By the time you’re in your thirties and forties, you’ve met a substantial number of people. A small percentage of that group is made up of people you now call friends. In discussing “friend divorce,” I don’t mean people you see only at work or on Facebook. A friend divorce is when you care enough about yourself and the other person to initiate a difficult conversation wherein you essentially say, “I don’t want you to be a part of my life anymore.”
Before going further, I want to say it takes some confidence and self-worth to make a decision like this. If you considered yourself worthless, you wouldn’t be concerned that someone would be hurt if you cut him or her out of your life. I’m glad you value yourself enough to ensure that people who take up space in your life are doing so because they’ve earned it.
How Do You Know When It’s Time?
Sometimes a friend will do something so shocking that you know that this person cannot remain in your life, but there are also subtler reasons to consider a friend divorce. There’s the friend you’ve known your whole life and your high school days are marked by crazy memories, but now you’re both 37 and your friend’s attempts to relive those antics are embarrassing. There’s the friend who disappeared during a time you were sick or someone close to you died. You may have tried to sort this through with them, but you’re certain that their actions would be no different if a similar situation arose. Other friends might also warrant cutting ties. Do you find that you call or text someone out of obligation or only when you know there’s a clear end to the conversation (e.g., waiting for the bus)? If dread arises when you think about spending time with this person, it’s clear that this is no longer a relationship that brings you joy.
Six Tips for a Friend Divorce
This is a big step, but once you’ve settled on doing it, there are a few things to remember that may help you move through an admittedly painful and awkward process:
- Be direct: Your friend may hear that you need some time or that you’ll catch up next summer. You’ve put a lot of thought into this, so make sure you’re clear: you are ending the friendship.
- Expect anger and sadness: Endings stir up difficult feelings. Just because you’ve put a lot of care and concern into this decision doesn’t mean you’ll be thanked at the end of it. This person is losing you, and that’s no small thing. Don’t try to take away their feelings. Allow them, but be prepared for them. Also, remember that this may be come as a surprise to them—especially if their self-involvement is one of the reasons you’re ending the friendship. (And you now have the added bonus that their reaction reminds you why you’re doing this in the first place.)
- Expect anger and sadness from yourself: You’re losing a person who meant something to you once. That’s sad. It’s supposed to be.
- Be concrete (if you can): If there are specific moments, then this is a good time to point to them. Stay away from saying “you” if you can. The person may negotiate, but they can’t deny an action. You may have already had a conversation about the intentions behind that action; your focus here is the action and that it could happen again.
- Let the person know how much they have meant to you and that you’ll be sorry to lose them: This should not turn into, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Honestly, he or she was your friend for a time. There was a reason for that, and chances are it was a good reason. You may need to dig deep, but you don’t want the person feeling that you never cared for them at all.
- Let them know the limitations: This seems similar to being direct, and it is, but in the heat of emotions you want to ensure that you set specific boundaries, e.g., “Please do not call me. Do not include me on invitations. I’m not going to say ‘no,’ I’m just not going to respond.”
Saying goodbye under the best of circumstances is difficult, and this is hardly the best of circumstances. The older you are, the more you realize how precious your time is, and a lot of it will probably be spent with people. Make sure those people are the ones you want, the ones who add to your life, and the ones who bring you joy.
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Justin Lioi, LCSW, therapist in Brooklyn, New York
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