Let’s be honest, friend breakups are sometimes even harder than romantic ones. The bond of a friendship is a unique soul connection that has nothing to do with your looks or expectations of the future.

Friendships are free from many of the rules and qualifiers of a romantic relationship, making them more organic and pure in many ways. And where we are at least somewhat prepared, for a romantic relationship to potentially end, we are generally unprepared for the end of a friendship.

But the reality is that people grow and change throughout their lives and sometimes we are no longer a good fit—sometimes they’re no longer a fit for us either. Sometimes our trust is betrayed, or maybe something was said that can’t be taken back.

Unlike romantic relationships in which there are clearer precedents about how to break up, the same is not true for friendships. This can leave you in a strange sort of limbo where you no longer want to be friends with the person but don’t know how to end the friendship either.

It’s complicated and painful no matter what, but there are some protocols and generally accepted dos and don’ts when it comes to breaking up with a friend.

At a Glance

Breaking up a friendship can be just as stressful and emotionally draining as ending a romantic relationship. Be kind to yourself afterward. It’s normal to feel sad, frustrated, or angry. The approach you take is up to you and depends on the reasons for ending the friendship. Some possibilities are having a talk, gradually fading out, or ending it cold turkey. Keep on top of your mental health to ensure that the end of the friendship does not cause additional problems.

Why End a Friendship?

Before you decide how to break up with a friend, it’s helpful to understand the reasons why you no longer want to be friends with this particular person. This can make it easier to move forward as you end the friendship.

One way to achieve this goal is by journaling your feelings. This allows you a safe space to get your thoughts out without discussing them with others, which you may not want to do until they are clear in your own mind.

Reasons you might identify for wanting to end a friendship include:

  • Change of circumstances: Your lives have changed in that you no longer work together, go to the same school, or otherwise interact with each other in the same way.
  • Increased distance: You’ve grown apart in terms of interests or commitments, or one of you has physically moved, creating a situation where you don’t see each other as often as you once did.
  • Mental health reasons: Your friend is deceitful or negative, spending more time cutting you down than building you up. Or you simply no longer enjoy the friendship like you used to.
  • Opposing values: Your values have become opposed in some way, creating conflict in the friendship.
  • Relationship toxicity: The friend has become a toxic person in your life, whether due to their attitude or behavior.

Know that a friend shouldn’t ask you to compromise your integrity, go against your values or commitments, tell a lie, or hurt someone. Although it may feel like a significant loss to lose a friend, someone who is no longer making your life better does not deserve that space in your life.

Recognizing a Toxic Friendship

In general, a healthy relationship is one in which both people are giving and taking equally. In a toxic relationship, one person will often do more of the taking and the other, more of the giving. Pay attention to how you feel the next time you’re around this person and how you feel after spending time with them.

Signs of a toxic friendship include:

  • Your friend doesn’t show any interest in your life.
  • They often lie, manipulate, and/or try to control you.
  • They don’t support you or show up for you. They’re unreliable.
  • You feel neglected or judged by them.
  • You feel emotionally drained after you spend time with them.

If this person is someone who lifts your spirits and gives you energy, you might consider giving the friendship another try. However, if their negative impact on your life outweighs the positive, you may be in a toxic relationship.

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Healthy Ways to End a Friendship

In general, there are four healthy options when ending a friendship. In some cases, you may use a combination of these strategies.

The Gradual Fade-Out

This tactic involves letting the friendship come to a natural close by gradually reducing social interaction with the other person. This is akin to taking the stitches out of a garment versus tearing it apart. Gradually fading out of the friendship might be a good option if you are afraid of confrontation, if the person is likely not to listen or accept what you are saying, or for toxic situations.

In general, fading out of a friendship is an attempt to avoid hurt feelings. Instead of laying your feelings on the line, you become too busy to get together or generally hard to reach. You might text instead of call, fade out of the person’s social media (unfollowing them or muting their account as needed), take a long time when getting back in touch, answer with short replies, etc.

You are doing things that might naturally happen in a friendship that is fading—you’re just choosing to do them intentionally to exit the friendship.

While fading out of friendship may seem kinder, it could drag on if the friend does not take the hint. In that case, you might be putting that person through a stressful situation as they try to guess what is going on or why you’ve suddenly disappeared.

At the same time, the fade-out might be your best option if the friendship is toxic and you don’t want to have to explain yourself, if you’ve been harmed by the person, or if you don’t care enough anymore to give them an explanation.

Having a Talk

If you determine that a gradual fade-out is not appropriate or if it ends up not working, you might need to have a talk with your friend. This is similar to a talk you would have in a romantic relationship to determine where each of you stands and to talk about the future.

  • Step 1: Ask the person to meet you for coffee to chat. If you’re concerned about your physical or emotional safety, you may decide to contact them via text, over the phone, or by email instead.
  • Step 2: Have a goal for your talk. Think about what you want to achieve. Do you want to clear up a miscommunication, explain resentment, address an old argument, or set boundaries in the relationship? Whatever it is that you hope to achieve, it needs to be clear in your head before you meet.
  • Step 3: Start out with a statement that opens the doors for more conversation. For example, you might say, “I’ve noticed some patterns in our friendship in the past few months that have been bothering me. I wondered if we could talk about it.”
  • Step 4: Talk about how you are feeling, not what the other person has done wrong. Keep your goals for the conversation in mind. Remember to listen as much as you talk.

Focus on using “I” statements when you speak. An “I” statement, such as “I feel sad when you don’t show up after we’ve made plans,” puts the emphasis on your feelings instead of placing blame only on your friend.

Even if you’re angry or upset with your friend, it might be less stressful for both of you if you let them down easily. Tell them what you do appreciate about them. Just because you’re ending the friendship doesn’t mean you don’t value the time you spent together.

A talk can be a stepping stone to the end of a friendship, but you might also find that you are able to resolve your differences and fix the friendship instead.

Taking a Break

You may determine from having a talk that your differences can’t be resolved. If that’s the case, what do you do? You could immediately terminate the friendship or you could decide to take a break, much the same way people sometimes take breaks in romantic relationships. 

Taking a break can have many positives. It gives you:

  • A fresh perspective on the friendship
  • A moment to calm down if you are upset
  • An opportunity to miss your friend if you were spending too much time together
  • Time to reevaluate the friendship

You can give any number of reasons for taking a break. If you prefer to be vague, you might say that you are going to be extra busy for a couple of weeks. If you’ve just had a talk, you could say that you need time to digest everything you’ve discussed. Set a time in the future to reconvene, or suggest that you will get in touch when you feel you are ready.

While on the break, you can always mute or unfollow their social media account to provide some added distance. You might find that clearing the mental space this friend once occupied can be a helpful refresher and benefit the relationship.

Ending Things Immediately

Sometimes it is impossible to avoid the chaos that happens when a friendship ends. This is true if you are dealing with a toxic friend or someone who does not respect the boundaries that you try to set. But ending this type of unhealthy friendship is important as it can improve your personal well-being.

In this situation, simply state that your needs are not being met in the friendship. Wish the other person all the best in the future. This type of friendship break-up can be good in that it is unambiguous and clear, and you get a chance to voice any issues that you’ve been holding back. At the same time, it can be awkward to confront someone in this manner.

This strategy is most appropriate if you’ve known someone a long time and feel they deserve the respect of a final goodbye, or if someone does something so awful that it would be hard to ignore. At some point, you could simply say, “Goodbye, I need to go.” If it helps, write a little script that expresses what you are feeling. 

Ghosting—ending communication with someone without telling them—is a controversial topic. But sometimes it’s okay to end a friendship without speaking to the other person.

In relationships where there is manipulation, physical or emotional abuse, or the violation of boundaries, you don’t owe the person an explanation for why you’re ending the friendship. Your first priority is to keep yourself safe and not subject yourself to further stress, especially if your safety is at risk.

Block their number, block them on social media, and let any mutual friends know that you will no longer be engaging with this person.

Unhelpful Ways to End a Friendship

While circumstances surrounding the end of a friendship vary, it may be helpful to avoid certain ways of handling a friend breakup (even one involving a toxic person), including:

What to Expect When a Friendship Ends

Though you may have plenty of valid reasons for ending a friendship, this doesn’t necessarily protect you or your former friend from the feelings that go along with a friend breakup.

Remember that feeling sad that a friendship ends doesn’t mean that you made the wrong decision. Having an idea of your friend’s possible reaction and what you’ll feel after the breakup can help you mentally prepare for the end of the friendship.

From Your Friend

They may react in the following ways:

  • Asking if it’s possible to convert the friendship into a different form of relationship
  • Feeling hurt and becoming defensive
  • Not understanding why you want to end the friendship
  • Trying to manipulate you back into the friendship

If your friend chooses to escalate the conversation into an argument or displays any aggressive or hostile behavior, avoid engaging with them. Try to calmly leave the situation and get to a safe place as soon as possible.

If you’re meeting with your friend in person, let a trusted loved one know where you’ll be and check in with them when you’re done. You might even have a loved one waiting for you to pick you up or to meet up with you at a nearby coffee shop or store.

For Yourself

You may be surprised to learn that a friendship can be saved or converted into something else. It’s also okay to tell your friend that you need time to decide and that you can continue the conversation soon. Walk away and think about your options. Try not to let your friend’s emotions sway you into making a decision you’re not comfortable making.

You might end a friendship over the phone or via text if you’re worried your friend will try to manipulate you into staying friends. If they don’t accept your decision, you don’t have to engage with them in an argument. You can excuse yourself from the conversation, wish them the best, and block their number.

You can’t control whether your other friends continue seeing the person you broke up with. Let mutual friends know you’d appreciate a heads-up if there’s a group gathering where this person will be, so you can make a decision beforehand about whether you’ll attend.

Though many people have revenge fantasies or wish they could “get back” at an old friend, try to let these go. Your mental health can be negatively affected by constant rumination about your old friend.

Do your best to not re-engage after ending a friendship. Trust yourself and your decision to move on. Remember, you’ll probably feel at least a little sad, and that’s okay.

If you’re having trouble dealing with the aftermath of a friend breakup, talk to a qualified mental healthcare professional who can help you learn healthy coping mechanisms to deal with these tough emotions.

Keep in Mind

Breaking up a friendship can be just as stressful and emotionally draining as ending a romantic relationship. Be kind to yourself afterward. It’s normal to feel sad, frustrated, or angry.

The approach you take is up to you and depends on the reasons for ending the friendship. Some possibilities are having a talk, gradually fading out, or ending it cold turkey. Keep on top of your mental health to ensure that the end of the friendship does not cause additional problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I end a toxic friendship?

    Some options include telling the person directly that you are ending the friendship. Or, you might allow the friendship to fade away by communicating less over time. If someone is violating your boundaries or if you feel unsafe, you might choose to discontinue all communication with them immediately.

  • How do I end a friendship by text?

    You might start off by saying how you feel about the friendship using “I” statements. Avoid blaming the other person. You can add that you appreciate the time you’ve spent together. Set a boundary, such as “I feel it’s best if we don’t speak or see each other anymore.” You can end the message by wishing them the best moving forward.

  • How do I end a friendship without hurting feelings?

    Instead of insulting the person or blaming them, take accountability for how you feel and why you want to end the relationship. You can tell them what you do appreciate about them and wish them well. Ultimately, you can’t control whether someone’s feelings are hurt. But you can try to avoid unnecessary fighting.

  • How do I end a friendship without confrontation?

    Try to approach the person without anger or animosity. Though you may be upset, try not to judge, criticize, or yell at them. Tell them how you feel and try to keep the interaction peaceful. If they do become hostile, you don’t have to engage. Leave an aggressive situation. If they become hostile over the phone, you can choose to block their number and end communication.