Now What?: “I need a break from our friendship.”

Now What? is a new blog series designed to address specific issues related to coping with life’s challenges.

I recently had the experience of asking a close friend for a break.  Like a lot of relationships, this ending happened suddenly (via text in a grocery store), but really had been imminent for some time.

Plenty has been written about how difficult it is to make friends as an adult.  It should be a given that community is essential to well-being.  But not every friendship that starts out as supportive and beneficial to both people stays that way.  Sometime people grow at different rates or in opposite directions, even if you wish they wouldn’t.  

Beginning a friendship may be challenging, but even tougher is knowing how to thoughtfully end an adult friendship that is no longer satisfying.  In some cases, drifting apart happens naturally (and mutually) and no harm is done to either person.  But sometimes there is no clear time and place to end a friendship.  Sometimes a small shift occurs and now you feel worse after spending time together rather than better.  Getting together feels more like an obligation than a pleasure.

How do you know when a friendship is over?  What should you do if it is?  Here are some ideas.

Notice the patterns.  Dissatisfaction in a relationship can creep up on you.  Everyone has bad days, right?  But when you start to notice, for example, that almost every time you get together your friend changes or cancels plans, take note.  If her disinterest in listening to you isn’t just that one time when she was stressed, but every time, take note.  Behavior speaks volumes.

Check in with your feelings.  How do you feel after spending time together?  Immediately afterwards, ask yourself: what is my mood like?  How much energy do I have when I get home? Time spent with a good friend should make you feel better – about yourself, about life in general – rather than worse.  

Experiment with space.  Consider taking an unofficial break from this friend and see how you feel.  Recognize and then put aside any feelings of guilt to make conscious decisions about who you will spend time with for a week or two.  Then check in with your feelings again.

Be honest.  If you decide that the friendship doesn’t work for you anymore, try to talk openly with the other person.  Address the changes to your relationship from your point of view.  Use “I” statements (I feel dissatisfied with our relationship.  I am disappointed every time you cancel at the last minute) to avoid placing blame or criticizing – just speak adult to adult about how you are feeling right now.  

Cynthia Ransley, MA, TLLPCynthia Ransley, MA, LLP is Social Media Copywriter for The Michigan School.