Friendships can be very important relationships in one’s life. But unlike family, you get to pick friends, and unlike a spouse, breaking it off with a friend does not require a court of law. Friends come in different shapes and sizes, and not every friendship is close and meaningful. But what a close and long-term friend does provide is a shared life history. Having been through many things together creates an intimacy that is not easily replaced. Which is why, for a close or longtime friend, it really may be worth making more of an attempt at honesty, even if it means a confrontation of sorts. ANY relationship will have bumps in the road and even really bad times, but only by talking about what went wrong, and why, can you arrive at a mutual repair that will afford both of you the benefits of a long-term friend.
There are times, however, when a friendship truly has a negative effect upon you. A friendship where despite feedback given and hurdles jumped, they always end up undermining you or bringing out the worst in you. These so-called “toxic” relationships should be ended. They will drain you, sucking up the emotional energy you need for other, more mutually satisfying relationships.
It can still be very difficult to end a friendship. More often a person chooses to “fade away,” by dropping out of sight, not returning calls and not making plans. The sad part about such a breakup is that it can leave the “friend” feeling very hurt or perplexed and with no ability to “fix” whatever has gone wrong in the relationship. How to end a friendship depends a lot on the intensity, value and length of that relationship. For the very casual friend, a very casual end may be just fine. The honest yet “I am moving on” approach is OK. This may just be “I am too busy” or “I am not extending an invite back.” But for the friend who has invested more time and energy — how then to end this kind of friendship?
Here are five suggestions when contemplating the ending of a friendship:
- Not every friend has to bring everything to the table.
It's OK to have a friend who, in your opinion, has some limitations. You can keep a friend who is great about some things, but not about others. It is worth salvaging the friend who has one area that is difficult. If you have to have perfection, you might not have friends.
- Yes, people can change.
Sometimes your friend really has no idea that there is a problem, and if you don't clue them in, nothing will get better and then you'll want out. Give a friend a chance to make changes, by telling them kindly what is not working so well. They may really thank you later, even if in the short term it is hard.
- Casual friends can fade away.
If you have tried and it's a no-go, but this person is not close to you or hasn't been around very long ... sometimes the heat of a real breakup just isn't beneficial enough. It may be fine to just “fade away” and leave clear hints that you are not going to stay in the picture.
- Be honest with your serious friends.
Someone who has been important in your life deserves a real discussion and real honesty. Both parties need to air their opinions and hear that you've valued what was had. It is the mature, adult thing to do and it will benefit you both to have that closure. Don't let your fears of confrontation prevent this from happening.
- Toxic friends are no good.
A friendship should, for the most part, bring out the best in you. If over time and even with feedback this person brings out your worst or sucks up large quantities of emotional upheaval, then self-preservation comes first. Be clear, be honest and be firm.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.
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