How to End a Friendship Gracefully

When it’s time to say goodbye…

Why Do Friendships End?

It’s worth reflecting on this, and there are lots of good reasons friendships end. It might be because they’re actually quite a toxic presence in our lives, something I’ve written about before…

How Do Friendships End Badly?

The Time Bomb

Also known as the Blow Up. Maybe you’re the types who don’t always see eye to eye anyway, but chances are more likely that there’s been a slow, steady build up of resentment over time — unspoken, not dealt with, which one day boils over completely. The Time Bomb is ticking, and one day you reach that point where you just can’t continue as you were. No more gritting your teeth, or smiling through it. Once you say certain things that can’t be unsaid, it can be tricky to get past. Forgiveness isn’t always possible, making this is a pretty dramatic way to end a friendship.

The Misunderstanding

We all know how prevalent the c-word is in relationships: communication is king when it comes to avoiding a relationship ending due to misunderstandings. And they happen quite easily, particularly when we’re dealing with other flawed human beings, like ourselves.

The Cold Turkey

So many relationships end merely because, with time, contact fades out and soon enough, years have passed and you’ve simply stopped being in touch with someone. Sometimes it’s a matter of merely being bad at keeping up the friendship work, other times it is deliberate. Then there’s the Cold Turkey — the sudden slap in the face end to all communication and contact. Sometimes this is ‘ghosting’.

The Substitute

Probably one of the most cowardly ways to end a friendship is to get in another friend to do it for you. Never having a chance to hear directly from a friend about what it is that’s gone wrong is quite distressing. Enlisting other friends often means that your relationship with them also takes a dive. It shouldn’t be about taking sides, or fighting each other’s battles. The Substitute gives a strong sense of disrespect for the persons involved in the actual relationship. It belittles what contributions you each made, and potentially muddies the waters — it will be hard to take anything away with clarity from the situation.

Steps to Ending A Friendship Gracefully

Cicero had a lot to say on friendships, and while he definitely didn’t predict all the ways we realise relationships through emojis these days, one point he made definitely still rings true. He said that a friendship can only exist between good men (or, you know, people of any gender), and it means acting morally towards each other. It means trying to do right by each other.

The Fade Out

As the name suggests, the Fade Out is the gradual ending of contact. Either in person, by text, over social media, wherever. It can be hard if you’ve got regular meetings in place with this person (e.g. if you have a lot of mutual friends). But it is a gentle way to end a friendship, without trampling any feelings. However, I still feel this is the method to choose only if the person is the kind of person with whom you have tried to have discussions in the past and failed.

The Constructive Conversation

Setting up an opportunity to talk through what has happened with a friend is really a good way to know clearly where everyone stands. What did you find difficult? How did you feel? What did they intend? Has there been a misunderstanding? Or has some other moral line been crossed? It isn’t easy to confront these questions, but they can offer us closure and a possibility for reflection and growth.

Some Tips Before the Conversation

Know your feelings

When we’re upset, or angry, or sad, we can start to muddle up what we’re feeling and why we are feeling that way. Emotions can crowd in on each other. As a result, we might not be able to fully articulate — to ourselves or others — what it is what we feel about what has happened, or how we have come to the point of wanting to end a friendship. Are we upset, or is it another feeling? Why are we upset or unhappy? About what specifically?

Assign some time to think… but only if it’s worth it

If a friendship was good at times but difficult, it is be worth allocating some time to thinking through why this was and what changed.

Don’t get mutual friends involved

As with the Substitute, it can be okay to get some advice from a mutual friend, but don’t drag them into it. They aren’t there to act your relationship out for you. So unfortunately it is going to just be up to you. That doesn’t mean you can’t seek out help or support though, and perhaps issues you have had are shared by those around you. But make sure you don’t gang up on a person. Talk through things if you need to, but be sure to get stuck in yourself with what you feel you need to do.

Do what is right for you

If ‘taking a break’ from the friendship is what you know would help you the most, it’s important to try and stick to your guns on seeing it through. After all, your friend might react to a conversation in a variety of ways — they may try and change the parameters of the relationship, manipulate you back into being their friend, they might feel confused and hurt, they might want more answers from you than you know how to give. But it’s okay to say, “I have to go now,” if it is getting too much and you do just have to cut things off somewhere.

Written by

Trying to live better. Writing on Mental Health, Relationships, and Living Ethically. Editor/Podcaster.

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