After his father’s death, Paul Marlow, a 36-year-old mental health advocate in Surrey, British Columbia, was at a crossroads. “I saw that I needed a change,” says Marlow. He wanted to give up his bad habits and start over.
“I found myself wanting to get away from my old self, from myself depressed and filled with anxiety,” he says. But as he tried to move forward, his friends held him back. As Marlow adopted a healthier lifestyle, his friends made drinking and partying a priority.
As Marlow struggled emotionally, his friends tensed less and less, and he realized it was time to move on.
“There can be many reasons why a friendship becomes unhealthy. But any friendship that consistently contributes to our sense of contempt, worthlessness or disrespect needs to be re-evaluated, ”says Gina Handley Schmitt, LMHC, Seattle-area psychotherapist and author of Friendship: creating meaningful and lasting friendships with adults.
Common signs: it’s time to move on
As you change and grow, you may find that old friendships are no longer suitable for you. You may separate naturally or suddenly find that you are in an unhealthy relationship.
Here are some signs that it may be time to move on.
You are not a priority. You might notice that your friend is making no effort to be with you. Maybe they’re hard to reach or don’t seem interested. Sometimes there’s a temporary reason, like your friend just had a baby and is busier than before. But if you rarely feel like a priority, or if you feel your friend doesn’t think you’re worth their time, it’s best to move on.
You are not logging in at the same level. Friendships work best when both people want the same type of connection. If you want a deep personal connection but your friend can’t or doesn’t want the same, the friendship can become stagnant and unsatisfying, Schmitt says.
You give more than you take. Sometimes one person may need more than the other. But if a friend is constantly a taker and rarely a donor, it is not a balanced friendship. If you’re still there for them but they don’t do the same for you, it may be a sign to move on.
Your friend is disrespectful or mean. Healthy friendships provide support and affirmation. If your friend doesn’t respect your feelings, it’s an unhealthy relationship. Feeling anxious or negative about your friendship is a sign that it might be best to end it.
Your friend is dishonest or withholding information. “Deep connections require trust,” says Schmitt. “And trust requires honesty.” If you can’t count on your friend to be open or speak the truth, your relationship won’t thrive and could become a source of frustration.
You minimize your accomplishments. Some friendships are competitive. But if you hold back from sharing good news to avoid hurting your friend’s feelings, that’s a sign of jealousy. Good friends want you to be successful and are happy for you when you do.
How to end it
You have a few options if it’s time to end a friendship.
Let it go. Some friendships dissolve on their own. This was the case for Marlow. “The end of our friendship came slowly. I canceled the plans for the dinners. They stopped asking me to join them. We just disappeared over time, ”he says.
If you try to make plans but your friend continues to crumble, you may find that the friendship fades when you stop trying.
Talk about it. It’s often best to have a conversation about why you’re ending things so that both people feel respected and can move forward with understanding why it didn’t work out.
If you’ve had a fight, it can be tempting to leave it there. But having one last conversation may be a better choice, even if it’s hard to talk about what happened or why friendship isn’t working for you anymore.
No matter how you end a friendship, try to be respectful of the other person’s feelings, especially if your breakup is one-sided.
You can be respectful while being honest and firm, says Schmitt. Tell your friend why you are walking away, but be careful how you communicate the news. Be kind and mature, especially if your friend hasn’t seen it coming and feels hurt or confused by your decision.
Can you become friends again?
“Not all breakups between friends are permanent,” says Schmitt. “Sometimes friends find themselves in another season of their lives.” As you grow older, you can change, reconnect, and form a healthier relationship later in life.
“The important thing is to stay committed to finding and maintaining healthy friendships,” says Schmitt.
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