Friend breakups are hard; they’re harder when you have to do the breaking up. A list of do’s and don’ts for how to break up with a friend can help – and help you decide if you have to end your friendship in the first place.
“There are three kinds of friends: friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime.” My aunt sent me this quote when I was struggling with the end of a close friendship in college, and I have thought about it often in the years since.
We don’t often think about the “friends for a season” part. As in romantic relationships, in the thick of a friendship, it is hard to imagine that your feelings for each other will ever fade, let alone end abruptly in a “friend breakup.”
The truth is, friendships do end. Sometimes we move away and do not see a person enough to maintain the relationship. Sometimes our priorities simply change as we grow up and grow apart.
Any kind of friend breakup can be painful, but the hardest might possibly be having to break up with a friend, yourself. You might realize that, for your wellbeing, you have to call it quits on a friendship that is no longer serving you. But how do you know when and how to break up with a friend?
When It Might Be Right To End A Friendship
If you feel like this isn’t a healthy or fulfilling relationship anymore, it can help to explore these feelings. Maybe your gut instinct makes sense, or maybe it’s worth another shot with this friend. Check out some signs of when to break up with a friend, below.
You’re Growing Apart
People change as they grow. It is clear to see how these changes can affect friendships in childhood, high school and even college.
You may bond with someone because of close proximity; they may be the neighbor in your cul-de-sac, your deskmate at school, or your roommate in the dorms. But as your lives evolve, you may find you no longer have as much in common as you once did.
You may notice that your friend does not make as much time to call you or ask you to hang out. You may be the one not returning your friend’s texts as often. In either case, be honest about what you want: Do you want to invest more in this friendship, and is your friend willing to do the same for you?
If you feel you’ve naturally grown apart, it may be for the best to have a discussion about how to repair the friendship, or decide to end things on good terms. You do not have to force a friendship that is no longer working. Pretending that everything is okay if you do not feel good about the friendship is also a strain for both parties involved.
Incompatibility is related to the issue of growing apart, but can be an issue between new friends as much as old ones. Life coach Teal Swan explains that “for relationships to work, they have to feel good to both people involved in the relationship.” When two people have wildly different communication styles, value systems, or expectations of each other, the issue at hand is incompatibility.
In an example scenario, Alicia expects her friend Sarah to be her support system. Whenever Alicia has a boyfriend problem, she wants to call her to vent and be heard, but not necessarily advised. Sarah wants to be there for her friend. But she also disagrees with how Alicia is handling the problems with her BF, and does not feel she can be honest without hurting Alicia’s feelings (or worse, breaking her trust).
If this continues, Alicia will not feel the authentic support she craves, and Sarah will feel increasing resentment about Alicia’s needs. Both sides become even less willing to listen and support each other.
In such a scenario, it may not be possible to find a compromise between the two friends’ needs. The key is understanding that this does not make either person “a bad friend.” They simply are not a good match to the other’s needs, and should find friendships that better align with their expectations and abilities.
You Two Have A Lack Of Communication
In another scenario, Charlie might feel his friend Tom is drifting apart from him. He may try to communicate with Tom about it, but be met with silence and an unwillingness to engage. If one party is not open to communicating at all about how to fix the friendship, it is probably a sign that it is time to move on.
You Feel Toxicity Or Abusive Treatment
It is important to differentiate abusive and toxic friendships from others, since they need to be handled differently than the other scenarios listed so far.
Signs of a toxic friendship may include: your friend putting you down, putting other friends down in front of you, gossiping and goading you into saying bad things about others, lying, pressuring you to do things you are uncomfortable with, and not respecting your boundaries.
If the idea of being honest with a friend about how their behavior makes you feel leaves you anxious, sick or scared, it is a good sign that you may be in a toxic or abusive relationship. Do not endanger yourself further by trying to repair it.
If you feel scared that a friend may react violently to your honest concerns, take caution and take care of yourself. If you fear your friend may react with either physical or verbal abuse, you do not need to put yourself in further proximity to that person in order to “clear the air” or end things on good terms. Your priority is your safety, and you should try to remove yourself from any situation with that person.
Overall, if time with a certain friend leaves you feeling bad more often than it leaves you feeling good, it is most likely time to move on from that friendship.
How to Break Up with a Friend?
If you have now seen the signs and know it is time to break up with a friend, there are ways to help make the process kinder and less painful for all parties involved.
- Cut off all contact without any explanation, or ghost your friend. Even if someone is irritating you, they are still a person who deserves respect and honesty.
- Lay all of the blame on them. Remember that just because you are incompatible, does not mean either of you is a bad person or bad friend.
- Take a break from the friendship to clear your thoughts and calm down, especially if you have had an upsetting fight.
- Be clear about your goals. Journaling, writing a letter that you do not have to send, or discussing the situation with a trusted parent or therapist might help you identify what you want from the friendship going forward, or if you really want to end it.
- Find support from people going through similar issues.
- Use “I” statements to ground your conversation in how you are feeling. These help to have an honest conversation without being aggressive or defensive, and keep communication channels open.
- Have the talk in person, rather than over text or email. Meaning can easily be lost over text, so as hard as it feels, give the other person the benefit of meeting face to face.
- However, in abusive friendships, do not meet in person if it would put you at risk. Instead, send a polite, clear message that you do not want to be friends anymore, and stay firm on your boundaries.
We hope that these tips will help guide you through friendship rough spots and identify when it is really time to move on. If you need help in the aftermath, we also have some tips for helping recover from a friendship breakup.
Remember that the end of a friendship is not always a bad thing: if the friendship is not nurturing you, breaking up with that friend will give you freedom to use your time and energy in more positive ways. Plus, it is never too late to meet friends that align with your value systems and support you in the way you need!