There’s never an easy way to break up with a friend. Not only do you lose the promise of what you thought would be a forever-friendship, but you’re also losing a once-friend who may know all your secrets. There’s also the added risk of losing mutual friends.
Here are some simple tips to make breaking up easier, and to minimize the hurt and collateral damage.
1) Make sure you really want to break up
It should go without saying, but the decision to break up shouldn’t be made impulsively. Make sure it’s something you really have to do because you’ve tried everything short of that. Once you go down that route, you will never be able to restore the friendship at the same level of intimacy. Never break up in anger. Wait until you can think clearly. If you’ve had a misunderstanding, do whatever you can to clear the air.
2) Try to dilute the friendship
Rather than ending the friendship entirely, try to downgrade your relationship. If it’s someone you don’t see every day, you may be able to see each other less often, see each other for briefer periods of time, and/or only get together with mutual friends rather than one-on-one. It’s better to have an acquaintance than an enemy.
3) Plan the break up carefully
If you can’t wiggle out of the friendship because your friend is very persistent or tone-deaf, you may have to end the friendship more decisively. Since your friend isn’t likely to forget this conversation, be sure to figure out way to do it as painlessly as possible for both of you.
Sometimes it’s helpful to write yourself a script and rehearse what you are going to say. You’ll also need to determine the best place to deliver the message. Make sure it’s a neutral setting (e.g., not at an office, if she’s a workplace friend; not at your home, so you can leave if the conversation gets heated). That said: Where and how you do it depends on the people involved, the nature of the friendship, and the reasons for the breakup
4) Take responsibility for ending the friendship
This isn’t the time to air your grievances or to blame or try to change the other person. You’ve already decided the friendship is over. Doing that now will only make the other person feel more defensive. Use “I” language to explain why you want to end the friendship. Make every effort to do it with as much as grace and tact as possible—after all, this person once was your friend. A “white lie” can help temper the hurt. Try something like “I need more time to myself” or “I need a break from our relationship.”
5) Don’t involve other people
People in your mutual circles don’t need to know the details of what happened between you. It will only make them feel uncomfortable or perhaps they’ll think you’re asking them to choose sides. If anyone asks, just say you aren’t as friendly as you once were.
Relationship endings are sad but if a friendship is consistently fractious and unsatisfying, it’s better to move on and spend your time nurturing friendships that are mutually supportive. That’s what friends are for!