How to break up with a friend as an adult

How to break up with a friend as an adult

Friendships take work, but breakups can be even tougher.

The realization that you and a friend are growing apart is either the time to come together or call it quits. Ending a friendship can be difficult and filled with emotions.

When you feel a friendship faltering, use these tips from Gayle Johnson, a professional counselor with Aurora Health Care, to take a critical look and handle a potentially uncomfortable situation like an adult:

Signs of a broken friendship

Often, perception is reality. If one friend is feeling a disconnect, it’s likely there. If you see somebody out of obligation, need to psyche yourself up, feel exhausted afterwards or flat out don’t enjoy their company, it’s time to take a step back. You may also not like how you behave when you’re around your friend. Other signs are more subtle, like if one person in the friendship is making more or all the effort to connect. Toxic behavior like intruding and controlling a friend’s time or behavior is abuse. Even unsavory social media posts can create a rift that signals you need to step back.

Do I need to have a “formal” breakup?

Whether you’ve been friends for years or a couple months, it’s important to read the room. When two people grow apart and the lack of interest feels mutual, it’s alright to let the friendship naturally fade away. If you enjoy spending time with somebody, but there’s something causing an issue, have a conversation. You are friends, after all! Share your thoughts, listen to the other person, set new boundaries, and build upon your friendship from there. However, if the feelings are one-sided and you and your friend aren’t on the same page, then it might be time to have an actual friend breakup.

How to break up with a friend

You’re not in high school anymore. Everybody deserves respect and to be treated like an adult. Don’t cut things off abruptly without explaining why. Take time to calm down, collect your thoughts and be clear about what you are feeling. If possible, meet in-person rather than talk on the phone or via text. If you are in an abusive friendship, be safe and skip the face-to-face meeting and send an email or letter. No matter what, be polite, firm and clear about why you are ending the friendship.

“If the break-up is non-negotiable, be certain to make it about you and your needs, not about the other person,” says Johnson. “If it is about them, then they may try to make excuses, promises or corrections to your perceptions.”

Obviously, things might go sideways. Your friend might not see this coming, feel hurt and even lash out. However difficult, your friends – and their future friends – will all benefit from a healthy breakup.

Find more resources and learn about our behavioral services here.

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  1. This is great; but sadly this is not the real world. having been the recipient of friends breaking up – the status quo is to “ghost” the friend…just vanish…no call, no email, nothing and no response when texted…just gone. We may be adults, but the feelings we have about uncomfortable situations take us back to our childhoods and – if the lessons weren’t taught about how to break up with friends – people just walk away, leaving more questions than answers. I would love for this to be real life.

  2. I noticed a very close 20+ year friendship disappearing a couple of years ago. Poor communication from the friend, passive-aggressive remarks, failure to respond to emails, invitations, etc. When I said that I hoped if she had an issue with me, she would bring it up for discussion, she said she probably wouldn’t, but she’d keep it in mind. I was shocked, because I thought our friendship was more important than that. Then I realized that it may have been way more important to me than her, and that I was invariably the one phoning her. I started to back off phoning her, and waited for her to phone me, while I built up other friendships. She didn’t phone me, so calls became once a quarter or less frequently. She noticed and seemed shocked, but didn’t alter her behavior when I said I was calling people who called me. Now she says she misses me and wants to reconnect, but I’m not sure how much will change or how often I will call her.

  3. I maintained a friendship for over 40 years. Then my friend moved to a small rural town, red state. He changed his open-mindedness to close-mindedness. His wife who also was open-minded just nods in agreement with him, she can no longer thinks for herself. I could not believe it was the same person. I no longer maintain this friendship. Too toxic for me.

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About the Author

Matt Queen
Matt Queen

Matt Queen, health enews contributor, is a communication coordinator at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee. He is a former TV sports anchor and journalist with extensive public relations experience across the health care spectrum. Outside of work, Matt enjoys watching sports (of course), cooking, gardening, golfing and spending time with his wife and two young children.