• Handling Breakups

How To Break Up With A Friend: The Rules

Published: August 21, 2022 | Last Updated: April 20, 2024 By | 1 Reply Continue Reading
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You may have dropped hints but your friend hasn’t noticed. You may have told her how busy you are, but she keeps asking you to get together. You never initiate phone calls or texts but she keeps at it. You’ve reached the point where it has become clear: You need to decisively extricate yourself from this friendship.

Although a small number of breakups occur because of dramatic arguments or betrayals, most times, friendships end because two people drift apart. Either their life circumstances change (e.g., perhaps one friend moves to another city or country, or one takes a new job) or neither one simply has sufficient motivation or initiative to keep up the friendship.

You may decide to end a friendship because it has become too emotionally draining, time-consuming, and unsatisfying. The decision is one-sided because your friend doesn’t feel the same and seems oblivious to your feelings.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to break up with a friend, here are eight rules to help you navigate these murky waters. 




1- At the start, remember that breaking up with a friend is never easy. 

Unlike marriage or blood ties, friendships are voluntary relationships. To survive, they need to be satisfying to both people. And you have every right to break up with a friend if the friendship isn’t working for you.

You may feel guilty. 

You may worry that the other person will get angry. 

You may wonder what other people will think and feel ashamed about breaking up. 

You may worry that it will feel awkward when you see the other person.

All of these feelings are normal.


2- Once you break up, there’s no going back. So be sure you really want to do it.

Don’t break up impulsively.

Make sure it’s something you really want to do.

Remember, once you do it, there is little possibility of dialing the friendship back to what it was before. 

Think about the reasons why you are breaking up.

  • Are there other ways to preserve the friendship?
  • Can you take a break (e.g., a “friendship sabbatical”(time off)?
  • Can you downgrade the friendship?
  • See the person less frequently? 
  • Get together In “small doses,” for shorter periods of time? 
  • Only meet up with your friend as part of a group?


3- Rehearse what you want to say, and plan where and how you want to say it.

Breaking up tends to be awkward and uncomfortable, both for you and the other person.

Although you may have been thinking about breaking up with a friend for weeks or even months, the other person may be caught completely off-guard. 

You want to be as kind and sensitive in your approach because after all, this person was once your friend.

Some people find it helpful to write and rehearse a script by reading it aloud. You can even ask another trusted person to hear your presentation and give you feedback.

Remember, it is likely that your friend will never forget the words you used during this breakup.


4- Find the right time and place to deliver the message. 

This can be tricky, too, because it depends on the nature of your friendship. 

For example, if you are work friends, you probably don’t want to do it at the office.

If you only have had a phone or text relationship with your friend, you probably don’t want to do it in person.

Choose a strategy that makes sense in the context of your relationship.

Try to choose a time when you are both relaxed.

If you are doing it in person, having the conversation over coffee in a public place can be ideal because tempers are less likely to flare.

Make the meeting time-limited but take the opportunity to listen to your friend (For example, you can say you only have an hour). She may be upset and need to vent.


5- Try to be as honest as possible, balancing honesty with kindness.

Take responsibility for the breakup and not blame it on the other person. Take ownership of the decision.

This means using “I” language rather than focusing on “you.”

It’s okay to tell a “white lie” if it helps preserve your friend’s self-esteem and dignity.

Think of it as a “no-fault” decision: It is perfectly acceptable to end a friendship that isn’t mutually satisfying. 

Remember, you aren’t there to teach, change or condemn the other person. You are there to extricate yourself from a draining relationship.

6- Be clear and unequivocal. Don’t give a mixed message.

Remember that you haven’t made this decision lightly. As difficult as breaking up will be, you don’t want your message to be misunderstood. 

Aim to be as firm, concise, and clear as possible.

7- After you’ve “broken up,” think about what went wrong with the friendship.

Undertaking a “friendship autopsy” can help you avoid getting involved in unsatisfying friendships in the future.

Consider: Did you make a bad choice? Get too involved too soon? Overlook too much? 

Perhaps, the friendship was once okay but had been deteriorating over a long period of time. Would there have been a way to cut your losses sooner than you did, so you would feel less hurt and resentful?

8- Be sensitive to collateral fallout from a broken friendship.

While a friendship is between two people, other people may be involved or affected by the breakup. This might include colleagues, neighbors, family members, or other friends.

Always conduct yourself with dignity. Don’t badmouth your ex-friend to people you know in common.

No one needs to know the details of the breakup. You can just say that you really aren’t friendly anymore.  

If you see your ex-friend, say hello, and be cordial and polite.

You may want to stay clear of your friend on social media, to the extent possible.


Other posts on The Friendship Blog that offer

specifics on ending a friendship

So many reader questions revolve around breakups with friends. Here are some of them:

How To End A Friendship With A Neighbor

How To End A Friendship With A Neighbor

How To End A Very Long Friendship

A Woman Asks How To End A Very Long Friendship

How to End A Friendship Nicely, With Kindness

Is There A Kind Way To End This Friendship?

Ending A Friendship Nicely

How To Get Your Friend To Accept The End of A Friendship When They Don’t “Get The Message”

Handling a ‘Friend’ Who Doesn’t Get The Message

When tact doesn’t work with a “friend”


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Comments (1)

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  1. Rhian says:

    Thank you for posting THE RULES. Perhaps, if the FRIEND RULES hadn’t been flouted, there wouldn’t be any need to end a friendship.
    Earlier this year a colleague invited me out to lunch, I asked if ‘Jane Doe’ had been invited (it was typical for the three of us to have lunch) and she told me “no” and I could do the asking. No problem. The day prior to the lunch I called Jane Doe and she told me she’d invited another person. I asked her why she’d do that and she gave me a lame excuse. I bailed and told my colleague I’d not be going out to lunch with them. A few weeks later I reached out to Jane Doe and explained why I was so upset. She responded by telling me she was shocked by my behavior – I told her I was shocked by hers. Long story short – that interaction seems to have been the end of our friendship. I’m not too hurt by it since any plans we made were always on her terms.
    In August I contacted a friend who’d continually asked when I’d visit her again (lives almost 3,000 miles away). I told her I’d make plans for a few days in October, and she told me that was acceptable. I emailed her my airline reservation, told her I’d be staying at an Airbnb and asked her again to confirm our get-together prior to the 24 hour cancellation policy lapsing … which she did. For the next four-six weeks – silence. A week or two prior to my trip we exchanged a few phone calls and texts – she was mostly concerned about a male friend of hers – no mention of my upcoming trip. Conclusion: I stayed in a city approx one hour (by car) from my friend. We did not meet. The night before I was due to fly home I sent her a text and wished her a good life and told her I’d blocked her number.
    My mother died in 2020. I’ve spent the past three years spending approx 1/2 year with my father who has some health issues.
    Qu. Has death and the specter of growing old changed my perspective on life? I think so, since I no longer want to put up with other people’s selfishness.

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