Are You Hanging on to a Toxic Friendship? How to Know When It’s Time for a Break-Up

Never easy, always worth it.

By Edie Horstman
sophie collins_how to break up with a friend

The wild world of friendship breakups. A universal experience, they transcend age, gender, and culture. And every time, they do two things: relinquish negative energy and unveil something we didn’t know about ourselves. As one door closes, another one opens. So yes, friendship breakups can actually be a good thing. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Be it growing apart, a disagreement, or a toxic relationship, ending a friendship can be just as emotional as ending a romantic relationship. Been there, felt that. At any rate, let’s put a positive spin on it. Today, we’re diving into the nitty gritty of friendships: when to know it’s time, how to break up with a friend, and tips for doing it with grace.

Featured image from our interview with Sophie Collins by Christie Graham.

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Image by Jenn Rose Smith
Edie Horstman
Edie Horstman

Edie is the founder of nutrition coaching business, Wellness with Edie. With her background and expertise, she specializes in women’s health, including fertility, hormone balance, and postpartum wellness.

The Qualities of a Supportive Friend

Do your 2023 intentions include manifesting the friendship of your dreams? Most of us don’t take the time to jot down #friendshipgoals, but as with any relationship—personal or professional—getting clear on what we will (and won’t) tolerate is key. In many ways, supportive friends feel like chosen family. They’re the ones we can count on, no matter what. They listen without judgment, give tough love, and lift you up when you’re feeling down. Ultimately, a good friend is someone who’s there for you. Let’s take a moment to appreciate their qualities:

  1. They’re good listeners. They listen without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice. Good listeners allow you to vent and express your feelings—without judgment.
  2. They’re empathetic. A supportive friend can put themselves in your shoes and understand how you’re feeling. They’re able to offer comfort and empathy without minimizing your emotions.
  3. They’re honest. They’re truthful and direct, even when it’s difficult. In this vein, they offer constructive criticism when necessary.
  4. They’re dependable. Reliability and consistency, baby. They show up when they say they will and follow through on their commitments.
  5. They’re non-judgmental. At the end of the day, we need friends who accept us for who we are, without trying to change us. They celebrate our successes and support us through our failures.
  6. They’re encouraging. Simply put, they believe in you. They encourage you to pursue your dreams and goals, cheering you on every step of the way.
friends in the kitchen_how to break up with a friend
Image by Michelle Nash

How to Find Good Friends, No Matter Your Age

Having a friend (even just one!) with nurturing qualities can make a huge difference in your life. Hello, comfort, support, and motivation when you need it most. If you have a friend with these qualities, hold them tight! And if you’re looking for that person, the world is your oyster. Use apps like Meetup, Pawdates, Bumble BFF, Stitch, and Atleto.

Otherwise, choose a café you like, head there at regular intervals, and get to know the baristas. Last but not least, don’t underestimate the power of joining a local book club or blogging about your hobbies and interests.

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Image by Michelle Nash

Remember: Not All Friendships Are Meant to Last a Lifetime

*Sigh.* It’s the hard truth. Ultimately, the reality is this: some friendships are only meant to be temporary. As we change, some friends are meant to arrive—and depart—within the context of who we’re becoming. Our relationships are supposed to evolve as we do. Sometimes, we outgrow people or our values and interests diverge, and it’s okay to let go of friendships that no longer serve you. It doesn’t mean those friendships were failures. However, it does mean they served their purpose and it’s time to move on. Holding onto friendships that no longer serve us can be draining. Not to mention, they prevent us from forming new relationships that align with who we are now.

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Image by Michelle Nash

Toxic Friendships Are Energy Drainers

Before we segue into how to break up with a friend, let’s talk energy drainers. Specifically, toxic friendships. Toxic friendships can be incredibly taxing, taking a toll on our mental and emotional health. They can leave us feeling depleted, frustrated, and anxious. Often self-centered and unsupportive, they bring drama and negativity into our lives. No, thanks.

These types of friendships often consume a lot of our time and energy, leaving little room for the relationships that truly matter. It’s important to recognize when a friendship has become toxic—and take steps to distance ourselves.

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Image by Michelle Nash

How to Know a Friendship Is No Longer Serving You

It’s not always straightforward to recognize when a friendship is no longer serving you. However, there are a few signs to look for:

  • you’re constantly feeling drained or anxious after spending time with that person
  • it’s a one-way street (you’re putting in the effort to get together)
  • your friend belittles your accomplishments, or—worst case—you find out they’re talking poorly about you.

Pay attention to your gut instinct and how you feel after interacting with your friend.

Common Signs It’s Time to Move On

As time goes on, you may find that old friendships no longer fit. You may drift apart naturally or suddenly realize you’re in an unhealthy relationship. Below are common signs it’s time to move on.

You’re less and less of a priority.

Is your friend no longer making an effort to stay in touch? Sometimes, there’s a temporary reason (i.e., she has a new baby or her business is booming). But if you rarely feel like a priority, it’s time to move on. Vice versa, listen to your intuition if you’re no longer making someone in your life a priority. There’s a reason for this.

You don’t connect at the same level.

Friendships work best when both parties want the same type of connection. If you want a deep personal connection, but your friend can’t or doesn’t want the same thing, the friendship may become stagnant, stressful, or unsatisfying.

They never ask about how you’re doing.

At times, one person in the friendship may need more than the other. But if a friend is constantly a taker and rarely a giver, it’s not a balanced friendship. This is a sign to move on.

Your friend is disrespectful or mean.

This one’s obvious, but it’s worth the reminder: healthy friendships offer support and affirmation. If your friend doesn’t respect your feelings, it’s an unhealthy relationship. Feeling anxious or negative in your friendship is a sign that it may be best to end it.

toasting wine, how to break up with a friend
Image by Michelle Nash

How do I break up with a friend?

Knowing that not all friendships are meant to last a lifetime can be so liberating. They allow us to focus on the relationships that truly bring us joy and fulfillment. So, how do you break up with a friend? First and foremost, it’s important to mention that not all friendships need a breakup conversation. Some just fizzle out… naturally. Unless it’s keeping you awake at night—and you need to speak your peace—just let time run its course. Otherwise, here’s a guide to breaking up with a friend:

  1. Approach the situation with care, respect, and confidence. Start by having an honest and open conversation about how you’re feeling and why you feel the friendship is no longer serving you. If making eye contact makes you nervous, ask your friend to go for a walk. If I’ve learned anything from experience, email isn’t the way to go.
  2. However, a preemptive text or email can be helpful: “Hi. Are you free this weekend for a walk or FaceTime? I have a few things on my heart I would like to share with you.”
  3. Avoid blaming or attacking your friend, and instead focus on how you’re feeling and what you need for your own well-being. Use I statements, rather than you statements.
  4. As the conversation unfolds, decipher whether you both want to take a break or end it altogether. You’re adults! Be clear and firm in your decision.
  5. Give yourself time and space to process your emotions and allow your friend to do the same. Remember that ending a friendship doesn’t have to mean burning bridges or being unkind, and it’s possible to part ways amicably.
  6. Be kind, be honest, and prioritize your own well-being throughout the process.
friends chatting at bar
Image by Michelle Nash

Give Yourself Time to Process

Post-breakup, we’ve all had the awkward pleasure of running into that former friend or frantically scrolling social media to see if they unfollowed. When a friendship ends, it can leave you feeling hurt, confused, and even betrayed. It’s important to give yourself time to process your emotions. Reach out to other friends or family members for support. Additionally, focus on self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy. It’s okay to mourn the loss of the friendship but remember that certain friendships run their course. As you move forward, focus on healing and opening yourself up to new friendships and experiences.