How to End a Friendship (Without Hurt Feelings)

“I don’t want to hang out with one of my friends anymore. Should I tell her that I think our friendship is over, or should I just distance myself? I’ve known her for a long time and don’t want to cause drama or hurt her feelings.”

Not all friendships last forever. It’s normal to see friends come and go over the years, and it’s OK to end a friendship if it doesn’t add anything positive to your life. In this guide, you’ll learn how to end a friendship without unnecessary drama.

Sections

  1. How to end a friendship
  2. How to end a friendship with someone you have feelings for
  3. Ending a friendship with someone who loves you
  4. How to end a friendship when a group is involved
  5. Ending a friendship with someone who has a mental illness

How to end a friendship

1. Consider trying to save the friendship

Before you end your friendship, consider whether you really want to cut your friend out of your life or whether you just need some time apart.

Sometimes, a friendship can be repaired. For example, you might feel mad at your friend after a fight and decide that the friendship is over. But if you give yourself some time to cool off and understand your friend’s point of view, the argument might not seem like such a big deal after all. It may be better to work through your differences instead of ending the friendship completely.

If you aren’t sure whether it’s time to move on, check out this guide: How do you know if it’s time to end a friendship? [linkto: when-stop-being-friends]

2. Make yourself less available

You may be able to end the friendship by gradually distancing yourself from your friend.

You can do this by:

  • Not reaching out to your friend
  • Giving polite but minimal responses when they get in touch
  • Declining invitations to hang out
  • Responding to their messages less frequently if they are an online friend
  • If you work with your friend, make yourself less available for casual conversations; stick to talking about work
  • Talking about superficial subjects if you have to spend time together rather than opening up about your thoughts and feelings. Avoid talking about deep personal topics because this can build a sense of closeness.[1]

Most people will get the hint that you don’t want to be friends anymore if you aren’t enthusiastic to hear from them and show no interest in meeting up.

3. Have a direct conversation in person

Gradually distancing yourself can be a tactful, low-drama way to end a friendship. But in some cases, a “breakup conversation” might be a better option. This involves ending a friendship face-to-face, on the phone, or via a written message that makes it clear you don’t want to be friends anymore.

Ending a friendship formally and “breaking up” might be better if:

  • Your friend isn’t very good at understanding social hints or clues. If you think they will spend a lot of time and energy worrying about what they’ve done wrong when you distance yourself, it may be kindest to have one honest conversation in which you make it clear that the friendship is over.
  • The thought of gradually cutting back on contact makes you feel very anxious. Depending on how close you are to your friend, it may take weeks or even a couple of months to slowly distance yourself until you have no contact. For example, if you want to break up with a best friend that you see several times each week, it will take a long time to break up completely if you take a gradual approach. If a slow fade sounds too daunting or complicated, a one-off conversation may be better because it’s much quicker.
  • You know that your friend values complete honesty in their friendships, even if it means having a difficult conversation. Some people prefer to hear uncomfortable truths directly and would prefer a direct breakup conversation to a gradual fade out.
  • Your friend makes it clear they are confused and hurt by the changes in your behavior. If you’ve been distancing yourself from a friend and they’ve started asking you why you’re no longer around, do not pretend everything is OK. Although it might be awkward, it’s usually best to give an honest explanation instead of giving your friend false hope or leaving them worrying about what they’ve done wrong.

Tips for ending a friendship face-to-face

  • Choose a neutral, low-pressure place that either of you can leave at any time. A park or quiet coffee shop are good choices. If an in-person meeting isn’t possible, a video call is another option. You could also have the discussion over the phone, but you won’t be able to see your friend’s face or body language, which could make communication more difficult.
  • Get to the point: Don’t make your friend guess why you have asked to meet up. Move the conversation to your friendship within the first few minutes.
  • Be direct: Make it clear that the friendship is over. For example:

“Our friendship isn’t working for me anymore, and I think it’s best for us to go our separate ways.”

  • Use “I-statements” to explain your decision. Talk about how you feel rather than what your friend has done; this may make them less defensive. For example, “I feel we’ve grown apart and have different values” is better than “You’ve made lots of bad life choices, and I don’t want to see you anymore.”
  • Do not make excuses that your friend could try to counter. For example, if you say, “I’m busy this term so I can’t hang out” or “It’s hard to get babysitters, so I can’t hang out much,” your friend could say, “OK, I’ll just wait until next term to contact you when your schedule isn’t so busy” or “No problem, I’ll come to your house so you won’t need a babysitter.” It’s also good to remember that close friends and best friends usually know each other well enough to see through weak excuses.
  • Apologize if you know that you’ve made mistakes or hurt their feelings in the past. If your behavior has played a role in your friendship breakdown, acknowledge it.
  • Be prepared to deal with your friend’s reaction. They may try to persuade you to continue the friendship, become angry, act shocked, or cry. Remember that whatever they say or do, you have the right to end the friendship. You may need to repeat your point several times. If they become hostile or try to manipulate you into remaining friends, it’s OK to leave.

4. Write your friend a letter

If the fade-out method doesn’t feel appropriate and you can’t talk to your friend in person, another option is to end your friendship by writing a letter, either on paper or via email.

A letter could be a good choice if:

  • You find it easier to organize your thoughts when you write them down. Some people find that writing helps them realize what to say and how best to say it.
  • You find the thought of ending the friendship in person too upsetting or worrying.
  • You think your friend would prefer to be alone when they learn that your friendship is over.
  • You have a lot to say to your friend but don’t feel able to have a lengthy conversation with them.

There are no firm rules for ending a friendship by letter, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Make it clear that you consider the friendship to be over. For example, you could write, “I’ve decided that it’s best if we’re no longer friends” or “I’ve decided to end our friendship.”
  • Tell them why you’ve decided to end the friendship. State your feelings, and give one or two examples of their behavior. For example, “I feel that you haven’t supported me during difficult times. When my mother died and my boyfriend broke up with me, you didn’t call for almost a month.”
  • Apologize if you know that you’ve made mistakes or hurt their feelings.
  • Try not to write the letter when you feel very angry or upset. Wait until you feel relatively calm, or your letter could come across as harsher than you intended.
  • Remember that there is nothing to stop your ex-friend from showing the letter to other people. Do not write anything incriminating or rude.

Ending a friendship over text

Instead of sending your letter via email, you could send it via text message. Some people consider it bad manners to end any kind of relationship, whether romantic or platonic, over text. But every situation is unique. For example, if you and your best friend have always talked about serious issues over text rather than face-to-face, it might be an appropriate option.

5. Know that it’s OK to cut off abusive friends

Abusive or toxic friends may become angry or try to manipulate you when you tell them that you want to end the friendship. If you need to cut an abusive person out of your life who makes you feel unsafe, even if they used to be your best friend, you do not owe them an explanation for why you don’t want to see them anymore.

It’s OK to put your mental health first and cut contact completely. Although it feels better to end a friendship on good terms, it’s not possible in every situation. You do not have to answer your former friend’s calls or reply to texts. If you have an abusive online friend, it’s fine to block them.

6. Accept that hurt feelings may be unavoidable

Your friend might be upset when you tell them that your friendship is over or when they realize that the friendship has faded out. Even if you have been friends for a long time, their reaction could surprise you.

But it’s important to realize that we can’t always avoid hurting peoples’ feelings. You may feel guilty for a while, especially if your ex-friend doesn’t have other people to lean on, but this doesn’t mean you haven’t made the right choice.

It might help to remember that forcing yourself to be friends with someone you don’t want to be around is not kind. When you end a friendship, you are giving your former friend a chance to spend their time getting to know people who truly want to hang out with them.

7. Avoid giving mixed messages

If you’ve told someone that you don’t want to be their friend anymore, don’t give them confusing signals that suggest you’ve changed your mind. When you stop being friends with someone, be consistent. This is especially important if you have ended a friendship with someone who still wants to be friends with you because they might assume that you’d like to be friends again and try to reach out.

For example:

  • Do not be overly friendly to your ex-friend if you run into them at a social gathering. Treat them like an acquaintance.
  • Do not comment on your ex-friend’s social media posts.
  • Do not ask your mutual friends for frequent updates on your ex-friend. Your ex-friend might learn you’ve been asking about them and interpret it as a sign that they are on your mind.

How to end a friendship in specific situations

How to end a friendship with someone you have feelings for

If you have a crush on your friend, but they don’t return your feelings, you might decide to end the friendship if spending time with them is too painful. You could allow the friendship to fade by gradually distancing yourself, having a face-to-face conversation, or writing them a letter.

If you choose to have a direct conversation or send them a letter, you could tell them that although you enjoy spending time together as friends, continuing the friendship is too difficult because you have developed a crush on them, and so you think it’s best that you don’t see each other anymore.

Alternatively, you could take a break from the friendship instead of ending it completely. If you take some time apart and hang out less often, your feelings might fade.

However, you should be prepared for the possibility that they will ask why you are avoiding them. If this happens, you may find it easiest to be honest, even if it’s awkward, instead of repeatedly making excuses and leaving your friend to wonder what they’ve done wrong.

For example, you could say: “Hey, I really appreciate your friendship, but to be honest, it feels difficult to hang out with you right now because I have feelings for you. I think it would be a good idea if we spent some time apart. Would it be OK if I reach out when I’m ready?”

Ending a friendship with someone who loves you

When you know or suspect that a friend is in love with you—for example, if they are an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend—you might feel guilty about ending the friendship because they will probably be upset. But you aren’t responsible for their feelings; you have the right to end a friendship at any time, for any reason, using any of the methods outlined above.

You do not have to explain why you don’t love someone. You are not obliged to give a detailed response or justification. “I just don’t feel that way about you” is enough. If someone tries to change your mind or convince you to “give them a chance,” they are disrespecting your boundaries.

Do not try to make up an excuse to spare their feelings because this could give them false hope. For example, if you say “I’m too busy for a boyfriend/girlfriend right now,” your friend might think that if your schedule changes, they could have a relationship with you.

How to end a friendship when a group is involved

If you and your friend are part of the same social circle, ending your friendship can be awkward because you might still have to see each other at social events.

Here are some tips to make it easier:

  • Do not ask a mutual friend to end your friendship. In general, it’s not a good idea to ask a third party to pass on a message to your friend. The more people are involved, the more potential there is for miscommunication and drama.
  • Tell your friend that you plan on being polite if you have to see them in person and that you hope they will do the same. You can’t force your ex-friend to be civil to you, but you can choose to treat them in a mature, dignified way, even if they try to provoke you.
  • Do not try forcing your mutual friends to take sides. Continue spending quality time with your friends. Your mutual friends can and will decide for themselves whether they want to be friends with one of you, both of you, or neither of you.
  • Avoid saying unpleasant things about your former friend because it will make you come across as immature or spiteful. If you want to tell mutual friends what happened, don’t put your ex-friend down or spread gossip. Focus on your feelings and the reasons why the friendship wasn’t working for you.
  • Prepare answers to questions your mutual friends might ask. For example, they might ask, “What happened between you and [former friend]?” and “Aren’t you and [former friend] friends anymore?” Try to keep your response brief and respectful. For example: “Our friendship wasn’t working, so I ended it” or “[Former friend] and I grew apart and agreed it’s best not to see each other anymore.”

Ending a friendship with someone who has a mental illness

In most cases, ending a friendship with someone who has a mental illness is the same as ending any other friendship.

However, you may need to take extra care if your friend has a mental illness if:

They are very sensitive to rejection: For example, some people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) feel distraught, angry, or intensely anxious when a friendship ends because they are extremely sensitive to any form of abandonment.[2] Rejection sensitivity is also linked to depression, social phobia, and anxiety.[3]

They are prone to feelings of entitlement: For example, many people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have trouble accepting that someone doesn’t want their friendship because, in their eyes, they are unique and special.[4] People with NPD may get angry when they feel slighted or put down.

They are prone to manipulation: For example, some people with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)—also known as “sociopaths”—may resort to lies or emotional manipulation in an effort to control you.[5] They may lie in a very convincing way and tell you that they’ll change even if they have no intention of treating you differently. People with ASPD can also struggle to control their tempers.

Remember that mental illness may explain your friend’s behavior, but it doesn’t mean you have to tolerate it. Put your safety and needs first.

How to safely end a friendship with an unstable person

If your friend is unstable or potentially dangerous for any reason, it may help to:

  • Gradually end the friendship if it feels safer than having a breakup conversation. But if that isn’t possible, end the friendship via phone, letter, or text rather than face-to-face.
  • Emphasize that you are ending the friendship because it’s best for you rather than only talking about their flaws. For example, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore because you get angry and you’re manipulative” is confrontational. “I’m ending this friendship for my own sake because I don’t feel safe when you are angry” is better.
  • Set firm, clear boundaries. For example, “I do not want to talk or meet up anymore. Please do not contact me.” It’s OK to block their number and social media if they have problems respecting your wishes.

Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages Socialpro’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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