The Friendship Doctor

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How to Gently Let Go of A Toxic Friend

It's awkward to end a friendship. Here a some practical tips for letting go.

It's awkward to end a friendship and the repercussions can be grave. Here are a few tips to help you handle a tricky, and often uncomfortable, situation in a way that minimizes hurt for you and your friend:

  • Make sure you really want to back away. Nobody’s perfect and friends, even very good ones, can say or do something wrong once in a while. If there has been a minor misunderstanding or disappointment, talk about it.
  • Never make the decision to end a friendship in anger. Give yourself a cooling off period to reconsider and also to figure out the best way to do it.
  • Consider whether you really need to end the friendship? Can you downgrade the relationship so you see each other less often or dilute it by seeing each other within the context of a group? Can you simply take a break (time off) to give each other a breather?
  • If the relationship isn’t very close to start with, you can merely drift apart. Make yourself less accessible. Tell a white lie and tell your friend how busy you are—e.g. studying, working, helping your parents, or seeing your significant other.
  • If you decide to go ahead with the breakup, develop a script and practice it—you might even want to put your thoughts in writing so you are clear to yourself and in your delivery.
  • Try to avoid blaming the other person. People change and their friendships change over time. Take responsibility for making the decision and handle the breakup with grace. After all, why would you want to hurt someone who once was your friend?

Have a friendship problem or dilemma? Join the dialogue at The Friendship Blog.

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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