We all know that romantic breakups aren’t easy. But friendship breakups can actually be even harder. Despite what your childhood friendship bracelets said, some friends aren’t always forever. So how do you know when it’s time to part ways — and how do you actually have the talk? We asked Danielle Bayard Jackson, a female friendship coach and author, and Michelle Elman, an author, speaker, and life coach whose expertise includes relationships and boundaries.
How do I know it’s time to end a friendship?
Even though we don’t expect friendship breakups as much as we do romantic breakups, they can happen often. “We replace half of our friends every seven years, so to some extent there's going to be a natural friendship pruning,” says Jackson. According to our experts, here are a few common reasons why you might consider ending a friendship:
Drifting apart mutually. It’s common with childhood or college friends. Once you’re not down the hall or street from someone, distance can make it hard to stay connected, says Elman. When that happens, you may be able to let the friendship fizzle out without a conversation. It’s when one person wants to stay friends and the other doesn’t, when “a conversation needs to happen,” says Jackson.
Being in different life stages. Jackson says this is especially common for women. (Shoutout to that friend who only talks about their marriage or babies.) It can be hard to connect with a friend who’s at a different point in their life.
An imbalance in the relationship. This might mean “feeling like we are giving more than the friend is,” says Jackson. That main-character energy might look like you are always initiating contact, your friend rarely asks about your life, or your boundaries continue to be crossed.
You don’t enjoy connecting with them anymore. You may dread plans with them, feel emotionally drained afterwards, or the friendship might feel more like work than fun. In the words of Marie Kondo: Does it spark joy?
So how do I break up with a friend?
Try these tips and scripts from our experts to navigate the process:
Step 1: Choose the mode of communication and timing thoughtfully. Jackson and Elman agree that IRL conversations usually leave less room for miscommunication. But if a text or call works better for you — as in, it will help stop you from raising your voice or help you get your point across more clearly — that’s OK, says Elman. Just make sure you have their full attention, she adds.
To do this, try saying: I don't think we're in the same place in our friendship right now. Do you want to talk about this right now, or is there a better time?
Step 2: “Lead with vulnerability,” says Jackson. “Think about the reason you're reluctant to let this friendship go and to have this conversation. That should be your first sentence,” she says.
To do this, try saying: I've really been thinking a lot lately and there's something I wanted to talk to you about. I've really put thought into this and I don't want to hurt you.
Step 3: Be direct, but avoid listing out what they’ve done wrong. “A person's natural reaction is to explain away every accusation,” says Jackson. Instead, focus on what you want going forward.
To do this, try saying: I've been thinking a lot lately, and I have to prioritize being in spaces where I feel like I can speak more freely, I can be a little more myself, etc.
I'm focusing on [insert priority] and I think I need to take a break from our friendship right now.
This isn't working anymore, and I don’t know if you felt it. But I've been feeling like the last few times we've hung out, we have been fighting a lot.
Step 4: Accept that they might not react that way you want. “They're going to want to have their say, they're going to have questions. They might say hurtful things, they might cry. You have to have some resolve in the decision and not backtrack,” Jackson says.
I had the talk. Now, how do I get over a friendship breakup?
Feel your feelings. Friendship breakups are usually more painful than romantic ones, both experts agree, because we often don’t have the tools or language to express how meaningful this person was to us. “Let it be as painful as it needs to be, and don't invalidate or diminish how you're feeling because it was ‘just a friendship,’” says Elman.
If losing a friend left a hole in your social life, Jackson suggests trying new hobbies to learn more about yourself. And try to be conscious of how you use social media. Meaning: Don’t obsess over their posts or post with the hope that they’ll see how great you’re doing, she says. It also helps to practice gratitude for the friendship. “It sets you up to move forward with a little less bitterness and resentment,” says Jackson.
Rom-coms didn’t teach us how to deal with a friendship breakup. So when you experience one, it can be rattling. But it’s completely natural to outgrow some people as we get older and our lives change — and being honest about that might be the best thing you can do for your friend.
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