Knowing when to let go of a friendship
Letting Go of a Friendship
During the course of their 13-year friendship, the woman always steered conversations to her own problems, never taking much interest in Kathryn's, especially after she became a mom. "She never wanted to meet my son and she even told me that I wasn't the maternal type," says Kathryn, who lives in New York City. That was the turning point. Kathryn had put up with her friend's self-absorbed behavior for years, but the comment made her wonder why. By the time the friend called to apologize for the offensive remark, Kathryn had already begun to reassess their relationship. "She just didn't seem able to be happy for me, and that's not a real friend," says Kathryn. "I couldn't put any more time or effort in after that." The two are no longer friends.
Kathryn made a quick, clean cut, but there are several ways to let go of a friendship, whether you just want to put some distance between you or sever the ties completely. If you're not surewhatyou want to do, put pen to paper. "Draw a line down the middle of a page," suggests Isaacs. "On one side, list the good things that you get out of the friendship; on the other, the bad. If the bad outnumber the good, and you're not getting something substantive enough from the relationship, it's time to act."
You can start by being slower to return calls and emails, says Dr. Bonior. "The only way the slow fade will be successful, however, is if the person picks up on your signals. Otherwise the friend might try harder to get you back. In either case, it can be a good first step."
And while it may be tempting to avoid any awkwardness by pulling a sudden vanishing act, like Kathryn did, don't. It prevents you from having closure, explains Susan Shapiro Barash, author ofToxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Friendships. "You'll both be left with unresolved feelings," she explains. "As with romantic relationships, you must have that difficult conversation about why you don't want to see this friend. Try saying, 'Look, we've been good friends for a long time, but maybe we should take a break for a while because…' and gently lay out the problem as you see it. There is a risk/reward in doing this. You might lose her forever, or she might say, 'I'm sorry,' in which case the relationship can be repaired." If it is the end, be prepared to go through a mourning period afterward, says Dr. Bonior. "Feelings of sadness, anger, confusion and regret can last for weeks or even months."
It's even harder to make a break when a pal is part of a larger circle of friends, because there's the chance you might alienate yourself from the group. It's almost like a divorce, in a way: Friends feel as if they must choose one or the other. Your best bet? Form an alliance with those who share your feelings, says Dr. Bonior. "Talk to the others. Say, 'Sometimes I feel like Linda is belittling me; do any of you feel that way?' If they do, then talk to the person about her behavior as a group. There's strength in numbers." And if they don't, assure them that you have no problem with them remaining friends with the person—even if you're not. It worked for Kathryn. When her pals go out with the woman she let go, there are no hard feelings. "The bond I have with my other friends is solid enough that I don't feel threatened by their friendship with her," she says.
Video: When Friendships Fall Apart; Learning To Let Go
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