Not all friendships last forever, and breaking one off can be incredibly awkward and uncomfortable — no matter how old you are.
To help you deal with that friendship that just isn’t working anymore, BuzzFeed Life talked to Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix, and Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., licensed counselor and author of Toxic Friendships: Knowing the Rules and Dealing with the Friends Who Break Them. Here are their tips.
1. First, know how to identify a toxic friendship that might be more draining that it is rewarding.
There are a ton of different kinds of toxic friendships, but according to Bonior and Degges-White, here are some general signs that it’s time to make a change:
— You feel drained after hanging out with them.
— You don’t like how you act when you’re around them.
— You need to psyche yourself up to hang out with them.
— The balance is way off. Either they don’t reciprocate your effort or vice versa.
— They make you feel bad about yourself, pressure or guilt-trip you, or you guys fight a ton.
— You just don’t like or respect them anymore.
2. Then decide which route is best: setting new boundaries for your friendship, phasing it out slowly, or formally ending it.
Every situation and relationship is unique, so there’s no one right way to approach this. But here are some general guidelines from the experts:
— You should set new boundaries if your main hangup with your friendship is that it’s too demanding, but you really want to make things work.
— You should let the friendship fade slowly if you two are growing apart and the lack of investment in your friendship feels mutual.
— You should formally end the friendship if you and your friend aren’t on the same page and you suspect they don’t see the end coming.
You’ll probably have a gut feeling which one is the right (and mature) way to go about your specific situation, says Bonior. Go with that one.
3. The boundaries you set can be specific or vague, depending on your needs.
If you need a specific need met, be specific, says Bonior. For example, if they text you constantly, an easy boundary to set is letting them know that you can’t text them back during the workday because it’s affecting your performance (or, you know, your boss is starting to get pissed).
But if you’re just looking to take a step back from the friendship in general, then you might not be able to give them exact guidelines and that’s OK. In that case, Bonior recommends saying something like, “I still want to be able to hang out, but I have to admit I just can’t do it as much as I used to because my life is changing.”
And if your friend doesn’t respect those boundaries, then you might need to reevaluate things again and try one of the other routes.
4. The ~slow fade~ really only works when both people are in on it.
The “slow fade,” as Bonior calls it, is essentially the ghosting of the friendship world — except in this case, you’re both pulling away for your own reasons. Maybe this is a friend who you were never super close with, and now they moved and neither of you really feels motivated enough to make plans. Or maybe it’s a friend who’s lifestyle is now super different from yours and you end up bickering more than hanging. “The slow fade only works when two people are both moving in two different phases of their lives,” says Bonior.
In this case, you can cut back on how often you text them and hang out, become less involved in their lives, and eventually, you’ll wake up one day and the friendship will be no more. For obvious reasons, this option is super tempting for the non-confrontational, but you have to be careful, says Bonior. “If you sense hesitation or confusion or hurt on their part, you’ve got to be more direct and have a conversation.”
5. Formally ending a friendship is a bit more tricky. First, you’re going to want to plan the conversation ahead.
You obviously don’t want to over-plan to the point that it sounds scripted or unnatural, but having some phrases at the ready and a general idea of what you’re going to say will save you from losing your nerve or saying something you’ll regret.
6. Yes, you can do it over text — but only in very specific circumstances.
Try to be honest with yourself. If you want to dump your friend via text, is it because it’s easier or because it actually makes sense for your friendship? If texting is your main mode of communication and it’s not unusual for you guys to have in depth chats there, then go for it, says Bonior. If not, come on. Just don’t.
8. Don’t use the excuse of being busy, no matter how tempted you are.
Not only is this an obvious blowoff (because everyone knows you make time for the things you want to make time for), but it most likely won’t be effective, either. “It leads them to believe that eventually you’ll stop being busy and things will go right back to where it was,” says Bonior.
9. Make the breakup about you and your needs, not about their shortcomings.
In general, you’ll want to use a lot of “I” statements, says Degges-White. Think: “I feel my life being pulled in a different direction and I just wanted to tell you how much I have valued our friendship. I’m not able to devote the time to it anymore.” Not, “You’ve become this negative person that I can’t stand to be around anymore.”
10. And if you decide it’s important to tell them how they hurt you or where things went wrong, give some thought to your intentions and whether it’s worth it.
It’s completely normal to have the urge to go into detail, but you have to be realistic about what they’ll be willing to hear, says Bonior. “For instance, if you are ending the friendship because they never listen to you and they’re selfish, feedback will probably fall on dead ears. You have to ask yourself: Is there a realistic chance of helping this person out or is it truly you trying to get a last dig in?” she says.
12. If you truly don’t want to have any more contact with this person, you’ll probably have to be super specific about that.
Unless you’re firm about what you expect, your friend might misinterpret what’s going on. “You don’t have to say the word ‘over,’ but make sure you use terminology like ‘not hanging out anymore’ or ‘can’t spend time with you,’” says Bonior. “Those phrases are clear ways of saying that this is permanent and not you just taking a step back.”
13. If you are in the same friend group or have friends in common, fill them in once the deed is done.
Keeping them in the loop will minimize awkwardness, says Degges-White. Something as simple as, “Hey, me and this person are going through a hard time but just know neither one of us expects you to choose sides or wants to lose your friendship,” will minimize potential fallout.
14. Once it’s done, follow through with whatever boundaries you set.
“It’s like a romantic breakup,” says Bonior. “If you truly want to be broken up, don’t act like you’re not. If you told them that you see the friendship being over, don’t then fall back into it when it’s convenient for you.”
But at the same time, make sure you’re civil and respectful if you run into them.
15. By the way, if a friend is truly toxic or abusive towards you, you obviously have the right to drop the friendship cold turkey.
When you need to protect your own mental health by removing yourself from a unhealthy relationship ASAP, cutting off contact without a conversation is more than OK. “It can be cold turkey with a sentence of explanation telling them it’s over, but sometimes, if it truly was a toxic or abusive relationship, sometimes you don’t owe them an explanation at all,” says Bonior.
16. And just a reminder: You shouldn’t feel guilty about ending a friendship nor will doing so negate the history you have together.
“We tend to feel super super guilty and hold onto friendships longer than we should,” says Bonior. “You don’t have to be friends for your entire lives in order for it to have been a meaningful friendship. As we do the right thing and treat them with respect, it’s OK to take care of ourselves by getting somebody out of our life.”
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