The Friendship Doctor

Send in your friendship questions and quandaries and get expert answers and solutions

How to End a Relationship With a Needy Friend

It's never easy to end a relationship with a needy friend.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

For the past year I have been trying to muddle through a less-than-satisfactory friendship with someone I once considered my best friend, trying to patch things up, but to no avail. She is a total Debbie Downer, always getting into drama with our mutual friends and family, clinging to me and suffocating me with her greedy/needy ways, and refusing to acknowledge that other people have problems, too. 

My life has been very stressful for the past two years, especially my health and finances. I know that being friends means sharing each other's troubles and helping each other out, but I feel like a maxed out credit card. There is nothing left in me when it comes to our friendship. 

I feel guilty about not wanting to be her friend anymore, but the truth is, I can't take being her personal therapist and cheerleader any longer. I also am afraid that if I try to leave the friendship, she will do something drastic and try to badmouth me to our mutual friends. How can I peacefully end this friendship that is taking a toll on me?

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Signed, Totally Drained

 

ANSWER

Dear Totally Drained,

You haven't said many positive things about this "best" friendship so either you need to downgrade it or end it. Women find it hard to end friendships for a variety of reasons:

  • They may feel like the loss any friendship is a personal failure;
  • They may feel guilty about hurting the other individual; or
  • They may worry about the repercussions, including the effect of the breakup on mutual friendships.

While these concerns are all understandable, they do not justify holding on to draining, non-rewarding friendships like the one you describe. Doing so will keep you from engaging in healthier friendships and can take a toll on your happiness and well-being. 

You have already tried to change the dynamics between you, have given it time and thought, and are ready to give up. Since you have mutual friends, my suggestion would be to not "end" the friendship completely but to take one huge step back from it. 

You don't want to hurt this person unnecessarily because she was your friend. When you speak to her, explain that you can't get together because you have a number of issues going on, in terms of your own health and finances, and need to step back from the friendship for the time being. Talk about yourself rather than her. Don't blame her for your decision. Also, try not to engage in lengthy conversation or get into too many specifics about your decision. Choose a relaxed time and place that works for you If you send her a personal note, rather than do it in person, it may give her time to recoup from the blow. 

In terms of your mutual friends, if asked, just say you aren't as close as you once were with your friend and don't elaborate or badmouth her.

As you suspect, this won't be easy and your friend will try to remain attached at the hip because she sounds quite needy and dependent. She may get angry, too, but as long as you have handled it in the best way you can, you will have done the right thing. The alternative would be to let things remain as they are, which is untenable to you. Friendships are voluntary relationships and not all of them last forever. Hope this helps a little.

Best, Irene  

Some prior posts on The Friendship Blog about handling needy friends

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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