Adios, Amigos

Tips to end a friendship that has soured

Tips to end a friendship that has soured

April 07, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

Ending a friendship is a bit like pulling apart Velcro. It's hard to do and makes a big, ripping noise.

There's no doubt that ending a friendship can be a messy, emotional and painful experience, says Caroline Miller, who coaches people to set and achieve goals throughout their lives. But sometimes it's necessary - and healthy - to say farewell when a friendship has gone south.

This is the stuff that advice columns are made of. How do you tell a friend - someone who has meant a lot to you - that you don't want to spend time with her anymore? When it comes to your office lunch pal, how do you break the news that you don't enjoy his company?

"When it comes down to it, there are really just two ways to end a friendship," says Deb Mahony, a New Yorker who maintains the advice Web site, "One way is to gradually spend less time together, and hopefully they will end up going away. The best way is to confront your friend."


While the ins and outs of ending a friendship vary for each person and each situation, there is a process to consider before making the decision to cut and run, experts say.

Step one: Figure out what went wrong.

If you feel the time has come to separate from a friend, ask yourself: "Am I contributing to the negativity of this friendship?" says Miller, who is owner of Caroline Miller Coaching LLC, online at Or, is it your behavior that is making the friendship suffer? Realizing why you are unhappy with a friendship can help you stay away from similar relationships in the future. Also, it's important for adults to understand how they make and maintain friendships, Miller says.

Step two: Decide the approach.

Decide what kind of approach would be most appropriate for dissolving the friendship.

"It depends on the situation," says Mahony, who receives countless questions about relationship advice from her Web readers. "If it's someone that you work with or someone that you are going to see every day, in that case you have to be very delicate and careful. I would recommend a very guarded approach."

Some people decide to avoid their friend by not returning phone calls and making excuses to not spend time together - hoping, he or she will get the idea.

Others find a way to talk to the friend about his or her feelings.

Mahony believes confronting a friend in a sincere and gentle way is the best method to end a relationship. It gives both people an opportunity to talk about what happened, to explain themselves and to uncover any misunderstandings. Taking this route, might lead to a reconciliation, she says.

Courtenay Chamberlin, a licensed clinical social worker with Behavioral Health Services at Washington County Hospital, agrees it is best to address feelings when ending friendships.

"Address it with the other person that you are feeling frustrated and see what kind of reaction you get. If the person is able to respond and says, 'I hadn't recognized that.' Or, 'I'm sorry.' Then you can continue," she says.

"Be honest if questioned about" why you are ending the friendship, Miller adds. "Do it in a gracious way, without being adversarial. Recognize your role in where the friendship went south."

Step three: Most friendships have a natural cycle.

"Relationships go through different phases," Chamberlin explains. "It's just kind of a natural part of life that we evolve and have different needs. So, sometimes people come and go out of our lives."

The most common problem that comes up when Miller's clients talk to her about ending friendships is outgrowing a friendship, she says.

"People change. Their priorities in life change," Miller says. "Big events in your life can change you to the point where you just need a whole new circle of friends."

Accepting that it's OK to move on with your life, even if that means leaving friends in the past, can be a sign of growth and maturity, Miller says. Especially when embracing new and positive friends who help you to move forward.

Step four: Ifall else fails, call the authorities.

If you can't end a friendship that you feel is a negative influence in your life, it might be appropriate to seek help from a counselor or life coach, Miller says.

"If you're constantly finding yourself in relationships (that you need to end) - you may need some help if you don't understand why this keeps happening," says Chamberlin. "One of the benefits of therapy is that it can help you understand what is driving your behavior."

"Friendships are very special," Mahony adds. "A good friend is one whom you share your hopes and dreams with. A good friend is supportive, not destructive. You should never feel obligated that you have to be someone's friend. We need to give ourselves permission to decide whom we are going to be close to and whom we are not going to be close to."

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