Breakups are hard. They can be emotionally taxing, stressful and isolating. While we generally attribute the word “break up” to the dissolution of an intimate relationships — a partner, marriage, or significant other — breaking up with a friend can be just as hard and lonely.

Reasons for a break up with a partner or significant other may be more clear cut — infidelity, conflicts in values and beliefs, or mistreatment — but we sometimes have trouble determining whether it makes sense to break up with a friend.

Friendships can naturally fizz out — circumstances such as a move and life transitions including marriage or children, can cause friendships to phase out. But how do you know when it’s necessary to break up with a friend? Below are some red flags to help identify whether a particular friend is contributing to your well-being as well as meeting your emotional needs.

Your Friend Is Toxic

A toxic person is manipulative or controlling and unsupportive. If you feel that there is constant drama in your relationship, or the other person must have control — for example, always picking the restaurant or deciding on the plans — then they may be causing a relationship imbalance. This type of friend can contribute to anxiety or dread because any sort of interaction with him or her may mean that you are putting your emotional needs or interests second.

They Are Up in the Stands and Not in the Arena

Brené Brown in her book Daring Greatly talks about those in your life who can be separated by being “in the arena with you” and those “in the stands.” Friends with whom you feel constantly judged or criticized can be classified as a relationship“in the stands.” This type of friend makes you feel “less than” by using words such as “I would” or “you should” and are on the sideline telling you how to live your life or what you are doing wrong. Brené says that you need someone who is with you in the arena who is “willing to pick you up and dust you off when you get your butt kicked.” You may realize as you are assessing the strength of a particular friendship that that person is always in the stands.

There Is a Breach of Trust

Being vulnerable with someone can be a very hard thing. But in a strong relationship, vulnerability happens when you feel emotional safe and supported. However, if your trust is broken by a friend in the form of gossip, breach of confidentiality, or feeling dismissed or unsupported when expressing feelings or emotional needs, you may begin to rethink the future of your friendship.

Many years ago, I broke up with a friend — a friend I had known for a long time, with whom I had transitioned through many life events. As we got older, the trajectory of our lives changed, as well as our value and belief systems, which is normal and part of life. However, I began to realize that I didn’t feel good about myself when I spent time with her. I felt judged and criticized and there was constant anxiety about our interactions. After a particularly negative conversation, I broke up with her. It didn’t end well. My babbling excuse for distancing myself and trying to explain and express how I felt were dismissed and I was made to feel crazy and irrational for wanting a different type of relationship, one of empathy and unconditional love.

I grieved and mourned that relationship for a long time, blaming myself for the demise of that friendship. But as the years wore on, I began to realize that the shame and blame I was feeling were the remnants of the imbalance in the relationship. The end of that friendship was indicative of the relationship as a whole, dismissive, judge-y and critical, and left me feeling lost and lonely. I now know that relationship and the ultimate break up was necessary for my self-worth and recognizing I was deserving of an equal friendship, where no one person gets more out of the other.

Yes, breaking up is hard to do. But it makes room for deeper and fulfilling connections with those from whom you deserve comfort, compassion, and unconditional positive regard.


Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.