Six tips for how to end a friendship gracefully

When you’ve outgrown a friend it’s hard to navigate the cooling off period. Get expert tips for breaking up with a friend, without acting like a jerk.

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Bridesmaids

In Bridesmaids friendships are lost and gained again (Photo by Suzanne Hanover – © 2011 Universal Studios).

You can’t live without good friends. But every once in a while, there’s one pal you think you just might be able to survive without. What’s the best way to end a friendship with as little distress and hurt feelings as possible without relying on social media to do the dirty work for you?

Learn how to gauge whether or not a friendship has run its course, and if so, three ways to keep the parting short and sweet:

Signs it may be over
If you dread the very idea of calling her or seeing her, and if looking at her Facebook page gives you a migraine and/or the powerful urge to leave nasty comments on her vacation photos then your connection may well be past its best-before date.

That’s okay. You’re not a bad person. You’re just going through what Dr. Jan Yager, author of When Friendship Hurts, calls a “friendshift.”

“This ‘weeding out’ process takes place throughout our lives,” says Yager, adding that “it is those friendshifts that help us ‘fine tune’ our friendship network since there’s only so much time and emotion that anyone has for close or best friends although it’s possible to have a huge network of casual friends since they don’t make the same, or as intense, emotional or time demands on us.”

Maybe the problem is you?
Impossible, right? How could you be the problem? You’re practically perfect! Your friend, meanwhile, is a land mine of imperfection, with all of her passive-aggressive comments about your job, your cooking, and your new haircut. While that’s all undoubtedly true, it may be worth considering that the problem may still lie with you.

“Perhaps the friendship is teaching you something about yourself and if that’s the case you may want to work a bit harder to try and understand what that lesson may be before you end the friendship,” says Dr. Lisa Skelding, a relationships and marriage therapist based in Oakville.

That life lesson: “You need to stand up and teach your friend how you like to be treated,” says Skelding. That doesn’t mean overturning the brunch table the next time she says, ‘Just kidding!’ It simply means telling your friend when they’ve hurt you and that you’d prefer she pumped the brakes on her “jokes.”

Weigh your options
The great thing about friendship is that it’s an optional and voluntary arrangement, says Dr. Yager. “Once a friendship is continued because you feel you ‘have to’ rather than you just want to, it’s probably not going to last in a strong, connected way anyway,” she explains.

Just because it’s voluntary doesn’t mean that you should toss away a challenging friendship willy-nilly, she adds. Sometimes friendships go through natural cooling-off periods. Your lack of enthusiasm for that weekly lunch may just be the result of overexposure. Step back and ask yourself whether you need a break or a full-on break-up before you act rashly and unnecessarily damage a friendship.

Option 1: Let it fade out
If possible, let a so-so friendship that’s no longer working for you “fade out” says Dr. Yager rather than make a big performance out of ending things. “There’s a difference between ending a friendship and letting it fade,” explains Yager. “You may have to end a friendship if you are dealing with an act of betrayal that can not be ignored or forgiven or you feel that continuing the friendship puts you or your loved ones or your career in jeopardy.”

But if the friendship has simply run its course, then let it die a natural death. Don’t just stop calling and emailing cold turkey, slowly let the contact diminish over time. If you’re talking three times a week, bring it down to once a week.

Option 2: Tell her how you feel
If you’ve decided that you want to break up with your friend you can choose to let them know that officially, too — but don’t be a jerk about it. Don’t call a friend and ask her to come over only to unload three years worth of resentment at her feet.

Instead, take responsibility for how you feel. “First of all, you have to let your friend/former friend know that it’s not her but it’s the way the two of you interact that isn’t working,” says Dr. Yager.

If you want to go into details about your decision — though you’re not obligated — do it in “a way that is kind and informative rather than judgmental and overly critical.”

Once you’ve made the break, behave accordingly. Don’t gossip about your former pal among your general acquaintance. You’ve chosen to end the friendship — not destroy it or disrespect it.

Option 3: Take the boutique approach
Don’t like options one or two? Then get creative and consider your friend’s specific personality. As Dr. Yager says, “There is no one way to end a friendship.” Maybe your pal doesn’t like reggae or yoga or vegetarians. Perhaps it’s time for you to channel your inner Bob Marley while perfecting your downward dog and hummus recipe? Become the kind of person your pal dislikes and maybe she’ll go cold turkey for you.

Have you ever broken up with a friend? Tell us how you did it in the comment section below.

11 comments on “Six tips for how to end a friendship gracefully

  1. Pingback: The Friend Break-Up

  2. Pingback: How to End a Casual Friendship | Sociology - Popular Question & Answer

  3. Well idk.

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    • Such insight.

      Reply

  4. My friend always thinks she is the ultimate authority: she has a religion that she has dissected and she is the only one that is right in their beliefs.

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    • We must have the same friend! I’m ending association with her. The judgment, hostility and thinly veiled accusations of various “sins” by myself and others is too much after 3 years. All this while she medicates with smoking pot and refuses to do the internal work she knows has to be done. Not smart. Undiagnosed/untreated bipolar disorder, what a joy.. NOT

      Reply

  5. My friend only calls me when she “needs” me and I have grown tired of it. She is bipolar and stops her medication and it becomes a crisis. We have been friends for 15 years so I am having a hard time just cutting her off. She’s not on FB which is good but she was calling so I blocked her number. I can’t decide if I should tell her or just keep avoiding her and let her catch on herself.

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    • Tell her. It’s devastating when you REALLY don’t know what you did wrong. It happened to me once and it haunted me for a year how my best friend just stopped talking to me and acted like she didn’t know me without proper closure. Make it clear that you’re not asking them to change but show the friendship for what it was some honor and respect (the friendship, not the friend) and clarify what went wrong. I’m over it now but it bugged me for a long time.

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  6. I ended my friendship of 10 years with my friend on a game called MovieStarPlanet. I know it sounds silly, but she had started to be really mean to me, bullying me over the game, and when we had sleepovers, she would draw on my face, put underwear on my head, throw dirty clothes on me, etc. We started getting into fights, and i didn’t want it to go on anymore. I told her: “Why don’t we just save the future tears and end this friendship now?” I told her why i was ending it, with her being mean, and then i said: “I’m sorry, but this friendship is OVER.” It was really hard for me. I’m only 11, so we have been besties since forever. I dont know how to deal with it. Recently my brother died, and my other best friend, Gabby, started accusing me of doing and watching bad things. She ended that relationship, and I turned to Ashley, my bestie that i broke up with. She helped me, since my brother was one of her close friends, but know it’s over. The problem is, our dad’s are really good friends, so we usually go over to see each other every weekend. I dont want to face her right now. I’m scared about what she might say. What should i do???

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    • Tori- i need some help like this, but maybe someone with another problem can help? anyway, the fear is probably getting in the way, but the question is, are you interested in becoming friends with her again?

      if you are:
      explain why you have ended the friendship, but dont make her feel guilty.maybe what you could do is try to mend things with her, but if she has no interest, then maybe you should keep her close, but move on to some new friends

      if you dont
      gently still explain. but remember: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. she might not be your enemy, but let her know that she can still turn to you, and maybe she’ll let you know you can turn to her

      -hope this helped!

      Reply

  7. i have no idea if i want to let go of a friend that i had for 8 years….we dont have a lot in common yet we agree on a lot of things…yesterday she used stupid jerks and idiot in the same sentence and something always tells me they either arent interested in the stories, or they get bored….but yet, i REALLY dont want to let go….help???

    Reply

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