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7 Signs It's Time to Let Go of a Friendship

What happens when your BFF’s behavior makes you say WTF? When do you stay loyal and when do you call it quits? By request from listener Alyssa, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen tackles when to stick it out in a troubled friendship and when to walk away.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
Episode #148
7 Signs It's Time to Let Go of a Friendship

Question #4: Are you friends simply because they’re similar to you? Sometimes we force a friendship when we have a similar background and similar lives. Similarity somehow makes us think we should be friends. But it doesn’t matter if you went to the same elementary school or look like spitting images of each other.

If you’re doing all the work in the relationship, you’re an employee, not a friend. Time to consider going on strike.

What’s really important? Well, a 2012 study assessed over 1,400 people; some of them had friendships with people of a different race, sexual orientation, or gender, and some of them did not. Those with cross-category friendships placed less value on having similar lives, values, and experiences as their friends. What did they focus on instead? The true building blocks of friendship: trust, honesty, respect, and being there for each other.

Question #5: Do you do all the work in the relationship? Do any of these sound familiar? You justify selfish and inconsiderate behavior: “I’m sure he meant to clean up this mess he left when he borrowed my car; he was probably just busy.” You initiate all the ideas, make all the plans, and are responsible for changing them if they’re not convenient for your friend: “Oh, you decided to meet a Tinder date tonight? Um, sure, we can reschedule.” And finally, you do all the emotional work—talking them down, shoring them up: “Of course you’re amazing. Sure, let’s talk about all the ways you rock. Again.”

If you’re doing all the work in the relationship, you’re an employee, not a friend. Time to consider going on strike.

Question #6: Can you count on each other? This one may sound cliche, but it’s important. Friends shouldn’t be like your iPod earphones—never around when you need them but getting tangled up in things when you’re not.

The research on friendship is rife with words like “reciprocal,” “mutual,” and “shared,” and if none of those come to mind when you think about a particular friendship, it might be time to back away.

Indeed, all those graduation night songs about “I’ll be on your side forevermore” and “I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on,” while cheesy, are about more than swaying with arms around each other’s shoulders. Good friendships represent an equilibrium of mutual support. Even dissimilarities between good friends manage to balance each other out.

Of course, over time the balance will shift back and forth—you will inevitably have a major life crisis at the same time your friend gets a promotion, but good friends are there to share in your successes and your struggles. You don’t have to link arms and sing, but you should feel sure than in your friendship, winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call.

Question #7: Can you be yourself? Let’s end with the big one. You’re not the same everywhere you go—you behave differently at a job interview or visiting grandma than when hanging out with your friends, but if you feel pulled to change or hide who you are, or you feel ashamed after hanging out with your friend, it may be time to try on other friendships.

To wrap up, decades of research and millennia of common sense tell us that connecting with true friends is one of the best things we can do for our health and happiness.

Breaking up with less-than-true friends is a tough decision. Indeed, there must have been a time when you were good friends to each other, or you wouldn’t be in struggling with the question to begin with.

Now, friends will come and go from your life. Some will be context-dependent, like a work friend or a school friend. These are all fine. Not every friend needs to be a Golden Girls-style pal and confidante. But real friends shouldn’t hurt, manipulate, or use you, or pressure you to be someone you’re not. A true friend inspires you to be better, happier, healthier, and more “yourself.”

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