Ending a relationship with someone you love is a complicated process. But often what’s more difficult to navigate is breaking up a friendship. After all, humans are hardwired for empathy and friendship.
When you consider the amount of history both of you share, you might feel tempted to keep on in a toxic relationship. That may mean putting up with a lot of drama, unhealthy events, and unnecessary competition.
You may decide it’s a minor price to pay for fear of finding out how your friend will react. Or worse, you might worry they will share your darkest secrets with the world.
Regardless of your thoughts and fears, ending a toxic friendship, or a friendship that is just not working for you, is possible.
The Slow Fade
Start by slowly fading them out. If you were involved in an unhealthy situation, don’t suddenly end the friendship. Instead, set boundaries that are realistic but strong.
The term “boundary” is a spatial metaphor, where in-bounds means acceptable and out-of-bounds means unacceptable.
For example, you may decide that you will only talk to your toxic friend via email and limit your phone conversations to topics that don’t bring up painful past emotions. You might decide to reduce the amount of dialogue you have with them.
A quick tip: social media complicates things nowadays. Perhaps you are looking through your timeline and the Memories feature shows a photo from that picnic you two went on together last year. It can make it almost impossible to move on if you are constantly being bombarded with reminders in different places online. So taking a break from social media might have to be part of your slow fade.
Lower the frequency of contact from three times a week to once or twice a month. As your friendship diminishes, some of your most painful emotions will come up. This feeling is normal and expected.
Once you acknowledge and accept those feelings without judgment or resistance, you can let those emotions also go.
End it officially when the slow fade fails to work. Although you may try to let your friend go gradually, that might not work. You might want to take a more direct approach.
Sit down with your friend and explain that you need more time and energy for other things in your life. Then, give them a final admonition, and if they don’t respond kindly, end the friendship. Block them on social media, email and telephone if you need to burn your bridges.
The direct approach may feel unnerving while you’re at it, but don’t let yourself feel intimidated. The good thing is you allow yourselves the chance to talk things out first and come to an understanding. Soon enough, you’ll realize how freeing it feels.
Watch Out For Nostalgia
Remove all sentimentality from the situation. The fact that you want to end a friendship means you’ve realized that it’s no longer beneficial to you. Don’t let that taint your message, though. You still need to present your case as objectively as possible.
One way to reframe the relationship is to ask yourself if this person was ever really your friend. Research from 2016 shows that people have a very poor perception of friendship ties, and only half of your buddies would consider you their own friend.
It turns out that we’re very bad at judging who our friends are. And our difficulty determining the reciprocity of friendship significantly limits our ability to engage in cooperative arrangements,
According to Dr. Erez Shmueli, who conducted the study1 with Dr. Laura Radaelli. The researchers conducted extensive social experiments and analyzed the data from other studies to determine the percentage of reciprocal friendships and their impact on human behavior.
Nostalgia can cause you to reminisce about the good times you had together. However, those memories don’t excuse their behavior. Remain as calm and collected as possible throughout your last conversations.
Is Honesty The Best Policy?
Stay honest with yourself. You may not want to get yourself involved in a drawn-out conversation. But you must talk to your friend about how you feel. Remember, you have good reasons to end your friendship.
If you don’t, maybe you can try to work things out. But if you realize that things won’t work out, then it may be best to end it.
Be honest with yourself and your friend. The sooner you know it’s time to leave, the sooner you can get rid of the toxic friendship.
Toxic friendships are difficult to let go of, especially if you’ve been friends with them for a long time. But sometimes, when you realize that your friendship isn’t benefiting you anymore, it’s time to move on.
Think about why people around you have such a negative impact on your life and decide whether you want to keep associating with them. Then, tell them it’s over and politely explain that things just aren’t working out anymore.
The negative feelings associated with the toxicity will not vanish overnight. But with time, everyone involved will begin to heal and grow stronger.
Abdullah Almaatouq, Laura Radaelli, Alex Pentland, Erez Shmueli Are You Your Friends’ Friend? Poor Perception of Friendship Ties Limits the Ability to Promote Behavioral Change PLOS ONE, 2016; 11 (3): e0151588 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151588 ↩︎