The rules governing romantic love are clearer. But few relationships are meant to last forever.
When you first make a new friend, you probably aren’t thinking about the future and the possibility that the friendship will end. However, it is inevitable that eventually some of your friends will no longer be in your life. People grow apart for various reasons and not every friendship is lifelong.
At the same time, most people aren’t sure of the “rules” of ending friendships. Unlike with romantic relationships, in which there are clear precedents about how to “break up” with someone and clear labels to refer to whether you are “in” or “out” of a relationship, the same is not true for friendships.
This can leave you in a strange sort of limbo where you no longer want to be friends with someone but don’t know how to get to that new place.
Reasons for Ending a Friendship
Before you decide on a course of action for ending a friendship, it’s helpful to outline for yourself the reasons why you no longer want to be friends with a particular person. This helps you to move forward as you end the friendship.
One way to do this is by journaling your feelings. This allows you a safe space to get out your thoughts without discussing them with other people. Of most importance, don’t discuss your feelings with the friend you want to break up with until they are clear in your own mind—if you choose to do so at all.
Below are some common reasons why you might choose to end a friendship:
- Circumstances: Your lives have changed (no longer working together, going to the same school, etc.).
- Distance: You’ve grown apart in terms of interests or commitments.
- Lying: Your friend is deceitful.
- Negativity: Your friend spends more time cutting you down than building you up.
- Obligation: The person has become an obligatory friend who you no longer enjoy.
- Rivalry: The person is actually a frenemy (a friendly rival).
- Toxicity: The friend has become a toxic person in your life.
- Values: Your values have become opposed in some way.
Again, because there is so little information on how to “break up” with a friend, and it is rarely talked about, most people don’t know how to end a friendship, and they may not even know when they are justified in wanting to do so.
Know that a friend should never ask you to compromise your integrity, go against your values or commitments, tell a lie, or hurt someone by doing something. Although it may feel like a significant loss to lose a friend, someone who no longer is making your life better does not deserve that space in your life.
Unhelpful Ways to End a Friendship
Before we talk about the best ways to end a friendship, it’s helpful to consider some of the worst ways. While some of these tactics might be appropriate in certain situations, in general, they are not helpful strategies and should be avoided.
- Becoming hostile or aggressive
- Cutting off all contact cold turkey
- Ending the friendship over text or chat
- Enlisting other friends to do the dirty work for you
Healthy Ways to End a Friendship
In general, we can consider four healthy options when ending a friendship, and in some cases, you may find that you need to use a combination of these strategies.
The Gradual Fade-Out
This tactic involves letting the friendship come to a natural close by gradually reducing social interaction with the other person.2 This is akin to taking the stitches out of a garment versus tearing it apart.
Gradually fading out of the friendship might be a good option if you are afraid of confrontation, if the person is likely not to listen or accept what you are saying, or for toxic situations.
In general, fading out of a friendship avoids hurt feelings. Instead of laying your feelings on the line, you just become too busy to get together or generally hard to reach. You might text instead of call, fade out of the person’s social media, take a long time when getting back in touch, answer with short replies, etc.
Perhaps in the past, you were a good listener, but now you don’t have the patience or don’t bother keeping the peace if you disagree on a point. Whether or not you go all out and “unfriend” that person on social media is up to you. It might be better not to take that step, as it only draws attention to the fact that you are trying to exit the friendship.
In general, you are doing things that might naturally happen in a friendship that is fading out—it’s just that you are choosing to do them intentionally to exit the friendship. The fade-out is a good option if the friend is just an acquaintance since in that situation it might seem awkward or weird to go over reasons as to why you don’t want to be friends anymore.
While fading out of friendship may seem kinder, it could drag on if the friend does not take the hint. In that case, you might be putting that person through a stressful situation, as they try to guess what is going on or why you’ve suddenly disappeared.
Finally, the fade-out might be your best option if the friendship is toxic and you don’t want to have to explain yourself, if you’ve been harmed by the person, or if you just don’t care enough anymore to give them an explanation.
Having “The Talk”
If you determine that a gradual fade-out is not appropriate or if it just ends up not working, then you will need to engage in “the talk.”3 This is similar to a talk you would have in a romantic relationship to determine where each of you stands and to talk about the future.
“The talk” can be a stepping stone to the end of a friendship, but you might also be surprised to find that you are able to resolve your differences and fix the friendship.
Step 1: Ask the person to meet you for coffee or some other beverage to chat. Be sure to ask to meet in person—never do this over the phone, by text, or by email.
Step 2: Have a goal for “the talk.” Think about what you want to achieve. Do you want to clear up a miscommunication, explain resentment, address an old argument, or set boundaries? Whatever it is that you hope to achieve, it needs to be clear in your head before you meet.
Start out with a statement that opens the doors for more conversation. For example: “I’ve noticed some patterns in our friendship in the past few months that have been bothering me. I wondered if we could talk about it.”
Step 3: Talk about how you are feeling, not what the other person has done wrong. Keep your goals for the conversation in mind. Remember to listen as much as you talk.
Taking a Break
You may determine from “the talk” that your differences can’t be resolved. If that’s the case, what do you do? You could immediately terminate the friendship, or you could decide to “take a break,” much the same way people sometimes do in romantic relationships.
Taking a break can have many positives. It gives you:
- A fresh perspective on the friendship
- A moment to calm down if you are upset
- An opportunity to miss your friend if you were spending too much time together
- Time to reevaluate the friendship
You can give any number of reasons for taking a break. You could say that you are going to be extra busy for a couple of weeks, if you prefer to be vague. On the other hand, if you’ve just had “the talk,” you could say that you need time to digest everything.
Set a time in the future that you plan to reconvene, or suggest that you will get in touch when you feel you are ready.
Ending Things Immediately
Sometimes it is impossible to avoid the chaos that goes along with a sudden ending to a friendship. This is true if you are dealing with a toxic friend or someone who does not respect boundaries that you try to set.
In this situation, simply state that your needs are not being met in the friendship.2 Wish the other person all the best in the future. This type of friendship break-up can be good in that it is unambiguous and clear, and you get a chance to voice any issues that you’ve been holding back on. At the same time, it can be awkward to confront someone in this manner.
This type of friendship breakup will be most appropriate if you’ve known someone a long time and feel they deserve the respect of a final goodbye, or if someone does something so awful that it would be hard to ignore. At some point, you could simply say, “Goodbye, I need to go.” If it helps, write a little script that expresses what you are feeling.
How Your Friend May React
What might a friend do if you break up with them?
They may react in the following ways:
- Ask if it’s possible to convert the friendship into a different form of relationship
- Feel hurt and become defensive
- Not understand why you want to end the friendship
- Try to manipulate you back into the friendship
It’s best to be prepared for each of these possibilities, but realize that you might not know how you will feel until you get into the situation. You might be surprised to learn that a friendship can be saved or converted into something else.
Breaking up a friendship can be just as stressful and emotionally draining as ending a romantic relationship. Be sure to be good to yourself afterward. It’s normal to feel sad, frustrated, or angry.
Keep on top of your mental health to ensure that the end of the friendship does not cause problems for you in terms of poor physical health or lowered resistance to stress. Just like a divorce, the breakup of a friendship will get easier with time.
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