Jan. 23, 2013 at 4:14 PM ET
Every friendship has its rough patches, some are just more durable than others, and some simply have a short shelf life. When you see the signs that your relationship is heading south, it's time to call it quits. So how do you get rid of a toxic friend? We’ve gathered some tips from relationship pros on how to best sail the choppy waters of firing a friend.
Know when to bail out
Listen to that little voice that’s saying ugh to a scheduled coffee date. “Sometimes the earliest sign is that you leave outings with that person feeling drained, rather than energized,” says Andrea Bonior Ph.D., author of The Friendship Fix. Beyond draining your energy, hanging out with a toxic friend can drudge up some ugly emotions and behavior patterns in you. “Often, you notice that when you’re with this person, that you are not your best self in interacting with them,” says Bonior. “Perhaps you tend to be more snarky, passive-aggressive, judgmental or competitive. Or you notice that you don’t really want the best for that person.”
Though everyone has cranky days, pay attention when those feelings come up repeatedly. “When it’s a continual pattern that shows no signs of abating and has been going on for some time, it’s time to consider ending the friendship.”
Don't become her punching bag
Relationship expert Lauren Frances, author of Dating, Mating, & Manhandling… The Ornithological Guide to Men, has a list of “toxic clues” to look out for in a friend. “If she makes you feel worse about yourself, makes jokes at your expense, is competitive with you for male attention, or is super needy and possessive about your time and attention and expects you to save her and bail her out, but is never reciprocally there for you, then it’s probably time to move on,” she says. “Drinking problems and refusal to get professional help but relying on you for her support falls into this category too. She needs a therapist, not a girlfriend.”
Ask yourself if it’s worth the trouble
If you’re undecided about whether to end a friendship, Jan Yager, Ph.D., a friendship coach, sociologist and author of When Friendship Hurts, recommends asking if you really want to invest the time and energy to turn this around. Will she want to work through this with you? It simply might not be worth it.
Give it a second shot—but not a third
Most of the time, it’s worth giving someone a second shot (she was, after all, a friend at one time.) “Maybe there are several problems in your friendship but you still think it’s worth saving,” say Live Like a Hot Chick, co-authors Jodi Lipper and Cerina Vincent. “In this case, you should take action to correct the things in your relationship that are wrong." Either write down or tell her how important the friendship is, but that you just aren’t happy with the way she treats your boyfriend or the comments she makes about your job. Tell her that these things must change in order for the friendship to continue. And if she gets mad, cuts you off or just doesn’t listen, you know what to do next.
Break it to her gently
If and when you decide to do the deed, carry it out with compassion. “If you can end a relationship on a loving note you will feel incredible and clear space for new friendships to come in,” author and spiritual teacher Gabrielle Bernstein advises. “When you end a relationship in a negative way, you wind up carrying the resentment around for months, even years.” Watch your language when you initiate the heave-ho. “Rather than say ‘breakup,’ you can suggest that you take time apart,” says Bernstein. “Acknowledge your part in the situation and suggest that it be best for both of you to have a separation. Rather than pointing the finger at the other person be sure to own up to your side of the street.”
Just hang up
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all breakup. And sometimes a face-to-face meeting isn’t necessary. If your soon to be ex-friend has “got anger issues or is a clinging vine, I always suggest doing the ‘Dear John Phoner,’” says Frances. “It’s much less painful breaking bad news to volatile and emotional people over the phone, rather than having to manage their feelings in person.” Keep the conversation short, Frances says, “so that you can move on with your day, and they can manage their upset feelings in private. If she starts shouting, you can simply say: ‘I said what I needed to, and am sorry you’re angry, but I’m getting off the phone now and am not interested in continuing this conversation.’” Then, hang up.
“If the person was truly toxic and you fear retaliation, revenge or painful confrontations, being superficial in your explanation with a white lie or two can be forgiven. On the other hand, if the person could use some useful feedback, you could consider it your final duty as a friend to give her some constructive criticism,” says Bonior.
Go ahead and grieve
Ripping off the Band-Aid can be the toughest part of a friendship breakup, but it’s also normal to feel a little rough in the aftermath. Treat a friendship breakup like any other, and take good care of yourself as you move on. “Remove all mementos from your home and pack them away until they don’t make you sad anymore,” Frances says. De-friend or block them from social networks—it may seem childish, but if it was a bad breakup, defriending/unfollowing that person is a good way to avoid passive-aggressive messages.
Another great way to get over a breakup? Stop. Talking. About. It. “It’s likely that you’ve been complaining about this friend to your other friends for months,” says Bernstein. “Whenever you complain about the situation you bring more negative energy to it. If you truly want to let go then do your best to stop talking about it. You’ll find a lot of serenity in your silence.”
Forgive and forget
Try this exercise from Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping: Write three letters to your friend. The first should be written to express and release all your emotions. The second can have a softer approach, with fewer negatives and more compassion. The third letter could include what role you might have played during the friendship that inhibited it from lasting. Of course, don’t send the letters! “They're just meant to shift your energy about the situation and leave more room for positive feelings,” says Rosie Guagliardo, founder of InnerBrilliance Coaching in Chicago.
Don’t beat yourself up
Christine Hassler, an author, speaker, and life coach says: “The purpose of any relationship is not to last forever, and one that doesn’t is not a failure. All relationships, from friendships to romantic ones, are teachers for us. Nothing makes us grow more than relationships.”
“Once you’ve forgiven your friend and even yourself for the friendship not lasting, focus on the types of friendships you want, and determine who you need to be to have those types of friendships,” says Guagliardo. “Focusing on who you want to be can help you be much more present and available in the moment, which will allow for richer experiences and stronger friendships.”
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.