How to break up with a friend who is bad for your mental health

  • If you don’t enjoy talking to your pal anymore or feel like they are emotionally draining, it might be best to let the friendship go
  • It’s better to slowly pull away than to dump or ‘ghost’ your friend
Doris Wai |

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If you find that a friendship is hurting you or giving you a lot of stress, it might be best to break up with your pal.

Whether you’ve realised you just don’t have anything in common anymore, or you can’t remember the last time you actually wanted to hang out, breaking up with a friend who’s now more like a stranger can be pretty tough. Author Irene Levine, aka “The Friendship Doctor”, says sometimes it can be better to let the relationship go.

The author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Break-up With Your Best Friend says: “Friendships evolve over time, even very close ones. There might be times when some of the connections just don’t feel right any more, and that’s because we grow in different directions, especially in our teenage years. We pick up new hobbies, graduate and move to different schools, or cities, and it gets more complicated to maintain these friendships.”

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Levine, who is also a psychologist, explains that unlike family ties, friendships are voluntary relationships, and we should only actively invest in friends that have a positive influence on our lives.

She adds: “There are no rules of the road for friendship. We learn as we go along. If you are having problems making or keeping friends, you might want to talk to an adult for advice.

“Also, understand that friendships can sometimes be lopsided and one person might have to put in a little more effort. But you might want to rethink the relationship if it becomes emotionally draining.”

Several warning signs that a friendship is probably beyond salvation include no longer enjoying talking to someone, having to tiptoe around lots of taboo topics, and having constant misunderstandings and silly squabbles that can’t be resolved.

If your friendship feels like nothing but work, it might be time for it to end.

“It’s also time to pull the plug if they broke your trust, or if they have hurt your feelings and show no remorse, and are unwilling to apologise,” Levine points out.

It takes quality time to build bonds; and if it seems ridiculously impossible to reach someone (even though they are posting IG stories throughout the day), it just shows they don’t value your friendship.

And it’s times like these that you might want to call it quits.

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While ending a friendship isn’t easy, it doesn’t have to be awkward or brutal. “Remember this person was once your confidant, so you want to be as kind as possible, and minimise any anger or hurt,” says Levine.

She suggests spending more time apart and letting the friendship “fade out” instead of “dumping” them. This works well if both of you are gradually pulling away. However, if the break-up is not mutual and your friend asks why you’re no longer hanging out, you need to have a conversation instead.

Levine says this involves being tactful, and sometimes even telling a little white lie. “Use ‘I’ sentences, such as ‘I’m really sorry, but I don’t think this is working out because …’ when explaining why you need to end the friendship. It’s okay to tell a white lie and say that you need more time for studies.”

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This should give you both the chance to thrash things out and hopefully get some form of closure.

Levine says it’s a good idea to leave the door open for a future friendship. But if you truly want to end the relationship for good, think very carefully about the words you use.

You might even want to write a script and rehearse it, because your soon-to-be ex-friend is likely to hang on to those last words. You don’t want their last memory of you to wipe out the good times you shared.

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