circling back to your talking points. Your points are truthful, yet not unnecessarily hurtful.

Always trust your own heart and judgment, though, and if you truly feel it is in your friend’s best interests to hear the full details, then give them. Just be absolutely certain that you aren’t acting from your own misplaced ego and desires first.

Have you ever ended a friendship? How did you handle it?

(This the fourth article in a 4-part series about friendship.  Read How to Find Good Friends, How to Save a Friendship, and How to be a Good Friend, too. Enjoy!).


How to Break Up with a Friend — 4 Comments

  1. One friend became quite critical of me after she married a judge. Actually, she became critical of most of her friends.
    I took the easy way out, by not being available when she wanted to go out and do things.
    Not the most adult way to handle stuff, but I was 23 years old at the time. It didn’t occur to me to even have a conversation with her.
    I would do things much differently now.

  2. It’s an interesting point. It’s a tough balancing act: Being a good friend vs. taking care of yourself. I suppose one good way to balance it is to reach out, open a conversation about the behavior that hurts you, and see what the other person does. At the end of the day, though, if the other person isn’t willing or able to change or their path is in a different direction from yours, I think it’s reasonable to let the friendship go.

  3. I don’t think being nice or having to lie is the answer to the conversation with a friend. Lying or covering up the truth doesn’t help yourself or the other person. I recently broke up with a friend that the conversation was not an option…turns out her husband was the problem and I know the friend would have blamed me. Ah not a friend is right. I didn’t see the signs, just coasted until…..

  4. Thank you for your feedback, Joan! I think it depends on the circumstances and the level of friendship, and different things will work at different times. I’m sorry about the situation with your friend :(.