If you need to end a friendship, this is how to do it with care and compassion

friendship break up toxic friendship
An expert guide to breaking up with a friendJonathan Knowles - Getty Images

Break ups are the worst - whether you’re cutting ties with a love interest or a friend. It hurts just the same, and sometimes (if not most of the time IMHO) friendship breakups can hurt more. But the reality is, losing someone you care about is never easy no matter how many years you’ve known each other, and sometimes even the longest friendships can end.

You might have quietly drifted apart, or realised the friendship was one-sided. Maybe you don't have anything in common anymore, or faced-off after a screaming match. There's no getting away from the fact that having the friendship breakup conversation is pretty awkward and it can hurt like hell.

But ending relationships is a part of life. A lot of us have been on the receiving end of a friendship breakup too, and there's no doubt that being the 'dumpee' isn't nice, particularly if the former friend hasn't thought about how to do it kindly.

When the shoe is on the other foot though and you want to instigate the end of the friendship, how on earth do you navigate the end of times, and come out of it not feeling like the worst person on earth?

We consulted with relationship expert and author Sam Owen to offer her advice on when - and how - you should let your friend go.

How do I know when a friendship is over?

When you’re frequently thinking of excuses to get out of spending time with them, you can be pretty sure the friendship is dead in the water. 'Your internal bodily feelings will tell you how each relationship in your life makes you feel and whether you want to nurture it or prune it away,' advises Sam. 'Does (thinking about) spending time with them make you feel good or bad, relaxed or tense?' As usual, your gut is probably right.

What’s the best way to end a friendship?

Sam's advice is to do it with compassion, respect and honesty, no matter how awful your reasons for ending it. Start by talking about - sincerely - all you do appreciate about the person and your relationship to date. Minimise your use of negative words as they can put the speaker and the listener into fight-or-flight mode, which means they may argue or run away when instead you want them to listen and stay.

Then, says Sam: 'Don’t leave them with emotional baggage stemming from a hurtful breakup that makes them question their worth. Give them answers so they can move on confidently, taking away lessons from this relationship that they can put to good use in their future.' AKA, take the high ground. Their future friends will thank you.

Should I worry about doing it kindly?

Sam's answer is - unequivocally - yes. 'Everyone deserves kindness - in fact, sometimes those who seem the most unlikeable need kindness the most. Think about how you can succinctly explain why you feel the synergy isn’t there between you anymore and deliver it with the intention of leaving them better off than how you found them. Decide what you feel is most appropriate given the situation you’re breaking friends over and the depth of friendship you’ve had. Take responsibility for elevating the worth of everyone you come into contact with, not destroying it - that will make you happier, too.'

What should I do if my friend doesn’t take it well?

'Genuinely acknowledge their point of view,' says Sam. 'You have two options: Either agree to disagree or, if they sway you to give it another chance, then do so with clear relationship rules that prevent or eliminate the issues that are bothering you.' Ultimately, if you know they are not good for your health and happiness, then do what’s right for you.

How should I break up with a friend I know as part of a group? I still want to be friends with the rest of the group!

'Research finds emotions are contagious to the extent that each person’s happiness can affect others around them up to three degrees of separation,' says Sam. Translation: the happiness of one person is linked to the happiness of their friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends!

'So keep the breakup amicable and, if need be, work out how you’ll keep things cordial for the sake of the group. The key thing to acknowledge: Just because you don’t want to be friends anymore doesn’t mean you have to be enemies. Keep it compassionate and mature, and you'll find it far easier to navigate the group friendship in future.'

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