Written by Alexa Bailey, MSW, LMSW – – –

When you think about a breakup, you probably imagine a romantic relationship coming to an end. But guess what? Sometimes we have to break up with friends, too. In fact, we will most likely have more breakups with friends than we ever do with romantic partners. And there are many reasons why this might happen, and not all of them are necessarily big, dramatic reasons. Often, things will shift, people will change, and we find ourselves needing something different. Other times, it can be a negative and complicated network of experiences that lead us down the road of needing to call things off. Whatever the case, breaking up with a friend is a normal and necessary part of our existence, and it’s time we talked about it.

Knowing when to call it quits can be difficult, but there are many reasons why we might. Consider issues that cause conflict within the friendship. Maybe it’s poor communication, or perhaps it’s a one-sided friendship without an equal balance of support or connection. There may be a slow, gradual separation that evolved into not talking, differing views and ideals, and changed dynamics in the friend group. Or there might be verbal abuse and frequent put-downs that leave you feeling small. Asking yourself a few questions can help you to understand the impact a friendship might be having on you and whether you need to set a more long-term, rigid boundary.

-Do you need something to change within the friendship, or are you wanting it to end? What would it feel like to have this separation?

-How does this person make you feel? And has it always been this way or has something changed?

-What will you lose and/or gain with this person not in your life?

An important note in considering a friendship breakup is that someone else’s response to you setting a boundary is not reflective of you, but rather of themselves. When (or if) someone has a strong or negative reaction to a friendship breakup, it is not on you. This usually a sign that a bigger boundary has been needed. We all have emotions and are entitled to those. Navigating them in a healthy way might require us to recognize the different reactions on each side.

Not every conflict in a friendship necessarily warrants a friendship breakup, but if attempts have been made to reconcile and have not worked, or someone has repeatedly belittled, abused, or manipulated you, this is absolutely a good time to consider setting a boundary and separating from the friendship. Be honest with yourself and this person to understand how things have changed and what is needed going forward.

Navigating a friendship breakup means communicating your wishes, attempting to hold space for one another, acknowledging the feelings, and grieving the loss. We don’t just grieve when someone dies, we grieve when we lose something. And grieving a friendship is a healthy and necessary part of the friendship breakup. Communicating the need to part ways does not mean you get to hurt this person or share a laundry list of wrongs, but rather to get to the heart of what you’ve experienced with “I feel” language. Using this basic formula, you identify the feelings and still hold your ground. It starts with noting “I feel ____” and identifying the emotion(s) coming up, and then identifying the reason for these (i.e., “I feel ____, when and/or because ____”). From here, it’s a matter of communicating what is needed going forward. You will know the best way to communicate it, it may be in person, over the phone, via text, or even in a letter. Allowing yourself and your friend to have space to process is a key part of a healthy separation.

Breaking up is a hard process but can ultimately lead us down the road of being able to feel safer in our friendships and more validated and loved by our own selves. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings and do the thing that feels best for you.


Alexa Bailey is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW), who works in private practice providing therapeutic services at Evolve Counseling. She has experience treating several different populations and areas, including trauma, anxiety, depression, relational challenges, and life transitions with both young adults/adolescents and adults. Alexa is a big advocate of self-care and creating whole personal wellness through positive change and healthy habits.