Here’s the Nicest Way to Break Up With a Friend

Ari Cofer Fact Checked
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© Studio Serra / Stocksy United

Whether it’s the fourth time you’ve had to reschedule a coffee date, another argument over politics or other various signs that you’re growing apart, you might be thinking: Something needs to change.  

Typically, conversations around breakups are about romantic relationships, but there can also be trouble in platonic paradise. If you have a friendship that consistently feels rocky or stressful, you might feel like you need to end it, but it can be intimidating — since there isn’t an obvious process for how to break up with a friend.  

While ending a friendship can be sad and stressful for both you and your friend, it’s possible to break up with a friend — without having a breakdown. 

How to know if a friendship needs to end  

For better or for worse, friendships will inevitably change over time.

“The friendships you make in school, for example, are supported by a lot of time together and close physical proximity, like attending classes, in addition to shared experiences, like studying or working together on projects,” says Dr. Mari Yamamoto, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the UW School of Medicine. 

It’s natural for some friendships to strengthen or fade as life changes. Whether you’ve graduated, moved, changed jobs, gotten married or had kids, these shifts in priorities and perspectives can cause strain, resentment, passive aggression or distance in even the best of friendships.  

Unfortunately, this can sometimes mean the friendship has run its course. Yamamoto outlines a few signs that might indicate an unhealthy relationship:  

  • Your friend doesn’t respect your personal rights, such as your time, opinions, values or boundaries. 
  • Your friend doesn’t treat you with respect, belittles you, calls you names, bullies or ignores boundaries. 
  • Your friend shows overly controlling or needy tendencies, such as always wanting to know where you are or expecting you to be available to them 24/7. 

“If someone is consistently putting you down, that’s not suggestive of a supportive friendship,” says Yamamoto. “Any physical or emotional abuse is also not a sign of a supportive friendship.”  

Ultimately, friendships are meant to bring joy, support and comfort into your life. If you groan rather than smile when a friend texts you, you may decide it’s time to end the friendship. But it’s also important to note that no relationship will ever be perfect, and having these feelings doesn’t automatically mean the friendship needs to end. 

Before ending the friendship

If you’re unsure about ending the friendship, take some time to communicate your concerns to your friend.

Sometimes, an honest conversation about a difficult situation or experience you had with your friend can rebuild trust and help get your friendship back on track. Yamamoto says that generally using assertive communication — such as “I” statements — is a good framework to give your friend a sense of your feelings without blaming them or putting them on the defensive.

Here is how to make an effective “I” statement: 

  • Describe the specific situation that is occurring 
  • Share how you are feeling about the situation 
  • Make a request or wish

An example could be: “When our group of friends goes out to dinner and you loudly announce my dietary restrictions, I feel embarrassed and would appreciate if you could keep that information private.”

If you still feel uncomfortable in the relationship after attempts to communicate with your friend, it may be time to end it. The good news in this uncomfortable situation? It’s possible to break up with a friend in a compassionate yet firm way.  

How to start the conversation  

When an official breakup conversation is needed to clearly communicate a boundary, Yamamoto says there are a few ways you can move forward.

Reflect on values

When initiating a breakup conversation, start by reflecting on your values and how the friendship no longer aligns with them.

Try a statement like this: “Because I’ve begun more volunteer work, I have less free time to do other activities. This work is important to me, but you have expressed opposing views about the work and frustration with my busy schedule. I understand you would like a more available friend and one who shares your values, and unfortunately, I can’t be that person right now."

Use “I” statements  

Using “I” statements can also be helpful when you’re ready to break up with a friend.

“If you sense the friend doesn’t sense or feel the mismatch of values, and you feel it’s important to be honest about the desire to end the friendship, then using the ‘I’ statement framework may be helpful here,” says Yamamoto.  

Try a statement like this: “When we go on our morning coffee runs and you make fun of the clothes I wear, despite previously telling you that I don’t like those comments, I feel disrespected and ashamed. Because of this, I am going to take a step back from our friendship.”  

Ask about their feelings

It may also be helpful to explore what the friend thinks about the relationship and what they believe a healthy relationship should look like.

Try a question like this: “I’m wondering how you’ve been feeling about our situation. What do you need in a friendship?" 

After asking the friend how they feel about the friendship, you can share some of how it may differ from your values.

Set a boundary

At the end of the conversation, express your desire for a clear boundary or distance — or a complete ending of all contact if you believe it’s best to go your separate ways. 

Try a statement like this: “Because of [this situation], I need some space and can’t maintain contact with you right now; I wish you all the best.” 

To ghost or not to ghost

Sometimes a formal breakup conversation may not be necessary. This could be because you feel unsafe confronting someone after your relationship has become unhealthy or unstable, or maybe it’s just because a friendship has naturally dissolved or one of you has moved away.

Ending contact without prior notice or communication is often called ghosting. In the latter case, gradually losing contact might be organic, but in the former case, the act of ghosting might require more intentionality.  

“If you have tried to set a boundary and a friend is not respecting it, then ghosting might be appropriate,” says Yamamoto. “If you have communicated that you are ending the friendship and the ex-friend continues to reach out, there is no need to respond.” 

This no-contact scenario can be complicated, especially if it involves a longtime friend. But at this point, there’s no need to check-in.

“If the friendship has formally ended, you don’t need to invite them to your birthday party, wedding or other events, and you also don’t need to communicate that you’re not inviting them,” says Yamamoto. “That seems like opening things up for unnecessary contact.”

How to be compassionate with yourself post-breakup

The post-breakup hangover is real, even when you’re the one who ended the friendship. Plus, losing a friend means you’ll likely grieve the relationship, even if ending it was the right thing to do. If you still have mutual friends or are part of a larger friend group, it can be even more complicated (or awkward) to navigate. But remember, when your needs are ignored, and your feelings are disregarded or hurt in a relationship, it’s not mean or wrong to remove yourself from the situation.

When you’re ready, let your other friends know about your decision to end your relationship with your mutual friend, and set any necessary boundaries regarding conversations about ending that friendship. Your friends might be curious about the details, but you don’t have to tell them unless you want to. Make any other requests you need, such as asking them to let you know if there are any events where you could potentially bump into your ex-friend. It’s a delicate situation that can feel uncomfortable for everyone involved, but it’s OK to ask for what you need.

And don’t forget, you’re never alone: Use this time to talk about the situation with your family, trusted friends or even your journal. Focus on self-care — and don’t forget to pick up some ice cream on the way home.