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5 Reasons It's So Hard to End a Friendship

1. Loyalty gets in the way of our better judgment.

Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock
Source: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

There are times when we know in our gut that a relationship has run its course. Or we might feel that an injustice has occurred between ourselves and a friend that we cannot forgive. Or maybe we’ve just outgrown a friendship.

By nature, relationships are dynamic entities that shift and mutate as our identities and priorities change over time. There may come a moment, though, when the friendship has stretched as far as it can to accommodate two individuals. When the relationship is no longer worth the investment it takes to maintain it—whether the investment is energy or something more tangible—it can still be difficult to make the decision to end it.

What Makes Us Hesitant to End a Friendship?

  1. Feeling we owe loyalty to a friend, regardless of the relationship balance.

    Some people have no trouble letting go of friendships—they are able to clearly assess whether or not a relationship has value for them, and if not, they let it go. Others of us feel that once we get ourselves invested in a friendship, we “owe” the friend loyalty and we need to stick it out, no matter what.

  2. The belief that we have the power to change others.

    Some of us believe that we will be able to change people—boyfriends, friends, whoever—and so we hang on to a toxic friend in the hopes that we can somehow convince that individual to change. It seldom works for long—but then we may begin making excuses for a friend’s poor behavior and enabling her to avoid change.

  3. Guilt because we have "failed" the friend.

    When a relationship fails, some feel it’s their fault. They feel guilty for not being “better” friends. They also may be hesitant to end a friendship if they feel that the person doesn’t have many other friends and they feel sorry for him or her.

  4. Feeling that we "deserve" bad friends.

    Some of us might have such low self-esteem or self-worth that we have decided that any friend is better than no friend. We put up with poor behavior because we feel that this is all we deserve to expect.

  5. Fear of hurting someone's feelings.

    Many women, in particular, recognize the deep value that social relationships hold in life, so they may feel that hurting a friend’s feelings by ending a relationship is the ultimate insult.

Letting Go as Cleanly as Possible

Sometimes the best way to end a relationship is to quietly let it fade away, so long as both parties are okay with this transition. Once our texts stop getting answered, or our plans keep getting cancelled, we all begin to recognize that we aren’t someone's priority any longer. If this is happening to you, and you weren't aware the relationship was in trouble, check in with the friend to see if there's some triage that is needed. If you're trying to fade out of a relationship yourself, be aware that this method can leave more questions and hurt feelings than simple honesty might do.

Drama between feuding friends seldom leaves either one a “winner"—it usually just gives other friends something to gossip about. However, if you are trying to end a friendship with someone you are still going to have to see—a classmate, a co-worker, the parent of a child’s friend, a neighbor—it may be best and most honest to address the friendship’s end.

Taking ownership of a relationship’s failure is sometimes the best thing to do—the old saying, “It’s not you, it’s me” can be easier to hear when a friend is dumping another. Some believe that the excuse, “I’d love to see you, but life is just too busy,” is a sure way to alert someone that they’ve lost their importance to you. Some friendships are meant to last a lifetime and some are just workable for a portion of our lives. Be aware that sometimes feelings will be hurt when your life shifts, but take ownership that your needs have shifted, but you appreciate what the friend brought to your life in the past.

There's a saying that you can't have too many friends. But make sure that your friends are willing to invest in the relationship equally to your own investment. Hanging onto relationships that make you feel worse, not better, is a poor choice for your emotional and physical well-being.

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Some of us learn about friendships through our early relationships with siblings. If you are still working through sibling drama or enjoying sibling harmony, please share your stories here (link is external).

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