After his father died, Paul Marlow, a 36-year-old mental health advocate in Surrey, British Columbia, was at a turning point. “I saw I needed a change,” Marlow says. He wanted to let go of unhealthy habits and start fresh.
“I found myself yearning to move away from the old me, the depressed and anxiety-filled me,” he says. But as he tried to move forward, his friends held him back. While Marlow was adopting a healthier lifestyle, his friends prioritized drinking and partying.
As Marlow struggled emotionally, his friends reached out less and less, and he realized that it was time to move on.
“There can be many reasons that a friendship becomes unhealthy. But any friendship that consistently contributes to our feeling disregarded, devalued, or disrespected should be re-evaluated,” says Gina Handley Schmitt, LMHC, a psychotherapist in the Seattle area and author of Friending: Creating Meaningful, Lasting Adult Friendships.
Common Signs It’s Time to Move On
As you change and grow, you may find that old friendships no longer fit. You may drift apart naturally or realize suddenly that you’re in an unhealthy relationship.
Here are some signs that it may be time to move on.
You’re not a priority. You may notice that your friend doesn’t make an effort to be with you. Maybe they’re hard to reach or don’t seem interested. Sometimes, there’s a temporary reason, like if your friend just had a baby and is busier than before. But if you rarely feel like a priority or if you sense that your friend doesn’t think you’re worth their time, it’s best to move on.
You don’t connect at the same level. Friendships work best when both people want the same type of connection. If you want a deep personal connection but your friend can’t or doesn’t want the same thing, the friendship may become stagnant and unsatisfying, Schmitt says.
You give more than you take. At times, one person may need more than the other. But if a friend is constantly a taker and rarely a giver, it’s not a balanced friendship. If you’re always there for them but they don’t do the same for you, it may be a sign to move on.
Your friend is disrespectful or mean. Healthy friendships offer support and affirmation. If your friend doesn’t respect your feelings, it’s an unhealthy relationship. Feeling anxious or negative in your friendship is a sign that it may be best to end it.
Your friend is dishonest or holds back information. “Deep connections require trust,” Schmitt says. “And trust requires honesty.” If you can’t rely on your friend to be open or tell the truth, your relationship won’t thrive and may become a source of frustration.
You downplay your accomplishments. Some friendships are competitive. But if you hold back from sharing good news to avoid hurting your friend’s feelings, it’s a sign of jealousy. Good friends want you to succeed and are happy for you when you do.
How to End It
You have a few options if it’s time to end a friendship.
Let it go. Some friendships dissolve on their own. This was the case for Marlow. “The ending of our friendship happened slowly. I canceled plans for dinners. They stopped asking me to join them. We just kind of faded out over time,” he says.
If you try to make plans but your friend keeps flaking out, you might find that the friendship fades when you stop trying.
Talk about it. It’s often best to have a conversation about why you’re ending things so both people feel respected and can move on with an understanding of why it didn’t work out.
If you had a fight, it may be tempting to leave it at that. But having one last conversation may be a better choice, even if it’s hard to talk about what happened or why the friendship isn’t working for you anymore.
No matter how you end a friendship, try to be respectful of the other person’s feelings, especially if your breakup is one-sided.
You can be respectful while being honest and firm, Schmitt says. Tell your friend why you’re stepping away, but pay attention to how you deliver the news. Be kind and mature, especially if your friend didn’t see it coming and feels hurt or confused by your decision.
Can You Be Friends Again?
“Not all friend breakups are permanent,” Schmitt says. “Sometimes, friends find their way back to each other in a different season of their lives.” As you grow, you may change, reconnect, and form a healthier relationship later in life.
“The important thing is to remain committed to finding and keeping friendships that are healthy,” Schmitt says.