When To “Divorce” A Friend

It can be hard to tell if a problematic friendship needs an intervention or whether it should end. Here’s how you can tell the difference, and the best way to handle it

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

When you hit a rocky patch with a close friend, the emotional fallout can be as overwhelming – and heartbreaking – as dealing with a troubled romantic relationship. Facing it is tricky and confronting, no matter your age.

No friendship is perfect, of course, and external forces like career, marriage, babies, divorce and illness test our bonds with the closest to us. But how do you distinguish between a friendship that requires a little maintenance and one that has reached the point of no return? Here, the experts look at some typical friendship issues and advise the right course to take.


This is the friend who demands much more of you than you do of her. She expects she’ll always be part of your plans, and gets upset or angry when she finds out you’ve spent time with others. And out of guilt, you keep trying to appease her.

HOW TO DEAL WITH HER: Set new boundaries. This type of behaviour requires early intervention, says Dr Joann Lukins, founder of Peak Performance Psychology.

“Tell your friend, ‘I want to talk to you about when you got cross with me the other day because I had coffee with X’, and explain that you need to spend time with other friends as well, and that you’d like her to give you this space and not be upset or resentful. Then it is up to her on how she reacts to it, how she can cope with it, and whether it fits with her.”


You’re always the one organising the catch-ups and calling or texting to check in, she frequently cancels plans, and the only time she comes to you is when she needs something.

HOW TO DEAL WITH HER: Speak up. “If you don’t like the behaviour of your friend because of how it makes you feel, then you need to call on it,” says Dr Lukins. “Have a direct conversation such as, ‘It was good to catch up today. Next time, how about you organise it and let me know?’” If she doesn’t pick up the ball, you’ll have to accept that she is not a good friend and let it go.


You’ve known each other since secondary school and have shared some amazing landmark moments in life. Still, as the years have passed, you’ve gone in different directions – and these days, all you have in common is history.

HOW TO DEAL WITH HER: Rethink your relationship. “As women, we are inclined to hold onto these legacy friendships because it’s one of those many ‘shoulds’ in our lives,” says Melbourne-based psychologist Melanie Schilling. “But ask yourself if she’s relevant to your current life and make a decision about what degree you continue to let her in.” This, Schilling adds, is more about a mental shift on your part, unless you are prepared to have a confronting conversation with her that may end in tears.


She always has one too many drinks at parties. She was rude to a co-worker you introduced her to. Or she teases you to the point that it hurts your feelings.

HOW TO DEAL WITH HER: If she makes you cringe the majority of the time, let the friendship go. But if you really like her despite these tendencies, talk to her about it. “One of the ways we support our friends is by calling them out when they’re misbehaving, just as we’d hope someone would do that for us,” notes Dr Lukins.

“The keyword to keep out of the conversation, though, is, ‘but’, such as, ‘I’m saying this to you as a good friend but…’ That ‘but’ negates everything you said before it. Replace it with ‘and’ – ‘You and I have been good friends for a long time and what I want to say is really important to me.’ Hopefully, she will appreciate your input, or she might get upset – that’s the risk you take.”


She complains about everything and blames all her problems on others. And every time you hang out with her, you come away feeling in a thunderous mood, or so depressed and deflated you just want to go home and pull the blanket over your head.

HOW TO DEAL WITH HER: Break it off. If you’re having a negative gut reaction to someone, again and again, that’s a big alarm bell. “These sorts of behaviours take an emotional toll, and that is not contributing to your life,” Schilling points out.

“When you get together with a friend, you want to walk away from that interaction feeling uplifted, rewarded, motivated and inspired – those are the people you want to be spending time with, not the ones who leave you feeling agitated and exhausted.”


She may be the classic “frenemy” – someone who continually criticises you, puts you down in front of other people, has betrayed you or lied to your face. She may also have done something that challenges your value system, such as cheating with a mutual friend’s significant other.

HOW TO DEAL WITH HER: Walk away. “If someone does something you think is immoral or unkind, that might be an instance where you say, ‘This has crossed a line for me, and I’m not even going to dignify this with a conversation’,” says Dr Lukins.

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Pick your method of communication

Having an honest conversation is the ideal way to end a friendship, but you may find it too painful or difficult to sit down face-to-face. Every relationship is different, so be honest with yourself about how you want to approach this friend, whether by phone, email or a handwritten letter.

Choose your words

Describe what the situation is for you, using “I” statements – “I’m feeling this” – rather than “you” statements – “You’re too possessive/too controlling/too whiny.” It’s not about the other person at this point; it’s about you because you’re the one who’s feeling the unease.

Be sober

You might feel like you could both use a drink while having this conversation, but alcohol can make you overplay your emotions and say things you may regret.

Remember that you can’t control how the other person will react

Focus on the part of the interaction you can control and try to get your message across as clearly as you can.

Be prepared to grieve

Even if you’re the one severing the ties, you’re still dealing with a loss. So be kind to yourself.


“Ghost” them

It may seem the easy way out, but a US study found that ghosting, or disappearing from someone’s life without explanation, leads to the most anger, hurt and feelings of rejection than any method of ending a relationship. (The toxic friend is the one exception.)

Blame your friend or yourself

Keep the focus on the dynamic between the two of you. So instead of saying to your friend, “You’re always so negative, and that’s become a huge problem for me,” say something like, “I’m not getting what I need out of this friendship, and I’m sure you’re not either.”

Think you can “fix” your friend

In some cases, it may be appropriate to explain why you are ending the friendship. If your problem pertains to aspects of your friend’s personality or behaviour, it’s not your job to set her straight or teach her a lesson. It may simply be enough to say, “I don’t think we’re good for each other, and I’m sorry, but I can’t be in your life anymore.”