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All friendships change over time.
Sometimes they grow and prosper, particularly when both parties are nurturing the health of the friendship.
Other times, a friendship needs to end because it’s detrimental to your well-being.
And then there are friendships that simply dissolve naturally over time. Sometimes life just gets too busy, or it pulls you in different directions. It’s hard to find the time to maintain your friendships when you have adult responsibilities to take care of – kids, work, bills, housework, laundry, a relationship.
Letting go of a friendship can be difficult. There’s no two ways about it.
It’s normal to grieve the loss of a friendship with all of the memories and hopes that went along with it. Grief is not an arbitrary word in this context. Losing a quality friendship is a real and deep loss that will bring painful feelings to the surface.
Even if that friendship wasn’t always good and that person wasn’t always kind, it’s normal to miss and even feel sad for the loss of a person you felt connected to in some way.
Letting go of a friendship falls into the two distinct categories mentioned above:
1. You want to permanently end a friendship because it actively harms your well-being in some way.
2. You want to phase a friend out of your life because you don’t feel much of a connection anymore.
Let’s deal with each of these separately.
How to end an active friendship that is not good for you.
An ‘active friendship’ is one where you still regularly see this person and spend time with them doing friendship activities.
1. Knowing when it’s time to let go of a friendship.
Friendships break under different circumstances, and the circumstances that are breaking the friendship will largely define how you should proceed.
If your friend is toxic (or has become that way), it may not be worthwhile trying to remedy the problem or trying to find common ground with them.
But many people aren’t always aware of the harm they are projecting outward when struggling with their issues. Assuming that the person is not a threat, you may wish to have a conversation with them about how their actions affect you and their life around them.
They may listen, dismiss the idea, or promise to change but not do anything. What you want to look for is effort. Without effort, nothing will change. If they put no effort into changing the dynamics of your friendship or how they treat you, it is a sign that it is time for you to move on.
In general, a friendship is an arrangement of mutual benefit. You are both bringing good things to the table of your friendship. The relationship is unbalanced if one of you is not contributing in a meaningful way or is harmful to the other.
Granted, you can’t be 100% all of the time. That’s an unfair, unreasonable expectation. Life gets busy, and people have problems. Sometimes they can’t muster 100%. But they should be mustering something.
Ask yourself, “What positive effects does this friendship have on my life?” If you can’t think of any, or they appear mediocre, it may be time to move on.
Note: It’s perfectly okay to discontinue contact with someone who is unsafe or causing you harm. The best approach is often to just recede quietly into the background and let your paths diverge. This is generally the safest route for dealing with someone threatening or destructive.
Confronting them could incite them to a dangerous act. If you feel afraid of someone, it would be best for you to consult with a certified mental health professional before deciding to take any steps.
2. Deciding on whether to tell them or just let it go.
This boils down to safety. Is the person safe to have this conversation with?
If they might harm you or themselves over it, again, it would be a better idea to talk to a certified mental health professional before doing anything. If for any reason you have any doubts, consult with a professional first.
If the person is safe, it’s a good idea to have the conversation because blanking them, ignoring their calls, or not replying to their texts is not a kind or respectful way to let go of this friend.
They may still value you as a friend, and ghosting them is not what a friend does.
Yes, it will be an unpleasant and difficult conversation to have. Tears might be shed. Tempers might flare. But ultimately, these are all things that need to be navigated in life. Avoiding them only makes them harder to deal with in the long-term.
So, if you can, have the conversation. You may also find that they are willing to work on the friendship with you or don’t realize that you feel that you’ve drifted too far apart.
3. How do I talk to my friend about “breaking up” the friendship?
No matter what you do, the conversation is likely to be difficult and emotional.
Assuming you feel safe and comfortable with the person, it’s best to have a face-to-face conversation about the friendship. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about it face-to-face, then it’s okay to do it via phone call or video call.
Do not do it through text or an instant messenger. Communicating about heavily emotional subjects and topics through these mediums is almost always a bad idea. There is so much other communication going on with tone of voice and body language that it can completely skew the context of the conversation.
Furthermore, it can turn a highly emotional 15 minute conversation into several hours of texting and arguing back and forth, which is a whole lot more stress. That kind of prolonged conversation will keep you amped up and emotional for hours longer than necessary.
As for starting the conversation, all you need to do is say something like, “I need to talk to you about our friendship. I don’t think it’s healthy for me anymore and I think we should stop being friends.” You don’t have to point fingers or throw accusations.
They will probably ask you, “Why?” Honesty is typically the best policy unless honesty will get you hurt or cause them to harm themselves. You’ll have to decide for yourself, or with the help of a professional, just how honest you should be.
Give them the opportunity to say their piece. That will hopefully prevent them from feeling like they need to get back in touch with you to “explain things.”
And then exit the conversation when it’s over with.
4. Cut off contact once you’ve made the break.
The next step to take is to remove the person from your life and circles. Block them on social media, ask your mutual friends not to talk to you about the person, delete their phone number, and either put away or get rid of reminders of them.
Allow yourself time to be sad or angry, but don’t excessively dwell on the situation or person. The more you dwell on it, the more you reinforce the sadness, anger, and missing the person.
Instead, you want to distract yourself with other activities or thoughts when those emotions start to creep in.
Separating yourself from the person in this way should limit your contact, but you may be in a situation where you can’t help but see the person. If you must still interact with this person, treat them the same way you would treat a coworker or professional connection.
Maintain an air of professionalism and distance. Be polite, but don’t be inviting. They are no longer a part of your personal life, and it doesn’t need to go any further than that.
5. How to deal with the feelings that follow.
It may help to journal or write about the feelings you’re experiencing when they creep back into your mind.
One effective way of pursuing closure is to write a letter to the person and then just destroy the letter.
The act of writing those emotions out is cathartic because you are actively thinking about and sorting through the emotions as you write. We suggest using a pen and paper. Handwriting provides more time and emotional processing to commit that information to the page.
Just make sure you get rid of the paper when you’re done so that information doesn’t get around to anyone else.
Engage in the self-care you would otherwise use for navigating sadness and grief. Take some time to let yourself feel your emotions when you need to, then get back to doing the things that need doing.
If you find that your mind is trying to drag you down those avenues too often, you can do things like watch a funny movie or learn something new to redirect your thoughts.
It will take some time but it will stop hurting as much, sooner or later.
How to end a passive friendship.
A ‘passive’ friendship is one where you have drifted apart from this person and only see them very occasionally or only keep up with their life via text or social media.
You may well have been close to this person at one point, perhaps even best friends, but things have changed in both your lives and that is no longer the case.
1. Decide whether or not to end the friendship.
Just because a friendship waxes and wanes doesn’t mean it needs to end for good. If life is busy for you or your friend, you may just want to take a hands-off approach and let things flow as they need to flow.
Reach out every once in a while to say, “Hello!” Maybe they’ll do the same for you. Maybe the two of you will link back up months or years down the road when you have more time.
Not every friendship needs to be some deep, passionate thing. There are so many different types of friends that you don’t want to cut off unless there is a concrete reason to do so.
Casual friends may come in and out of your life. Even a best friend may just get swamped with life and need time to work on their stuff.
2. If you do decide to end things.
Maybe you don’t think the friendship will ever return. Perhaps you now live two very different lives far apart from each other and you don’t see the point in keeping up the appearances of being friends.
In these circumstances, you don’t need to have a conversation with them to officially end the friendship. They probably feel the same way you do if it’s been that long since you’ve seen each other.
Just stop making the effort to communicate with them. If they reach out to you to see how you are, you can keep the conversation short by not going into too much detail and sticking to surface level questions about their life.
In most cases, they will eventually stop making the effort too.
If you don’t want to see their updates in your social media feeds, it might be better to simply hide them rather than un-friending them completely.
This may be required if you have grown frustrated or alienated by the things they post, whether that’s constant updates about their life and problems or political statements you strongly disagree with.
Or, you could wait a period of time before removing them as a friend as that will soften the blow to them (if they even notice).
Of course, you may be happy enough to keep them as a connection in this virtual world, in which case you don’t need to do anything.
The important thing is that you are aware of your emotional response to their updates. If you find that you are having one that is negative in any way, it’s better to hide them from your feed.
If they phone or message you out of the blue one day and ask if you want to catch up, you are well within your rights to say no. You can be diplomatic about it and decline their invitation politely and with respect, but you are under no obligation to renew a friendship that has died in your eyes.
3. Dealing with the emotions of a friendship that has faded.
When a friendship simply fades away, your emotions are likely to be less vivid than if you had to actively end a friendship because it was harming you.
But you are still likely to feel something for the death of this connection you once held dear.
That could be a sense of regret that you didn’t do more to keep the friendship going.
It could be a blow to your self-esteem if the other person stopped making the effort with you even if you wanted to still be friends.
It may simply be a longing for the days where you two were still friends (or when there was a group of friends who were close, as is often the way when you finally drift away from friends you made at school or university).
The first thing to keep in mind is that letting go of a friend isn’t a failure on your part. Not all friendships will last. In fact, as you go through life, you will find that new friends enter regularly and old ones disappear. That’s just the natural way of things.
Secondly, you can still celebrate the friendship for what it was whilst it lasted. You can cherish and be grateful for the memories, the good times, the fun and joy you shared with this other person. It was a valuable connection that meant something to you, and that doesn’t stop being the case when the connection ceases to be.
Thirdly, you can stop focusing on the friends you no longer have and keep your mental energy directed at the friends you have now.
Perhaps those new friendships don’t feel as strong as those that came before once were. In which case, you need to put the effort into making them stronger.
Or, if that’s not possible because life and work and family takes up most of your time, you have to just come to terms with the fact that you can’t maintain really close friendships at this time. You can have casual friends who you see regularly, but they may not be the dearest of friends for now. Who knows, perhaps they will be in future.
And finally, know that time is a healer. It’s a cliché because it’s true. As time passes and the friendship fades into the past, the emotional connection to the memories you have about it will soften.
What might now be a strong feeling about this friendship will become less vibrant with time. The sadness you feel will dissolve and you will be able to look at the friendship in a more positive or neutral light.
Happy memories will still bring a smile to your face, but the pain and grief you feel as you let this friend go will not be there.
Still not sure how to get over the end of a friendship? Speak to a counselor today who can walk you through the process of moving on from it. Simply click here to connect with one.
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