Jenny and Rachel have been best friends since the first day of kindergarten. And Jacob has been hanging out with the same group of friends since college.
We love the idea of having friends for life.
Theres an idyllic quality to having the same friendships for decades. But sometimes this unrealistic expectation that our friendships should last forever — keeps us clinging to people long after the friendship has run its course.
Long-time friends like Jenny and Rachel have been through a lot together. Theyve anchored each other through teenage angst, countless boyfriends, the birth of their children, the end of Rachels marriage, and the death of Jennys mother. But now, in their 40s, they seem to have little in common except a shared past.
Rachel feels drained by Jennys constant need for reassurance. Shes tried to be a good listener and sounding board, but Jenny has responded to her empathy with abrupt and judgmental comments. Rachel feels guilty about ignoring Jennys texts, but she also knows talking to Jenny leaves her feeling hurt and angry.
Friends should bring positive qualities like support, laughter, fun, and empathy into your life at least most of the time. Yes, conflict is a part of every relationship and an occasional disagreement doesnt mean your friendship is doomed. When differences of opinion and hurt feelings are dealt with openly and respectfully, they can make friendships stronger.
So, how do you know when a friendship is no longer healthy? Here are a few signs that a relationship is more harmful than healthy — and it may be time to end the friendship.
- You feel like youve grown apart. You no longer have much in common in terms of interests or values
- Your friend routinely takes more than she gives. She isnt supportive, always needs something from you, but doesnt return the favor
- Your friend asks you to do things you dont feel comfortable with (perhaps, asking you to lie to her husband)
- You walk on eggshells around your friend, fearful of upsetting or disappointing her
- Your friend is mean, harsh, overly critical, or gossips about you (especially after youve asked him to stop and explained how hurtful it is)
- Your friend betrayed you or hurt you in a major way and hasnt apologized, taken responsibility, or changed
- You have recurring arguments that never get resolved
- Spending time with your friend feels like an obligation rather than a gift
- You feel like you cant be yourself around him
Ending a friendship is a big decision. Its painful to recognize that a friendship cant be salvaged and that youd be happier without this person in your life. You can use the questions that follow to help you figure out whether you need to end a friendship, take a break, or distance yourself.
As you use these questions to reflect on your friendship, be sure that youre thinking about the present. Its easy to remember the good times youve shared in the past, but dont let that influence your feelings about what is going on right now. Youre trying to decide if this is a healthy friendship for you now.
- Do I look forward to seeing or talking to him?
- Do I have fun when we get together?
- What positive things does this friendship add to my life?
- Do I feel like she respects and appreciates me?
- Can I count on her to be there for me?
- Does spending time with him bring out the best in me?
- Is there a mutual give and take in this relationship or do I feel like Im doing all the giving?
- Have I expressed my concerns? What have I done to try to improve our relationship? Is it possible for the friendship to be saved?
- How long have I felt this way? How long have these issues been going on?
- Would it make sense to see less of him or take a break?
Its important to remember that its not bad or mean to end a relationship. Your primary responsibility is to yourself to your wellbeing. You have to do whats right for you.
Unfortunately, sometimes thats in conflict with what other people want you to do, but you have to take care of yourself. Choosing the right friends and surrounding yourself with supportive, positive people who treat you well is an act of self-care and its emotionally healthy.
The end of a relationship (and potentially needing to hurt your friends feelings by breaking up with her) can trigger guilt (the feeling that youve done something wrong) and shame (the feeling that you are wrong/bad/unworthy). Shame, even more so than guilt, can make us reluctant to end a relationship, even when its quite unhealthy.
To overcome feelings of shame and guilt, reassure yourself that the end of a friendship isnt a failure or a sign of your inadequacies. Its a normal occurrence, although one that people dont often talk about.
Give yourself permission to do whats right for you.
Breaking up is hard, whether its a romantic relationship or a friendship. And its quite possible that you havent had any practice or role models to show you how to break free of an unhealthy friendship. Here are a few guidelines, that I hope will be helpful. The approach that feels right to you will depend on your and your friends personalities and the reasons for ending the relationship.
Let it fade away. Sometimes friendships die off naturally as our life circumstances change (you change jobs, you have children, you move, etc.) and people drift apart. You can try to speed up this process by not being as available as you once were (declining invitations to get together, being slower to respond to texts, etc.).
Sometimes this passive approach works well, and you gradually see less and less of each other, and other friends and activities will fill in the gap. Other times, we need or want to address the issues directly and make a clean break.
The face-to-face break-up. This is a tough conversation to have, but it does provide an opportunity for closure and clarity. If youre sure you want to end a friendship, its not nice to beat around the bush, give mixed messages, be passive-aggressive, or lead someone on. The kindest and most effective approach is to be direct, stay on topic, and calmly tell your friend how you feel and what you want. Dont be overly critical or judgmental; try to focus on the problems in the relationship not the problems you see in your friend.
Example: Jenny, Ive been struggling with our friendship lately. I feel like our lives are going in different directions and our friendship doesnt seem the same. Ive thought a lot about what I need, and Ive realized that our friendship isnt working for me. I dont think its possible for our friendship to be what it used to be, so I think its best that we part ways.
Your former friend may feel angry, confused, and sad, which is pretty normal. You can respond to her feelings with empathy, but you arent responsible for fixing them or the relationship. Remember, this conversation is to let her know youre ending the relationship, not to rehash everything thats gone wrong and try to fix it.
Example: I understand that youre upset with me. This is really hard. However, this is what I need to do for myself right now. I hope that we can both take care of ourselves.
In a perfect world, we could all have these kinds of conversations respectfully, but sometimes having a face-to-face conversation about sensitive issues isnt the best idea. If your friend is volatile, youre afraid of her reaction, or you think discussing it with her will only make it worse, then opt-out of the face-to-face conversation.
An email or phone call may be viable options, but again, trust your instincts about whether you think it will be helpful or harmful.
Make a clean break. If this is an emotionally abusive, toxic, or codependent friendship, you may need to cut things off immediately without any explanation. In these situations, you need to make a clean break, or you risk getting sucked back into your former friends drama and manipulation. So, once youve set your boundaries, you need to enforce them.
Social media makes this harder than it used to be because there are so many ways to stay in touch (even without direct contact). You will need to unfriend, unfollow, and block contact with this person if the friendship is really going to die off. This can feel harsh, but I assure you its necessary with people who dont respect boundaries, are very needy, manipulative, or are emotionally unstable.
Ending a friendship is emotionally taxing. Its difficult to make the decision to break-up with a friend, have a difficult conversation, and enforce your boundaries. Youre also grieving the loss of your friend.
Even if this friendship hasnt been fulfilling lately, your friend was once an important part of your life. Its sad to have this relationship, and all that it once was, come to an end. With this in mind, be sure to take extra good care of yourself so you can heal and recover from the loss of this friendship.
2018 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photo byMimi ThianonUnsplash.