Friend Divorce: 6 Important Tips for Ending a Friendship

unhappy friendsBy 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Justin Lioi, LCSW, Relationships and Marriage Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Tracey

    August 4th, 2014 at 3:56 PM

    This sounds far more planned out than what I have ever experienced. For me it has never been this thing that was talked about or that we had a conversation about, in most cases we just grew apart and stopped spending time together. For me this actually seems a little healthier because it is not awkward running into this person again, you can just start talking again like old times and not have this feeling that this person does not want to be aorund you anymore. I don’t know- it is one thing to break up with someone you are dating but I think that with most friendships, if they have run their course they will naturally end or fade somewhat and you won’t have to have these kinds of conversations.

  • Taylor

    August 4th, 2014 at 5:06 PM

    I don’t think that there is necessarily anything wrong with doing this but… you have to know that you are burning some bridges having this kind of talk so this friendship will for all intents and purposes be over.

  • colby

    August 5th, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    This is true of any relationship:
    if you find yourself always looking for ways to avoid someone instead of wanting to find ways to spend time with them then you have to know that it could be time for the relationship to end.

  • Victoria

    August 6th, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    When you have been friends with someone for a very long time I think that it is only natural for the friendship to have ots own set of ups and downs.
    I think that this is completely normal and if this happens then why not agree to spend some time apart for a little while and see if the time apart makes the heart grow a little fonder?
    The instinct might be there to say that you never want to see this person again, but is this really what you want for the rest of your life or is a break from this person for a little while what you might need?

  • jazzer

    August 6th, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    hardest thing I ever done was get rid of my best friend when she cheated with my boyfriend

  • Hannah

    August 6th, 2014 at 6:20 PM

    oh yes because everyone should always bring me joy… this is way too vague to be super helpful.

    there are toxic friends and im not sure the drama is worth a conversation. if you’re done, you’re done….why explain??

  • Sylvia

    August 7th, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    @Hannah- you might not need the closure but you know that there will be those people when they are toxic who just will not fade away into the night.
    They are going to want to know what happened and they will practically insist on an explanation.
    You are not bound by blood to give them that explanation, I get that, but I think that with some people they are going to hear it straight form you that the friendship is over because they could keep clinging to hope that you can still maintain that relationship.
    It is not easy or fun to have to have that kind of conversation; in fact it is terribly hard but I think that if you step up and do it in the end they will have a lot more respect for you than they would if you just keep avoiding their call.
    I know that I would anyway.

  • Sally

    August 8th, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    This was interesting to read because this did happen to me. I had made a new friend when I moved to a new area. We hung out together and eventually she was inviting me to join in events that were uncomfortable to me, such as a lot of drinking and partying that felt unsafe to me. I became her personal designated driver so that she could drink and be safe, but it wasn’t fun for me! She was disrespectful to me in a lot of ways. She continued to invite me, and I kept saying no, and I finally had to tell her that I didn’t want to “hang” with her anymore, and of course, she asked me for a reason and I had to tell her that her lifestyle just did not coincide with mine.

  • Corina

    August 8th, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    Coming from someone who just went through this. I took inventory of myself and my relationships and realized there were some friendships that I was trying to hold onto because I expected some validation or reassurance from those relationships. Once I understood my validation came from within, I knew it was ok to let the friendships go. One in particular was challenging to let go because the other person had different expectations and didn’t want to say goodbye. However, we talked about it and cried about it together. It was really bittersweet because we knew we had been naturally drifting anyway. Perhaps our friendship emanated from a wounded connection that ran it’s course as we both grew in different directions.

  • Corina

    August 8th, 2014 at 12:11 PM

    In essence most friendships drift as we go through life except the ones that are nurtured and there is consistent give and take on both ends. I know of three people who will be in my life forever because we have that connection and understanding. Everyone else is just somewhere in between. Lots of social friends! and if one in particular becomes a new closer friend then great but you can stay in tune with yourself and determine of the friendship is worth maintaining just by how you both support each other.

  • Vero

    August 8th, 2014 at 11:24 PM

    I agree with your insight. I can count the number of genuine friendships in one hand. I know today that superficial relationships are not worth investing any time or energy on. We must be true to ourselves at all times. I embrace solitude and peace of mind!

  • Amie

    August 9th, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    My best friend and I where great friends while I took care of her kids and family when she went abroad for business etc bathing feeding and so on. Even taking them too the doctor when they where sick, having Christmas buying gifts etc etc and did it out of love for all. When my father died I went through a really bad patch and never heard from her. I still let that slide. But more recent her husband was angry with my son and called me, I listened too what he had to say. And by not calling his father already but me in a difficult situation. However my son was in the wrong, we spoke about what had happened, (he and his best friend where five min late and my son was a little cheeky and shocked of his reaction, he also swore and punched his steering wheel the whole way home the father but that was never mentioned until now) . However, my son wanted to go and apologise, not just too him but to my friend for causing an upset. I sent both a message in advance to say he would be arriving on such and such a day at this time, when he got there, they did not answer and when I messaged too say there was not a reply, I was told they did not hear… My son is 14 and I was so proud of him, he said Mom, we both know they where home…. They a joke, and now I have too agree. I really needed them too let my son be accountable, I have been there through many things and never have I asked anything in return but this, no matter how they felt, it was not just about him but for me, to say you cannot behave in this manner. A life lesson since then one or two messages and now nothing I am very shocked that two grown adults can behave like this and that I once called them friends

  • Kathryn

    August 10th, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    I think it’s better to ha e “the talk” a d make the breakup directly if the person has been a close friend for a long time. I think just expecting then to understand your need for separation by ignoring the. Is selfish and cowardly. Expecting people to read your mind is risky at best.

  • NYTX

    August 30th, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    I recented had abdominal surgery. Upon learning i needed surgery, i texted my best girlfriends with the information as soon as i found out about it. I received almost instant responses from each of my friends. On surgery day as soon as i was able to use my phone (approximately 7-8 hours after surgery I texted my friends that surgery was successful. All my girlsfriends responded with positive messages. However, two out four of my friends has taken the time to call, and i have yet to receive a call from my friends. I recently told my bf i think i needed to re-evaluate my friendship with the other ladies. This article came just in time.

  • louise

    June 24th, 2021 at 3:03 PM

    great article! I think I learned a lot from it. I broke up with one friend, but it was the best decision I could ever make.

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