How to End a Friendship

Friendship woes often come with a whole host of shame. We expect “failures” in our romantic relationships – sometimes it just doesn’t work out. But end a friendship? Never. For fear of being labeled difficult, hard to get along with, selfish, or more.

But sometimes it’s worth evaluating if letting go of someone is actually the healthier choice for both of you.

How to tell when it’s time to end a friendship.

You feel worse after hanging out with them than you did beforehand.

As a general rule of thumb, if you feel worse after hanging out with someone than you did before the interaction, something might be amiss. Your friendships should fill you up – not leave you feeling drained and depleted.

There’s a lack of reciprocity.

I want to be clear: friends don’t “owe” each other anything. Everyone is going through their own journey and has their own set of challenges on their plate. People also go through their ups and downs at different times. It won’t ever truly be possible to fully align and be there for another person all the time. Nor should anyone expect this.

However – true friendship should have some level of reciprocity. If you’re finding that you’re asking your friend how they’re doing and they never reciprocate and check in on you, this could be a red flag. If you’re constantly the “giver” and find the other person taking far more than they give, this could be a red flag.

Friendship reciprocity is a territory laced with shades of grey: it’s not black or white. But ultimately a healthy friendship involves two people who are reciprocating in time, effort, and love to the best of their abilities.

You find yourself talking about them behind their back.

Gossiping is a part of being human – but that doesn’t mean it’s ideal. It’s totally normal to gripe about someone’s imperfections or annoyances, but when those gripes cross a line into gossip (talking just for talking’s sake), it’s time to reevaluate if the subject of your gossip is really your friend. Why keep someone in your life just to talk shit about them?

You feel there has been a breach of trust.

Friendships should feel like a safe space. A toxic friendship is one where the things you discuss privately and share together are not treated as sacred. I’m all for forgiveness – everyone makes mistakes – but if a friend has breached your trust in a way where the damage doesn’t feel it can be repaired, it might be time to move on.

There’s no shame in the ending friendship game.

Being strong enough to end a friendship shouldn’t feel shameful.

Maybe I’m writing this little paragraph for myself specifically. If all this does is serve as a friendly reminder to me, that’s just fine. But ultimately, I do think there is some social stigma around ending a friendship. It’s totally normal during dating to have relationships not work out. We typically chalk this up to just “not being a match” with someone. Quite often when it comes to friendships we’re expected to always get along. We wouldn’t want to find ourselves being the person who is difficult, not agreeable, or the person with “no friends.”

Honestly, fuck that.

Ending friendships should be considered a normal and even, dare I say it, healthy part of adulthood. We as humans constantly grow, evolve, and change. It’s okay to grow apart.

The reality is that sometimes two people just aren’t healthy for one another.

There’s no shame in not being healthy for someone else. There’s also no shame in recognizing someone may not be healthy for you. Not all people’s personalities mesh perfectly. It doesn’t make anyone “wrong” or “difficult” – it just makes you not right for one another.

I’ve often felt really disappointed in myself for feeling the friction of a friendship gone wrong. I tend to only look at all the things I’ve “done wrong” or all the ways in which it’s my fault. But the reality is that it takes two to tango. When friendships don’t work out, it’s no one’s fault. Sometimes people just aren’t meant to be and that’s okay.

How adults often become friends might be part of the reason breakups are healthy.

You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends. So are you?

Childhood friendships.

Many adults have friendships that long pre-date their adulthood. From the grade school friends to friends to friends from middle school and high school, these are the friendships that are rooted in history together.

Work friends.

After college you enter the workforce and viola, find a whole world filled with friends to grab happy hour with. These friendships are often rooted in a shared experience: joy or misery at work.

Friends of friends.

As adults, we often meet people through other friends. These friendships can take off if they’re based on shared interests, but so often can actually be rooted in simply just knowing the same person and “running in the same group.”

How adults should become friends.

Based on shared values and (potentially) mutual interests.

While it’s rather common that adult friendships are a product of circumstance, I’m a big believer that adult friendships should actually be ones based on shared values and even shared interests. Diversity is important! I love when friends have wildly different hobbies and interests than I do. But I also love when we have interests we share. And it’s incredibly valuable to have friendships where you agree on the important values in life: how to treat others, mutual respect, honesty, etc. If you find yourself surrounded by friends of circumstance or friends you might simply have around because they’ve always been around, and your values don’t align, it might be time to end a friendship.

By choice.

Sometimes in life it doesn’t feel like we have a whole lot of choices. There are family pressures, societal pressures, and a whole host of outside influences telling us how we’re supposed to act, feel, and be. The reality is that we do have choices, particularly when it comes to the company we keep.

Unlike family, who you do not get to choose, you do get to choose your friends. I think this is an amazing choice to exercise. Wake up and choose every single day to keep someone in your life – or add someone new to your life! If a friendship isn’t feeling right, you do have the choice to move along. And you should.

How to end a friendship (the mature way).

My therapist always tells me: you can do whatever you want, you have choices, you just have to be okay with the consequences. I don’t know about you, but I’m not much interested in the “consequences” of ending a friendship being more pain, more gossip, more hurt, and more drama. There are absolutely mature and polite ways to end a friendship that don’t involve Greek tragedy style interactions.

Have an open and honest conversation if you feel comfortable enough to do so.

If you’ve been reading the red flag signs for a while and are finally deciding you need to move on from someone – for their sake and/or yours – evaluate if it makes sense to talk to them about it. Or not. It’s incredibly important to protect your own mental health. If you’re unsure that someone can handle an open, honest, and raw conversation about what isn’t feeling good to you, don’t have the conversation. If the impact of that conversation might cost you your own peace – don’t have that conversation.

You may also need to be up front about letting the other person know you’re taking a step back if you both operate in the same larger friend group. It may be obvious to them (and others) if you suddenly stop including them on invites. A heads up could save a lot of confusion and hurt feelings in the long run.

If you do think the person on the receiving end might be open to the chat, I’m always a believer that honesty is the best policy. This chat doesn’t have to be mean or nasty. Keep the energy calm and collected. Provide feedback that is stripped of any pain and hurt – even though you may feel it.

Sometimes, unfortunately, some things are best left unsaid.

Talking it out with the person in question might not always be the best way to go. I feel this one personally in so many ways. There are a whole lot of words I have left unsaid because it was better for the other person and the larger friend group that they remain unsaid.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t still feel the feelings and need to get them out somehow. Here are some ways you can release any negative energy and get out the things you need to say without directly confronting the person in question.

Write your feelings down in a letter you never send.

Just because you can’t (or won’t) unleash your feelings toward the other person doesn’t mean you shouldn’t unleash them at all. In fact, it’s arguably potentially unhealthy to bottle said feelings up and leave them unaddressed. One way to release that pent up energy is to write a letter to the former friend and don’t send it. If you’d like to really release the feelings, burn the letter when you’re done writing it. This symbolic gesture will help you feel like you’ve said what you needed to say without any of the social repercussions of saying it to the person in question.

Talk to your support system.

From partners to family to colleagues to other friends – lean on your support system as you go through the process. Not only can other people’s perspectives help to clarify situations, but you’ll feel much more secure making decisions on who to spend time with when you remind yourself of all the beautiful people in your life you have to lean on.

Be busy.

Open your self up to so many new people and experiences you no longer have time for the rest. Friendship breakups don’t have to be confrontational. Sometimes it’s easiest just to be so busy with the rest of your life that the friendships that no longer serve you organically fade into the background.

Find local events you like.

A great way to make new connections is to check out local events. For example, if you’re an avid reader looking to find more friends who share your love of books, joining your local library’s book club is a great way to start.

Take a class.

Taking classes to learn a new skill (or hone in on an already developed one) is a great way to meet people with similar interests. From local exercise classes, even to online courses or social media based courses, there are plenty of people congregating both online and in real life to learn things.

Remember that life is short – and friendships should fill you up. It’s okay to end a friendship.

It’s never easy to end a friendship – but it’s okay and healthy to do so. During my health coach training, having healthy and fulfilling friendships was taught as a key component to total wellness.

Life is short and it’s so important that we spend our time on this planet living fully, happily, and with a sense of gratitude. Surrounding yourself with people who lift you up and fill you up is important. And it’s totally acceptable to move along when things aren’t feeling right.

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