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How to Know When to End a Friendship: 7 Sure Signs That It's Over

As Ms. Meyers grew older, became wiser, and valued her time more, she saw the benefit in ending friendships that were no longer worthwhile.

Ending a friendship can severe a bond that's keeping us stuck.

Ending a friendship can severe a bond that's keeping us stuck.

7 Sure-Fire Signs It's Time to End a Friendship

Our time becomes all the more precious as we grow older, and we don't want to waste it on friends who deplete us. While this may sound selfish, it's just part of maturing and realizing how important it is to surround ourselves with positive, healthy people who enrich our lives. While there are numerous psychological and physical benefits to having strong friendships, untold damage is done to our emotional well-being by holding on to weak ones. Here are seven telltale indicators that a friendship has run its course:

1. She's not there for you during difficult times.

2. She doesn't inspire you to be better.

3. She's all talk, no action.

4. She doesn't value your time.

5. She doesn't reciprocate.

6. She uses you as a therapist.

7. She doesn't share your morals and values.

Is It Over?

  • Do you have a friend who's always asking for favors: babysitting her kids, supporting her fledgling business, or looking after her pets when she's out of town?
  • When you have plans to get together, does she consistently show up late and frequently cancel?
  • Has she done a vanishing act during your time of need?
  • Does she weigh you down with her steady flow of personal problems?
  • Do you find yourself drinking too much, eating too much, or being overly negative when the two of you are together?

If you're nodding your head, it may be time to end the friendship. Just as it's extremely painful for hoarders to relinquish their material possessions, it can be a struggle for us to let go of long-time friends even when we know it's necessary. When we do, though, it can be incredibly liberating: a positive step forward in making better life choices, appreciating our self-worth, and lightening our load.

Has the Friendship Run Its Course?

When I was younger, I was drawn to people who had lots of turmoil in their lives. I was fascinated by how different they were from calm, predictable me. It didn't matter that they were often self-centered and self-destructive. I liked these drama queens because they were intoxicating. In hindsight, I realize that there was a part of me who felt superior to them. I thought that they were broken and I could fix them.

Many decades later, though, I have a totally different criteria for choosing friends. I seek to surround myself with people who support me when I'm down, get me exited about life, and challenge me to be a better person. After reading Shasta Nelson's Frientimacy, the quintessential book on female friendships, I had a much better idea of what I wanted from my gal pals. What I desired most is what Nelson says is key to any quality friendship: both people feeling seen.

With that as my lodestar, I said goodbye to some friends who had no interest in getting to know me in a deep, meaningful way. During this difficult but necessary process, I thought a lot about why these friendships had run their course. As a result, I discovered seven sure-fire signs it was time to end them.

1. She Isn't There for You During Tough Times

The turning point in how I viewed friendships occurred when my son got diagnosed with autism. Up until that point, I'd have described myself as a blessed person with a solid group of pals who would certainly support me during my time of need. My son's diagnosis, though, quickly and irrevocably extinguished that illusion and made me question where I had gone wrong when selecting friends.

Not surprisingly, the drama queens in my posse turned out to be incredibly self-centered. Everything had been hunky-dory when they were center stage but, when they were relocated to the wings, they couldn't tolerate it. They lacked the depth, patience, and compassion to listen when I desperately needed to talk about my son. In fact, they offered so little support that I wound up unburdening myself to a therapist.

My son's diagnosis exposed the superficiality of these friendships. It was easy to let those pals go because I now knew with one hundred percent certainty that they were takers. The words of the poet, Maya Angelou, confirmed that I was making the right decision: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

Think of people in your life that are constantly filling your bucket. They give you new information and challenge you. When you surround yourself with friends like this, your life will completely change. You become more positive, driven, and focused on your priorities. THIS is who you need to be spending time with!

— Chalene Johnson, motivational speaker and health expert

2. She Doesn't Inspire You to Be Better

After my son got diagnosed with autism, I was prescribed anti-depressants to deal with my grief. One of the medicines led to a 20 pound weight gain. Fortunately, I had a friend who cared enough to encourage me to get back in shape.

We started walking together three mornings a week. During this time, she let me unload about my son while also unloading the lard. She urged me to stop taking anti-depressants and instead deal with my sadness in healthy, pro-active ways such as exercising, talking about my feelings, and writing in a journal. By pushing me to take better care of myself, she let me know that I mattered. She helped me see that I wasn't just the caregiver of an autistic son but a person with her own needs, talents, and desires.

Dr. Shainna Ali, a licensed mental health counselor, says good pals remind us of our value especially when we're doubting it. She writes: "Healthy friendships can be a great buffer to provide us with positivity and encouragement in the times in which we may feel low and may not believe in ourselves. They remind you about your strengths in the times that you forget."

It's critical to surround ourselves with friends who keep us healthy, motivated, and feeling good.

It's critical to surround ourselves with friends who keep us healthy, motivated, and feeling good.

3. She's All Talk, No Action

When you're struggling and need help, words ring hollow. When my son got diagnosed with autism, my best friend was full of beautiful things to say: "I'm praying for you. You're in my thoughts. I'm sorry you're going through this." I found them comforting at first but then just irritating. During difficult times, you need a friend who'll spring into action.

Some people, who I didn't even consider close friends at that time, took concrete steps to help. They watched my baby when I attended speech and occupational therapy sessions with my older son. They brought us dinner when we had a long day of medical appointments. They invited us to play dates at their homes and picnics in the park. People who did nothing became former friends and vanished from our lives.

First of all, don’t offer your help; provide it...So, when you have a friend in obvious need, don’t assume she will ask for your help. Instead, step in and provide your help when and where you can.

— Kelly Hoover Greenway, blogger

4. She Doesn't Value Your Time

Many of us have at least one friend who doesn't value our time nearly as much as she values her own. She consistently shows up late or cancels at the last minute with a vague excuse. She's always puffing herself up by saying how incredibly busy she is. Her message is quite clear: I'm a very important person and you're not.

Some therapists suggest that those who constantly arrive late have low self-esteem while others diagnose them as self-centered. Whether their tardiness was caused by too much ego or not enough, these friends were eliminated from my life. As we age, time is our greatest commodity and I could no longer waste it waiting for others to make their entrance.

5. She Doesn't Reciprocate

If you think a friendship is always a perfectly balanced 50/50 enterprise, you're probably a very lonely person. That's because our lives get messy with health scares, marital problems, work issues, and troubles with our kids. At those times, our pals often become a low priority out of sheer necessity.

When my son got diagnosed with autism, I was running on empty and had nothing to offer my buddies. They had to shoulder the friendship at that time if they wanted it to continue. Some did and some didn't. If they hung in with me, though, I was eventually able to lift them up when they were overwhelmed by their own crisis. Because of the heartache I had experienced, I had more compassion and wisdom to give. Reciprocation between true friends always prevails in the long-haul.

If a friendship is not mutually beneficial and if a relationship is not close to a 50/50 give and take, it is not a true friendship. The acid test of a true friendship happens when you have absolutely nothing tangible to give, yet this amazing person stands with you. This is a true friend.

— Fred Crowell, blogger

It's time to end a friendship when your pal wants to use you as her therapist rather than getting professional help.

It's time to end a friendship when your pal wants to use you as her therapist rather than getting professional help.

6. She Uses You as a Therapist

It's easy to be flattered when a friend turns to us for advice. However, some are using us instead of getting the professional help that they need. Others are simply sharing their problems because they like to be the focus of attention but have absolutely no intention of following our guidance.

In "Five Reasons People Don't Listen to Advice," Glenn Stok says some friends don't really want our counsel even when they ask for it. Instead, they're seeking our blessing for their bad behavior or ill-advised choices. He writes: "There are times when we must back off and realize that they don't want help. They just wish to have approval for their failure."

For years, I had a friend who turned to me with her steady-flow of marital woes. I took it as a compliment, listened to her intently, and gave the best advice that I could. However, as time passed, her problems never got resolved and I realized that she wasn't following through with any of my suggestions.

Moreover, I discovered that she was discussing these same issues with many other friends, asking for their advice as well. I then understood that my take on things was not esteemed by her and I was just another ear in her collection. Accepting that truth was a blow to my ego at first but eventually gave me the freedom to walk away from a friendship that had been one-sided for years.

Your core values are the ones that stay in place for very long periods of time and tend to endure even when other aspects of your life change. I like to think of these as the values that you cannot do without and will make you absolutely uncomfortable and acting out of step with yourself if you don’t respect them.

— Natalie Lue, author and relationship expert

7. She Doesn't Share Your Morals and Values

When you're young, sharing the same morals and values is hardly a concern as you hang out together, gossip, shop, and attend parties. As you grow older, though, they become essential to a strong friendship: building trust, showing vulnerability, and having stimulating conversations. Without them, you have only the superficial in common and that's not enough to sustain a meaningful bond.

I had two best friends in college and was convinced we'd be lifetime pals. After graduation, though, both of them had affairs with married men. They told me about their situations and wanted me to act in a supportive, non-judgmental way. When I couldn't, that was the end of our friendship. There was no way to reconcile our fundamental differences in values and morals.

In this TED Talk, Shasta Nelson, the author of "Frientimacy," discusses the three requirements for a healthy friendship: positivity, consistency, and vulnerability.

What do you think?

Questions & Answers

Question: I texted "I need a friend" to a friend. She never replied. The message was "seen." Should I drop her?

Answer: No. People aren't obligated to respond to every text or e-mail they receive during their busy days. Some do, and some don't. You have no idea what she was experiencing when you sent that message. Maybe, she was suffering from horrible menstrual cramps. Maybe, her boyfriend was breaking up with her. Maybe, she was dealing with a crisis at work.

Our relationships can get so screwed up when we rely too heavily on impersonal ways of communication like texts and e-mails. If this friend means anything to you, you'll discuss the matter with her face-to-face and hash it out. You can start by saying: “I was hurt when I texted 'I need a friend' and I didn't hear anything from you.” Then let her explain. Have a conversation.

We shouldn't be so willing to end a friendship based on just one episode. It should be because there's a long-time pattern of negative behavior. If this friend of yours, for example, is consistently unavailable when you reach out for help, then that's a good indication that the relationship isn't working, and it's rather pointless to keep pretending.

Question: I have a friend who I used to work with and we were close. Since he has changed jobs, though, is very busy, and has a new girlfriend, I hardly see him as he says he has no time. He has told me that I am too possessive. We still text each other nearly every day, but it hurts me that I hardly see him now. Am I better just letting him go as I worry that he no longer sees me as a friend or surely he'd make time to see me?

Answer: It sounds like this friendship has run its course, which is not unusual with former co-workers. When we're employed at the same place, we have an endless number of things in common: gossiping about other employees, complaining about the boss, discussing projects, and sharing our day-to-day lives. When we no longer work together, that closeness can come to a screeching halt.

While some people today are satisfied with friendships that exist exclusively through texts, e-mails, and social media posts, it sounds like you're not one of them. I'm not either. If someone doesn't take the time and make the effort to interact with me in person, I end that friendship.

While some folks brag about 3,000 so-called friends on Facebook, I hold the designation “friend” in much higher esteem. I can count my true friends on one hand. To me, a friend is someone who took an hour-long walk with me after my son got diagnosed with autistic. A friend is someone who came to my house after the holidays so we could plan our health and fitness routines for the new year. A friend is someone who wanted to sit with me and listen, watching my facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures when I discussed the problems I was facing in my marriage.

While it's always hard to end a friendship, it can also be liberating. It allows us to open up to meeting new people. It can be empowering to let go of those folks who, in their never-ending busyness, make us feel insignificant

The author, Scott Berkun, writes this about folks who are always so occupied with other things, claiming that they don't have time for us:

"The phrase 'I don’t have time for' should never be said. We all get the same amount of time every day. If you can’t do something it’s not about the quantity of time. It’s really about how important the task is to you. I’m sure if you were having a heart attack, you’d magically find time to go to the hospital. That time would come from something else you’d planned to do but now seems less important. This is how time works all the time. What people really mean when they say 'I don’t have time' is this thing is not important enough to earn my time. It’s a polite way to tell people they’re not worth your time."

Friendships come and go and that's just a normal, natural part of life even though it's sad. I wish you well.

Question: I shared a good friendship with someone. I just feel his behavior has changed towards me. He is married now and I do understand that after marriage you need your space. But his behavior is such that I am not able to understand whether he is ignoring me or wants to cut me out. Is he upset or angry ? He does involve me when plans are made but I am really not able to understand his change of behavior and I don't know how to talk to him about this. I feel stuck.

Answer: If you want this friendship to survive and thrive, you need to talk with him about what you're experiencing and feeling. Then listen to what he has to say. Otherwise, you may be operating under a false notion. For example, you may think he's distant because he's married now and wants to spend time with his spouse. In reality, though, his spouse may get insecure, possessive and angry when he spends time with friends. You'll never know until you have a conversation!

In any relationship of depth and substance, you must be vulnerable and expose your feelings. Getting married, even when it's a happy union, is a huge change in one's life and can cause a lot of stress. Your friend may be struggling to balance it all. He may need your support and patience.

It would be sad if this friendship disintegrates because you don't communicate. No matter what happens, you'll be glad that you spoke up and tried to save it. This situation is also an opportunity to build new relationships. If your friend starts having children, he'll be even busier and you'll have even less in common.

Question: My best friend moved away and didn't tell me she was moving until two weeks before the actual move. I am trying to deal with it. Should I just move on?

Answer: I never suggest ending a good friendship because of one incident. I only recommend ending one based on a longtime pattern of bad behavior, a longtime erosion of the bond, or a vast disparity in morals and values. As best buddies, I imagine that you and she have experienced years of positive interactions together. Therefore, you shouldn't chuck it all away because of one poorly executed communication.

Moving (regardless of whether one is doing it enthusiastically or reluctantly) is one of the most stress-inducing activities there is. Your friend was probably overwhelmed with getting everything done and was dealing with a mix of emotions. Instead of holding this incident against her, have a conversation. Open up about how you felt and why you were hurt. Listen to what she was going through at that time. No friendship can thrive without vulnerable discussions.

While I don't recommend tossing this friendship aside, you will need to move forward with building new ones. This one won't be the same now that you're living in different places. It's inevitable that friendships change, and accepting that reality brings us peace.

Question: I have a group of friends. They’re kinda my only friends, but they leave me out of a lot of things, ignore me, and don’t care about me when I’m obviously upset. Do I drop them? They’re always there for me when nothing is wrong, but when I’m sad or angry, they don’t care.

Answer: You seem to have a good understanding of these friends and their limitations, so I see no reason to drop them from your life. They're “good time Charlies,” fun to hang around and share a laugh or two. Your relationship with them, though, is largely superficial so you should cultivate deeper friendships and keep this group on the periphery of your social circle.

Build up your self-esteem, setting new goals for yourself and working hard to achieve them. Doing this will turn you into a more confident person who's prepared to choose kinder and more empathetic friends. You'll be ready to do the choosing rather than waiting for others to choose you. Remember, you can't expect a fine dining experience when you decide to walk into a McDonald's!

In all our lives, we have different tiers of friendship. Most people are on the bottom or middle with few making it to the top. When my sons were babies and toddlers, for instance, I had a dozen friends who had kids the same ages as mine. These relationships were good for hanging out at the park and talking about parenting issues but never grew more substantial than that. Fortunately, I had two long-time friends from college who I could turn to about issues that really mattered deeply to me: spirituality, the environment, social and political causes. We had common interests and values that kept our relationship strong even as our lives moved in different directions.

If you have one or two friends who you can share anything with and who will always have your back, you're beyond fortunate. The whole notion of friendship these days has become hugely distorted by social media where people now claim hundreds and even thousands of “friends” on Facebook, most of whom they've never met! In reality, building a true friendship takes a lot of time: talking, listening, and sharing experiences.

You sound like a level-headed person. Good luck with finding some more meaningful friendships. It's not easy to find the right match, but it's well worth the effort!

Question: I have a best friend, and I'm the one who's always paying the bills when we hang out to get something. I think she is just around me because of the benefit. I am not feeling the friendship anymore. How do I write her a breakup message that I'm not interested in the friendship anymore?

Answer: I wouldn't write her a message. When people receive a written communication like that, it causes them a lot of anguish. They read it over and over, analyzing every word, and struggle to understand the “hidden meaning.” It's not a kind way to end a friendship because it's one-sided; the recipient of the message doesn't get to be part of the discussion, asking questions, defending her actions, and stating her point of view. The brave and compassionate thing to do is talk with someone in person and deal with her reactions and emotions at the moment.

I suggest you have an open and honest discussion with your friend over lunch. Tell her how you're feeling and give her the opportunity to express herself. Something good might come of it. She might value you a lot more than you realize—more than someone who just pays the bills. That's the story you're telling yourself, but it may not be accurate. Give her the chance to tell her side of the story before dropping her from your life.

If you still feel the need to end the friendship, take responsibility for the part you played in its demise. Why were you paying for everything? What was in it for you? Did it make you feel in control? When did it begin to feel not okay? Did you start to feel used? These are some good questions to ask yourself, so you won't get in the same predicament again as these situations often become patterns.

You refer to this person as your “best friend” so please take the time to have a conversation with her. This relationship sounds like it can be salvaged if the only issue is you paying for things. Perhaps, you two just need to limit your time together or take a break. All this should be discussed. I hope it all works out for you both!

Question: I have a 40 plus year friendship that has been off and on, but the person has begun going behind my back after plans are made, playing me against another of her long-term friends, repeating very unflattering gossip about me in front of friends, then blatantly calling me a bitch and the devil. I have finally stood up to this so-called sister, bff, helper since my husband died. What say you?

Answer: I don't know what to say other than it's very sad. This friendship must serve you in some way or you wouldn't hold on to it. Perhaps, you think it will revert back to what it once was. At this point, though, it's dissolved into something quite ugly, unhealthy, and destructive. It's time to look inward and ask: “Why am I still here? What does it say about me to continue in this relationship?”

I'm so sorry about the death of your husband. You may be unwilling to end this friendship because you're not yet ready to face another big loss in your life. That's very understandable. But, if this friend was of no comfort and support after your spouse died, that is further evidence that it's time to move onward and build new, healthier connections.

Change is difficult for all of us, and you're confronted with a lot right now. Yet, you also have infinite possibilities to create something beautiful without the negativity this friend brings into your life. Toxic relationships like this zap us of our energy and bring us down. You're at a crossroads where you can now decide to surround yourself with only positive folks. This will improve your mental, emotional, and physical well-being in so many exciting ways.

Question: My best friend and I have been going through a rough patch. She cheated on her partner, which didn’t sit well with me- I made that clear. She’s on antidepressants now, but I feel like she only wants to talk when it’s about her problems. I feel like she is very condescending. Am I a bad friend for wanting to distance myself from the negativity?

Answer: Not, not at all. Distancing ourselves from negative people is often necessary for our own mental and emotional well-being. Successful people such as Oprah Winfrey say they're very intentional about surrounding themselves with only positive folks who inspire them to think in positive ways. Winfrey explains, “I know for sure what we dwell on is who we become.”

Since your friend is taking antidepressants, she's under the care of a medical professional. If she needs to talk about her problems, recommend she contact that medical professional to get a referral for a good therapist. Explain to her that you're not qualified to give her the professional help she needs.

She's overburdening you with her issues, and the friendship is no reciprocal. Encouraging her to see a therapist is what a good friend should do. Antidepressants won't get to the root of her problem, and they offer no healthy, long-term solution.

Hopefully, this rough patch will be over soon, and you and your friend can enjoy fun times together again. In the meantime, surround yourself with positive people who share your values.

Question: One of my close friends swears she hates my crush and my best friend's crush, but she is constantly flirting with them and acting cute around them. She is also always forcing my best friend to hang out with her. Even though my best friend doesn't like it, she will tolerate it. My other close friends really dislike her as well, because of her needy personality. She also gets angry very easily, and forgets about it 5 seconds later. Should we confront her about this?

Answer: In any kind of relationship—friendship, romance, business—you want to strive for on-going communication, not confrontation. Confronting someone is a hostile act, especially when you're doing it in a group. Your friend will feel like you're ganging up on her and will likely get defensive, hurt, and angry. It's dramatic but not at all productive.

It sounds like you've been stockpiling her offenses and now want to dump them on her all at once. Instead of doing that (which isn't fair), start being straightforward and direct with her from this day forward. Use “I message” to convey your thoughts (e.g. I really get insecure/jealous/mad when you flirt with my crush) rather than saying “you're always being seductive with my guy.” If you're open and upfront and this behavior continues, you'll know it's best to distance yourself from her.

It's your decision whether or not you want to stay connected to her. Your other friends are responsible for their own choices, and you should be respectful of that. It sounds like there's some jealousy going on here. Surely, your best friend is not so weak that someone can “force” her to hang out. You may need to accept the fact that she likes this other gal a lot more than you do.

Without a doubt, interacting in a group is challenging. Feelings get hurt. Jealousies happen, and it can get frustrating at times. Once you start speaking in a direct way and handling things when they came up, you'll feel more in control and be happier about the situation. I wish you the best.

Question: This happened in school. I had to complain to my teacher about something a girl did. When I did, my best friend got mad at me for doing it and went on the girl's side. Now she's asking me to be friends with her again. I still love her. But should I go back to her?

Answer: Misunderstandings and differences of opinion are normal in friendships and to be expected. There’s no need to end a relationship because of them. However, you and your pal need to communicate about the situation rather than acting as if it never happened. If you don’t clear the air, resentment and mistrust will build between you.

You need to understand one another’s point of you. Did she think you were a snitch while you thought you were merely handling business? You may not agree with one another. More importantly, though, both of you will have an opportunity to express your point of view and be heard. Your bond will grow stronger from maneuvering such a tricky situation with mutual respect.

I only recommend terminating a friendship when there is a long-time pattern of bad behavior or when the pals no longer have morals and values in common. If this sort of behavior continues, then it may be time to re-evaluate the relationship. For now, though, keep talking about the things that matter, enjoying each other’s company, and remembering that a good friendship is a precious thing.

© 2017 McKenna Meyers