• Handling Breakups

How can I peacefully end a relationship with a needy friend?

September 29, 2012 | By | 30 Replies Continue Reading
It’s never easy to end a relationship with a needy friend. You can only try your best.

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?

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 a relationship 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:

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Category: How to break up

Comments (30)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Hello to the OP. I didn’t think your original post was all about finances impacting your friendship. You did say you had financial and health stresses and you felt you couldn’t put up with the friend any longer. I understand that completely. You are worn out, I would think, by these stresses and also maybe by how your friend has been toward you. I can relate. But someone asked about finances having an impact on friendship, and others jumped in with their two cents. I include myself. I hope you didn’t feel your original posting was being hijacked. I have also found myself befriended by people who are in control of things, and I have wondered if I attract people like that. Good for you for your plan to phase out this emotional vampire. You’ll now have more energy to devote to other things and to meeting better quality people. Good luck to you!

  2. Anonymous says:

    OP again. 🙂
    I was surprised to see how many people responded thinking this was about differences in money and disposable income. The reason I wrote to Irene was because my friend was your classic Emotional Vampire and I was looking for a peaceful way to bow out of the friendship. It’s true that my finances are tight at the moment, but so are hers and I can tell you all that money is not why I wanted to leave.
    As for her negative traits taking years to surface, they didn’t. I am a very timid person and my said friend has always been the one in control of things. She abused the fact that I was a people pleaser and knew that I would be there regardless of how she treated me. I acknowledge that part as my own fault, but now I am just tired of it all and I fully intend to phase her out because I just can’t take it anymore.
    Sorry for any confusion.

  3. Anonymous says:

    OK, I posted my comment and waited to see if URL and web connect offered to go with my name, but it wasn’t, so my comment appears as “anonymous,’ too, tho’ I was all set to lay my name to it…Blog authro may wish to change this…and make it more the case of our comment appears with our URL and website…I write a blog, so I am absolutely fine with being identified as author…Mystery is now solved, however.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Just wondering why so many have posted as ‘anonymous’? This is a painful topic that all or most of us have dealt with at one time or another. The all-too-needy friend. Guess one can tolerate if she’s at a good point in her own life and views friending someone like this as almost-missionary work. Because these people take a lot of work and sap one’s energy that might be used in productive pursuits! However, if it never becomes reciprocal, time to deep-six it. Now, another topic I’d like discussion on “What to Do If One-Time Friend Just Drops You” (for no discernible reason.) I’ve tried to get to bottom of this but can’t..Has this happened to others? If so-called ‘friend’ doesn’t even give courtesy of explanation (when asked,) was it ever a true friendship, anyway?This happened to me recently and I am completely befuddled…

  5. Anonymous says:

    I have a friend who is an emotional vampire! She is such a good woman, but when I answer her phone calls she goes on and on and on about her life. Granted, I am able to speak during our 2-3 hour conversation, but it just drags on. She tricks me into answering her phone calls leaving messages needing help with something important. It is usually a trick! I have backed away from her a lot. I am pretty sure she gets the picture, but now she is pregnant and ready to have her baby. I have bought her a gift and am not sure how to present it to her. I don’t want to start things up how they were…one sided!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you totally that real friends don’t kick you when you’re down. My life-long friend did that to me, hiding behind the cliche “I only want to surround myself with positive people.” I had become sick, and I was scared. I needed to find my way and become accustomed to a “new normal” with my illness. Now I’ve adjusted better, though I am still sick. I felt she shat upon me, and while I wish her well, I will never see her again as someone who will be there for me. Except to send me a Hallmark greeting card at Christmas. This is hard. I’m sorry You’ve gone through this, too. I wish you all the best and hope you meet some new friends, friends who will stand by you through thick and thin.

  7. Anonymous says:

    There are always two sides to every story, have you ever listened to hers?.I hate the suggestion to dump so easily. I was dumped by a friend who did not once consider how I would feel, at the time I’d been made redundant and felt at my lowest and lost a friend at the same time. Talk about kicking someone whilst they are down, Real friends don’t do that. It’s true if you once considered her a best friend she must have had some qualities. A real friend would try to work things out. My friend dumped me and now 3 years on I question whether she was a real friend at all ! I think the answer is probably not.

  8. Anonymous says:

    You’re right, the original poster was about wanting to dump a needy friend. But the topic turned when someone asked about economic differences and how they impact friendship. I was startled when you posted about people wanting to have it all, and about how you are grateful when your friends with more money can do things. It sounded like you thought people were discussing here that they aren’t happy for the fortune of others. That really wasnn’t what I saw at all. In your case it sounds like you possibly could join your friends who have more money, but you choose not to. In the instances mentioned here it was a larger discrepancy of income levels that was being discussed. I don’t think anyone here was putting pressure on themselves to spend money to keep up with their friends. That wasn’t what I read, anyway.

  9. Anonymous says:

    It’s so hard to end a relationship!
    friends means sooo much to me, true friends will always be there for you…

    I have that problem that often my friends get’s into a relationship and then their partner get’s jaloux of me and my “friends” dumb me till they break up and hope i can be their friend again… what do you think about that ???

    here you can read about a true friend I found. http://worldbylind.dk/2012/09/30/golden-bird/

    on my blog —> WorldbyLind.dk

    you can read about my life and some hot new celeb gossip, written by two singers, one whos a known songwriter and another whos an earlier huge kid star, but stopped cos she hated fame….

    xxo Kirstine Lind

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hi there! The main point was the person wanting to dump the needy friend, then someone brought up the economic climate as a.hindrance to friendship, and then a discussion of when one friend has lots of disposable income but the other one doesn’t. One person mentioned that some with the good fortune dump the lesser fortunate ones because they can’t do costly things. You’re right, wanting to have it all is not on this thread. Oops!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hi there! The main point was the person wanting to dump the needy friend, then someone brought up the economic climate as a.hindrance to friendship, and then a discussion of when one friend has lots of disposable income but the other one doesn’t. One person mentioned that some with the good fortune dump the lesser fortunate ones because they can’t do costly things. You’re right, wanting to have it all is not on this thread. Oops!

  12. Anonymous says:

    I thought the main point was that it’s hard to maintain friendships when one person really has little money and what money she has must be spent on rent, food, etc., and has money worries, and the other person has money to spend on entertainment. I didn’t see anyone saying they didn’t want their friends with money to spend that money on enjoyable things. They seemed to be saying there is a huge gulf that cannot be navigated easily.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I don’t see anyone saying they expect to have it all.
    I did see “I think the reason it feels.”

  14. Anonymous says:

    I was going from the thread titled “i think the reason it feels” and one other that talks about people wanting to have it all. If youyou look for thstthe one youllother find itanother also. Does thatfriendship answer your questioncourage and clarifyi things forwith you? You are right that other posters were talking about friends judging those in dire circumstances,;which some do, and points to a lack of understanding for sure.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I was going from the thread titled “i think the reason it feels” and one other that talks about people wanting to have it all. If youyou look for thstthe one youllother find itanother also. Does thatfriendship answer your questioncourage and clarifyi things forwith you? You are right that other posters were talking about friends judging those in dire circumstances,;which some do, and points to a lack of understanding for sure.

  16. Anonymous says:

    If you have friends who have more money than you do but are still your friend anyway, and don’t dump you because you can’t afford the activities they can, you are lucky. And of course you aren’t bothered they have more than you have. I don’t see anyone here saying they are bothered that others have more money or saying they don’t want others to pursue interests with their money. I don’t see anyone here feeling pressure to spend money they don’t have or expecting “to have it all.” Do you see someone here saying these things? I see people here who feel dumped or looked down upon by those who have much more money for things other than shelter and clothing. THAT’s what I thought the discussion was about, not about people who begrudge others for their money.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I have friends that have more disposable income but it doesnt bother me. Even though i don’t have the money to do what they do, if they’re true friends they’re happy to do things with me that are less expensive if money is a concern. I wantthem to pursue interests ifl they have money that i don’t. I could stretch and do something expensive or take a.trip but thecost isn’t worth itto me, don’t feel pressure to do this and that to just say i did what most other people do. As another poster said we can’t have it all. I feel bad flr.people who think they do, that’s alot of pressure to put on themselves

  18. Anonymous says:

    Oooh, Irene, that is a scary picture of the scissors and credit card. I get the metaphor, but it’s scary to think of my friendship with someone being “all cut up” like it’s a plastic card.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I think in a new friendship I would feel more comfortable sitting on a couch having a drink in someone’s house or at a coffee place having coffee than going shopping or out to a fancy restaurant or certainly not on a girls trip.

  20. Anonymous says:

    i think the reason, it feels there are more ‘haves’ than ‘have-nots’ on this site is…you touched on it yourself,.,,,spending time with friends -shopping, movies, trips, ect…-requires disposable income. I am at a point right now- where if I meet a new friend financially I need to make plans like- come over for a drink- not drive far or pay a lot for drinks. And I recognize that -hanging out on a couch-is usually a friendship you are already comfortable in, not a new relationship.

  21. Anonymous says:

    It’s a bill of goods we’ve been sold, this notion that you can do ANYTHING you want to. The problem with that bill of goods is that it makes people think they have failed if they have not done something specifically that they’d like to. As for the impact on friendships, look, I think it’s understandable that if you have the disposable income for lesiuretime activities you naturally want friends to do things activities with. But where it gets crummy is if you find yourself “dumping” friends who have less money, and worse, if you justify dumping them because you think they have not “set their mind” to overcoming their financial problems. Not even financial problems, but any problems.
    And none of this has anything at all to do with “hating the rich.” I do hate it when people with money think it’s ALL because they have simply worked harder and have “set their mind to it” and “everyone else” can do it too. There is a “prosperity” movement, in the self-help-meets-Christianity arenas that has really aided and abetted this whole “you can do anything you set your mind to, including acquiring wealth” mentality. It’s really screwed a lot of people up in their thinking. I saw on TV just this morning on some cable station a minister preaching this crap.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I agree also. Blame thenvictim of misfortune. It’s happened to me.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Wow. Thank you for addressing this issue that I brought up. It gives me so much validation and touches on so many things I’m experiencing, especially the, ” I absolutely think there are some people who think all misfortune can be “gotten over” and that “you can do anything you set your mind to,” and the, “The part that’s bad is that the “haves” often have a holier than thou attitude, as if they have the moral superiority over those who have made mistakes, have had misfortune not their fault, and who are struggling to pay the rent (and shame on them for being “renters” rather than “owners”–right? that’s the attitude I see), etc.” Even those who do own rather than rent may be strugglign wiht foreclosure. I do agree there are more “haves” than, “have nots” here.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I commit myself to needy people more than non needy people. Maybe i’m a bit codependent, but being single i have emotional energy to bring to friendship. But i really have to feel a.genuine affection, and be sure to make sure my emotional needs are met elsewhere in order to have energy to give to friends in need. I dont like the label “emotional vampire “, i guess because i have known alot of mentally ill people who would not be ok but for loved ones who care about them. But as for the poster, i have had friendships that have needed either revamping or stepping back or ending. Tough stuff.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I believe the current economic problem is a factor. There are some who are not all that affected who are unmoved by the fact that some people are vastly affected. I know some people who think the crisis of 2008 is “over” and who continue to fiddle while (in my opinion) Rome is still burning. I absolutely think there are some people who think all misfortune can be “gotten over” and that “you can do anything you set your mind to.” No, you cannot. Sometimes the s*** hits the fan and hits it harder on some people more than others. And yes this does have an impact on friendships. People who are doing okay want to go out to lunch, shop, take trips, and want to be with others who have the disposable income to do that as well. The part that’s bad is that the “haves” often have a holier than thou attitude, as if they have the moral superiority over those who have made mistakes, have had misfortune not their fault, and who are struggling to pay the rent (and shame on them for being “renters” rather than “owners”–right? that’s the atttitude I see), etc. I think this blog, however, has more “haves” than “have nots” on it, except in the threads where a lot of near-destitute seniors have posted.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Here is a good video that may help – google 4mingthoughts emotional vampire series – the video saying goodbye to toxic friends is very helpful because she shows you how to do this in a respectful manner without guilt. Once you leave this friendship it is best to not discuss this person with mutual friends, as Irene suggested, even if they try and tempt you into doing so.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I don’t mean to be insensitive to your plight, but how is it you once considered this needy person your best friend? The attributes you’re describing usually don’t take years to surface.

    In any case, as Irene has said, friendships are voluntary, and it doesn’t make sense to remain in one out of guilt. But I do think a careful examination of your participation in this dynamic might be useful to you. Also, have you ever suggested she see a therapist, validating her issues, but suggesting they are more than you can assist her with.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Original Poster here!
    One of the many reasons why I am wanting to leave my friendship with this girl is because she feels very free to dump on me endlessly, but when I’ve tried to get a word in edgewise, she just tunes me out and pretends she didn’t hear anything.
    Friendship is about give and take, which my best friend clearly does not know. In her mind, I am her personal therapist and if for once I say “Hey I’m having trouble with something”, she will just gloss right over it and go back to talking about herself. It’s taken me years to realize how self centered and needy she is and I’m finally fed up with it.
    I feel bad about wanting to leave her, but I can’t take anymore of her antics.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I have to go with Anonymous on this one. Sometimes we experience things in our life that others refer to as, “drama” and it’s stuff over which we have no control. The bottom line is that no matter how positive we try to be, some of us do have more misfortune than others, and it’s not always within our control. The notion that it is is a bit insensitive and arrogant to the ways of the universe.

    Another unmentioned factor that I’d like to throw in here for consideration, and perhaps Irene could address this a bit — how many of you think the current economic climate may be having an impact on your interpersonal relationships? It’s hard to feel equal in relationships when you’re not sure you’re going to be able to pay the rent, take care of the dog, etc. Just something for consideration.

  30. Anonymous says:

    All I would like to do is ask you to ask yourself this question: Are you certain that you did not dump some Debbie Downer on her too? In other words, did you ever talk to her about your problems, too? If so, then please recognize that. And think hard about if it’s fair to dump her for her for being draining if you in turn have possibly drained her, too. I know of several people who have felt free to unload their problems on me but who have suddenly decided I’m being a Debbie Downer if I’d like equal time with unloading on them. They have developed amnesia about their role, about how they too wanted to share their problems with me. If that’s not the case with you, then okay. But just consider that you might have shared your shit with her sometimes, and if you did, that might have given her the “go ahead” signal to dump her shit on you.

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