Unhealthy Friendships

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How do you back away from an unhealthy friendship without hurting someone’s feelings?  

Here are a few tips to help you handle a tricky, and often uncomfortable, situation in way that minimizes hurt:  

  1. Make sure you really want to back away. Nobody’s perfect and friends, even very good ones, can say or do something wrong once in a while. If there has been a minor misunderstanding or disappointment, talk about it. 

  2. Never make the decision to end a friendship in anger. Give yourself a cooling off period to reconsider and also to figure out the best way to do it. 

  3. Consider whether you really need to end the friendship? Can you downgrade the relationship so you see each other less often or dilute it by seeing each other within the context of a group? Can you simply take a break (time off) to give each other a breather?  

  4. If the relationship isn’t very close to start with, you can merely drift apart. Make yourself less accessible. Tell a white lie and tell your friend how busy you are---e.g. studying, working, helping your parents, or seeing your significant other. 

  5. If you decide to go ahead with the breakup, develop a script and practice it---you might even want to put your thoughts in writing so you are clear to yourself and in your delivery. 

  6. Try to avoid blaming the other person. People change and their friendships change over time. Take responsibility for making the decision and handle the breakup with grace. After all, why would you want to hurt someone who once was your friend? 

Dr. Irene S. Levine 
The Friendship Doctor 
Author of Best Friends Forever, Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend 


About The Author

Dr. Irene S. Levine blogs as "The Friendship Doctor" on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today, where she provides readers no-nonsense advice and guidance. Her own blog, The Friendship Blog, has become a unique watering hole for people who want to better understand their friendships. She writes a bimonthly mental health column called Mind Matters for AAAS Science Magazine's online publication, ScienceCareers.

Irene’s career straddles two worlds: Trained as a psychologist, she is also an award-winning freelance journalist and author. She spent the major portion of her career as a senior manager and policymaker at the National Institute of Mental Health in Rockville, Maryland. She currently holds a faculty appointment as a Professor of Psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine.

Her writing—focused on health, lifestyles, travel and relationships—has appeared in scores of newspapers (including the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, New York Times, Newsday, and USA Today) and national magazines (such as AARP Bulletin, Better Homes and Gardens, Bottom Line Health, Health, Ladies Home Journal, Prevention, and Reader's Digest).

Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. Offering tools for personal assessment, case stories, and actionable advice for saving, ending, or re-evaluating a relationship, Dr. Levine shows that breakups are sometimes inevitable---even between the best of friends. She is a widely sought-after speaker on the topic of friendship.