Recognise the signs of ending a toxic friendship early.
You know that friend you have that you’ve known since you were kids but have always postponed reunion drinks with until you really have to go? Or the one you’ve always held at arms-length because they tend to demand too much of your time otherwise? Then there’s that friend that’s always been slightly passive-aggressive, and then goes full Bridezilla on you when you can’t afford her hens party?
These are the friends that you always know your life would be better without, but you’re not quite sure how, or whether it’s okay, to end the friendship. It might not be a reciprocal relationship or it could be toxic for your mental health, whatever it is, it simply doesn’t work for you, but still, you endure because you don’t want to cause drama.
There comes a time when assessing our friendships is necessary and when causing an issue is actually worth it because the slow, toxicity of a friendship is doing just as much damage as ending the friendship could.
It might feel selfish, but ultimately, if a friendship is a consistently negative influence to your life then in the vein of #selfcare, it could be time to cut ties. Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly when, how and what the most valid reasons are for doing this.
Beverley Hills, counsellor and lead partner at Hills Counselling London, has put together 10 questions we should be asking ourselves before we consider ending a friendship. Here they are:
1. Do you need a drink after seeing them?
The ultimate one-sided friendship – this is for those friends that demand so much of your emotional labour in helping them sort out their lives, but don’t provide the same support for you.
“Time bandits take a lot but give little, they steal your time and energy so ask yourself, how do you feel after you’ve seen them, exhausted? Worn out? Worn down?,” says Beverly.
“Maybe it’s time to redress and stop trying to offer them solutions they never take. Do they always counteract your suggestions with a “Yes but…” or is the world always against them?”
These are called racket games, and according to Beverly, maybe it’s time to put yours down and stop playing.
2. Would they un-invite you to their wedding if you couldn’t afford their hen-do?
“I was invited on a holiday hen-do once, the bride was a friend of my sister that I’d known since I was little and when I told the maid of honour that I couldn’t afford a week in Marbella I was hastily removed from the group chat and never received an invite to the wedding,” says Charlotte.*
And Charlotte isn’t alone. According to a survey into the cost of friendships by giffgaff gameplan, 17% of people were uninvited to something for not being able to afford it.
So if your friend shows a lack of compassion for your financial situation, it’s probably time to dump them.
3. Who will get the rest of your friends in the divorce?
Much like an actual divorce, cutting ties with a friend ultimately means your other friends will be forced to take sides. If you’re diplomatic and willing to be civil in group settings, this may not be too much of an issue, but if it’s an exceptionally toxic friendship then mutual friends are bound to be brought into the drama. Ask yourself, who else could I lose if I cut ties and is that friendship worth losing too?
For Joey, cutting off her friends in secondary school after years of bullying about her appearance meant losing the entire group.
“I always knew that leaving the friends who were making the comments behind my back would be a good thing, yet I wondered would I feel lonely?” she says.
“Once I did leave, I learnt that these worries were not necessary and the people who became my friends afterwards made me feel like I finally belonged, was accepted and made sure my body confidence grew.”
Safe to say if you’re cutting off a toxic group of friends, less is truly more.
4. What is the relationship doing to your mental health?
In the same vein as Joey, where cutting off friends is vital for your own mental health, it’s important to cut off a friend when it becomes clear that they don’t care to understand any mental health issues.
“If a relationship is toxic maybe it is time to cut ties and free yourself from negative patterns of behaviour,” says Beverley.
Often, we fall into step with relationships that echo our previous ones, from habit, comfort and ease, so perhaps it’s time to recognise the pattern and change it she suggests.
5. Is the relationship salvageable with some honest communication?
“I have a friend I’ve considered cutting off at least three times and I’ve only known her for a couple of years,” says Lucy.*
“She is extremely draining and demands a lot of her friends’ time and she’s never as understanding of my issues as I am of her. But I set boundaries with her early on so she doesn’t demand as much of me as she does others, plus I don’t expect as much support from her as I have other friends who are better to talk to. Whenever she gets too much for me, I explain to her that I need a bit of space and take some time away. Eventually, I’ll miss her and we end up talking again, but just having those boundaries with her set from the start has helped maintain the friendship without me ever exploding on her.”
“Sometimes a little time and space can work wonders towards mending a broken friendship,” says Beverley.
Maybe it’s time to simply put this alliance in the bottom drawer for a while and come back to it in a few months when you’ve both have had time to reflect on things.
6. Are all your best memories from when you were younger?
We’ve all been there. That friend we got served with for the first time, the one you bought that Maybelline dream matte mousse with and told you purple eyeshadow was a great idea for school. You have a ton of great memories, but you’re completely different people now with completely different needs, and keeping in touch feels more like a chore than it does a reunion.
“Most of us have people in our lives simply out of nostalgia and these are the hardest ties to break,” says Beverley.
It’s okay to outgrow people as much as it’s okay to outgrow other things that were once your favourite in life. People change, things change, our values change. If this is what’s holding you back then how are you expected to grow?
7. Is it a family friendship?
Every Christmas you may wish you could cut ties with your sexist uncle, overbearing great aunty or your dreaded in-laws, but ultimately, family friendships are the hardest to cut. Since this is someone you’re going to see at every family occasion for the rest of your life, ditching them altogether may not be an option, all you can do is find yourself a way to deal when it all gets too much.
“Family friendships are very hard to distance yourself from – an in-law perhaps,” says Beverley.
In cases like this, genuine communication is key. Be brave and try to be open with your partner about how you feel then come up with a strategy together in order to have a workable relationship. You didn’t choose their father, but he is going to be in your life whether you like it or not so draw some practical boundaries between you.
A good idea is to maybe have a safe word you agree with your partner or another relative for when it all gets too much, so they know it’s time to casually intervene!
8. What would you advise a friend to do?
The key to knowing whether your practising #selfcare or just being plain selfish is to get an honest opinion. Either take a step back and think what you would tell a friend in this situation or pick your most brutally honest friend and get a different perspective from them.
“It can’t always be the other person’s fault, flipping any situation gives you a new perspective and helps you empathise with the other person,” says Beverley.
“Sometimes it’s us who are being just a little too narrow, fixed or even stubborn.”
9. Can your friendship simply be moved around the dartboard?
If you feel like you’ve simply outgrown a friend, cutting them off may be a bit too severe. We all have different expectations of different people in our life, so if a friendship can be saved by simply relegating them to a ‘night out friend’ status.
It might be worth setting some new boundaries and save yourself the awkward conversation. For Beverley, this is called moving your friends around the dartboard.
“The bullseye is where your main core of friends sits, you can call them anytime, nothing is too much trouble, they hold all your secrets and vice versa,” she says.
Out towards the triples is where your very good friends lie; you like them a lot, but they won’t necessarily be the first person you call. Then out towards the doubles, lie people like your colleagues or casual friends, in your life but not overly so. Where does your friendship belong? Where can this friendship be moved to?’
10. To ghost or not to ghost?
“I have a friend I tried to ghost once. We had met on holiday through a mutual friend and thanks to our unbelievable level of similarity, became extremely close, extremely quick. We were both mid-breakups and doing everything and anything to distract ourselves from inevitable heartbreak.
Of course, both being in toxic mindsets meant we brought out the worst in each other, and our friendship descended into unhealthy obsessions. I only noticed when my mum and sister picked up on it, and I realised we both needed to take a step back.
Coward that I am, I decided to slowly phase her out of my life, a few less conversations here and there, a few more delayed plans. The ghosting spectacularly failed, and we ended up in a blazing row after which we didn’t speak for a year. It’s something we joke about now as emotionally stable best friends, but if it taught me anything, it’s that ghosting is never a suitable way to end a friendship.”
Instead, Beverley advises having honest and open communication, helped by using ‘I statements’.
This involves getting in touch with your feelings and naming them. She says that “often people get defensive when we broach a sensitive subject, but by using the ‘I’ statements you minimise blame and guilt by taking responsibility for yourself by saying how you really feel and how the situation affects you.”
For example, rather than saying “I hate it when you show me up, you just don’t care”, try saying “I feel upset when you ridicule me in public because it seems like you don’t care.”
Small changes in vocabulary make a big difference. Like my mother used to say; it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.