“Spring cleaning” isn’t just about decluttering the garage or reorganizing your closet. It’s also about taking a closer look at the people in your life and seeing if those relationships could use some pruning, too.
Psychologist Andrea Bonior, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, told HuffPost that, although these questions are a strong starting point, when answering them you should think about the relationship in a larger context. Consider why this person might be a subpar friend at this time — perhaps because of something happening in his or her personal life — while also taking your history with them into account.
“Sometimes a friend may be going through a difficult phase — for instance, after the death of a parent — or a transition — for instance, having a child. Or even just going through depression or anxiety issues that prevent them from being there for you,” Bonior said. “So, even if the friendship seems a little off-balanced, it’s important to have a distinction between what might be a brief, understandable phase where you should still hang in there for the person versus a longer-term issue that means that the friendship may not be a good fit for you.”
If you have a friend who is, indeed, a negative or toxic force in your life, how do you “break up” with them, so to speak? We asked experts to share their advice.
How to know if you should end a friendship
The simple fact is that not all friendships are meant to last forever, and that’s perfectly fine. That said, no one is suggesting you casually discard friends over minor slights or squabbles. But you can give yourself permission to move on from certain people when the relationship no longer serves you.
“You don’t need to stay friends with anyone who isn’t walking the same path as you or lifting you up while you’re striving to accomplish your goals,” therapist Deborah Duley, founder of Empowered Connections, a counseling practice that specializes in women, girls and the LGBTQ+ community, told HuffPost. “We outgrow each other sometimes. It’s normal and a natural progression as we continue to grow and change as people.”
Strong friendships have a healthy give and take. It may not always be a 50-50 split, but over time, there should be some semblance of balance. If this friend is self-absorbed and demanding of your time, attention and support but doesn’t offer the same in return, it might be an indication that it’s time to move on.
Another sign? “You feel exhausted by the idea of just hanging out,” Duley said. “Or you dread seeing them when you used to feel excited. Maybe they’re engaging in behaviors that are against your moral compass and you’re starting to wonder if you even want to be friends with someone who does this.”
Also, pay attention to how you feel when you receive a text from this friend or when they reach out to make plans, said psychologist Marie Land. If you get anxious or a “sinking feeling,” as she puts it, that could also be a sign something is amiss.
How to break things off with a friend
When ending a romantic relationship, a slow fade is generally regarded as a callous move. But both Duley and Land said it may be permissible in the context of a friendship.
“I don’t know if it’s always necessary to let the friend know that you want to break up with them,” Duley said. “A slow decline in seeking them out is oftentimes enough for them to ‘get the message.’”
Land agreed with this approach, saying, “Think of a tennis match when it comes to the way you communicate with your friend. Allow them to hit two balls in your court before you hit one back. Slowly send the message that you are busy and not available.”
If you want to repair the relationship, then airing your grievances makes sense. Otherwise, don’t feel like you need to give specific reasons as to why you’re not making an effort to spend time together anymore.
“I’m all for honesty, but sometimes it’s OK to not make a big deal about letting go of a friendship,” Land added. “White lies like, ‘I’m really focused on work and hobbies and haven’t had much time for all my friends lately’ are fine.’”
However, if this person is a close friend and you feel like you owe them an explanation, or if you have unresolved feelings you want to voice, Duley suggested meeting for coffee to talk things out.
“Just let them know that you’re feeling you have outgrown each other and it’s better for everyone if you just stay in touch periodically,” Duley said. “Be prepared, though, that they might feel hurt or angry, so having a script in your mind about how to handle that will help you navigate it.”
And keep in mind that a slow fade is a lot different from suddenly cutting off contact with this person — effectively ghosting them.
“Don’t leave the person hanging if they don’t seem to be backing off as well,” Bonior told HuffPost. “In that case, you owe it to them to have a more direct (if awkward!) conversation about how you see your life moving in a different direction.”