Growing Apart and More: Why Friendships End and When to End One

Updated 12/13/19
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Friends are integral to our lives. They're often the family we choose; they're with us for mundane moments and transformative milestones. Whether a connection formed during childhood, at work, or through common interest, great friendships help us live longer (seven years longer, on average), make us happier, and support our best selves. At least, they should.

Why Do Friendships End?

You may still keep in contact with classmates from elementary school or pals from college. They may have introduced you to your significant other or helped you get your dream job. But all the good in the world can't turn back time, and many people find they grow apart from the people they used to hold dear, which is a normal, and common reason why friendships end. "We may have different groups of friends that serve different purposes — from friends who enjoy going on adventures to ones who may indulge our homebody side — and healthy friendships allow us to be authentic, comfortable, and loved," says Kailee Place, licensed professional counselor (LPC) in Charleston, South Carolina, in an email interview with Business Insider.

Signs it May Be Time to End a Friendship

Sometimes, however, circumstances creates permanent fissures in the relationship. “Friendships can be protective and rewarding, nurturing and uplifting," explains Dr. Jessica Nicolosi, New York-based clinical psychologist and, in an interview with Oprah magazine. "If a friend has the opposite impact, we may want to reconsider our relationship and reconfigure that person’s role in our lives."

Read on for signs it may be time to move on from your friendship, or at the very least, seriously re-evaluate it, according to relationship experts.

01 of 07

They've Betrayed Your Trust

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While nobody is perfect, major betrayals, "like seducing the friend's significant other, cheating, or stealing money — are red flags," Melody Li, an Austin-based licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), told Business Insider in an email.

"Your boundaries need to be respected by those around you," Genesis Games, a Florida-based licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) who specializes in working with young adults struggling with relationships, and with high conflict couples, tells MyDomaine. "If you have clearly discussed these and they continue to violate them, this might be a sign."

02 of 07

You're Always Censoring Yourself Around Them

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Healthy friendships are also grounded in authenticity. “Close friendships involve valuing the thoughts and emotions of another person," says Dr. Amanda Zayde, an N.Y.C.-based licensed clinical psychologist, in an interview with Oprah magazine. "If your friend becomes easily enraged and doesn't make an effort to see things from your perspective, you may want to consider whether the friendship feels healthy,” Dr. Zayde adds.

03 of 07

They're Always Bailing On You

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Beware of the friend who's always asking for favors or emotional support without offering to help you in return, says Ashleigh Edelstein, LMFT-A to MyDomaine, an Austin-based licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in helping young adults navigate intimate relationships. For example, "Maybe they're conveniently busy when you've had a really bad day, or go radio silent when you need a ride to the airport," says Edelstein.

In this case, it's important to remember that friendships are by definition, mutual relationships, says psychologist and friendship expert, Marisa Franco, Ph.D. Sure, there will be times wherein our own needs take over, but in the long run, says Franco, "If only one person is offering support, then it is not a healthy relationship to continue." Both Edelstein and Franco say a healthy friendship requires both parties to give and receive.

04 of 07

You're Trying Too Hard

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Friendships are built and maintained on mutual respect and support, so if you're trying to convince yourself why you're friends with someone, there may be something deeper going on. “If you're always walking away from them feeling down on yourself, or having to talk yourself into why that person is your friend, that person might not be right for you at this time,” says Fati Marie, California-based certified integrative holistic health coach at Encinitas’ Four Moons Spa, in an interview with Oprah magazine. Check in with yourself says Marie, and take small steps back and away from situations that bring you two together.

05 of 07

Interactions Lack Open, Honest Conversation

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Vulnerability often exposes us to potential hurt and disappointment, but experts like Brené Brown say it's also a place full of opportunity to experience love, joy, and belonging. That said, friendships work best when both parties are free to express themselves. "Friends who can't have a balanced conversation about problems in your relationship may not be friends worth keeping," says Jill Whitney, LMFT, in an interview with Business Insider.

A good friend may not agree with you on something, but they will listen to what you have to say, and respectfully. "They'll care about your feelings and perspective," adds Whitney.

06 of 07

You Dread Hanging Out With Them

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If, like your iPhone battery in its final few bars of charge, "you leave interactions with [your friend] feeling utterly drained or worse than before, consider whether you need to create a boundary or take a break from them," says Edelstein. For example, maybe your friend is overly negative and complain about every little thing, says Edelstein, or they constantly ask you for advice with no intention of taking it.

07 of 07

There's More Negative Than Positive

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If you've read this far and are nodding your head to more than a few of these friendship red flags, consider "there shouldn't be more wrong with a friendship than there is right," Mahzad Hojjat, PhD, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and co-editor of The Psychology of Friendship, tells NBC Better.

Similarly, in healthy friendships, says Franco, there's cooperation where each friend considers their own needs and their friends in order to find solutions that work for both parties. "When our friends tear us down, they are betraying their role as a friend, and if a friend does not seem invested in your success, or if, even worse, they seem to want to see you fail, it may be time for the relationship to end," adds Franco.

With a finite amount of time in a day (and the energy you have to spend, for that matter), wouldn't you rather channel that time into people who are going to lift you up, rather than drag you down?

How to End a Friendship

While ending a friendship with an acquaintance through text may suffice, the closer you are, the better it is to part ways in-person, agree Franco and Edelstein. "To honor the pain and the years of friendship, you both deserve to understand why. This will help create a sense of closure," adds Games.

"You want your friend to be able to ask questions so that they can get closure on the friendship," says Franco. Otherwise, you may risk prompting "ambiguous loss," a term that leaves a party in limbo because it wasn't clear why things ended. "Ambiguous loss leave people ruminating and unable to move on," says Franco.

A face to face conversation, or video chat or phone call at the very least, will allow the setting of boundaries moving forward, especially if you will continue to see this person; for example, you share mutual friends, have class together, or are co-workers. "Decide what you want to say ahead of time so you don't suddenly get stage fright or accidentally say something hurtful," says Edelstein, who also advises meeting somewhere neutral, and to begin the conversation by letting your friend know you've thought a lot about what you're about to say. However, says Edelstein, "If they start to become abusive or nasty, it's OK to immediately end it."

As far as social media goes, Franco suggests doing whatever you need to do for your mental health, even if that means unfollowing or unfriending them. Adds Edelstein, "If you suspect that your friend might get upset or cyberstalk you, it's best to quietly unfriend them after you've had the conversation. If you have any mutual friends or connections, let them know after you've ended the friendship, not before." Another thing to avoid? "Zombie-ing," says Franco, "wherein you like your ex-friends posts and generate confusion for your friend about whether you truly want to end the friendship."

Though it may be painful to end a friendship, you can eventually choose to take this chapter of your life as a learning experience on how to develop healthier friendships moving forward, says Games.

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