9 Signs It's Time To End A Friendship (Because Sometimes You Just Have To)
Friendships are a beautiful thing. Through them, we can experience a sense of safety, emotional reciprocity, and receive support for our ideas and accomplishments. When we surround ourselves with the right people, we feel supported, fulfilled, and nourished. Our friends can be part of our support system: the people we go to in order to share our thoughts, dreams, struggles, and hard times. When there are health and longevity in the friendship, those friends can even become part of our family.
Friendships aren't without conflict and miscommunication, though. This is normal in friendships and, when resolved in a conscious and healthy way, can be corrective experiences and can even enhance the relationship. However, there comes a time in our lives when friendships (yes, including childhood ones) end up draining us more than they nurture us, cause us significant stress, and have a negative impact on our mental health. With those friendships, it is OK to set boundaries and even OK to call it quits. Staying friends with someone only because there is history or because you feel guilty for leaving them is a recipe for burnout and resentment. Here, I've listed nine signs that indicate it might be time to end a friendship:
1. They compete with you on various aspects in life and struggle to be happy for you.
First, there is nothing wrong with a little bit of friendly competition. Healthy competition with our friends pushes us to be better, inspires us, and motivates us. For example, imagine a pair of friends having a friendly competition during a workout; there is a sense of a shared experience and motivation to work harder on both sides. In a friendly competition, there's transparency about what is happening, and regardless of the outcome, both parties feel a sense of support.
A toxic or unhealthy friend may compete with you, and you may never know it. It manifests itself as always trying to "one-up" you; you may be sharing your own accomplishments, which then results in them bragging about something they have done—a sign of their inability to sit with your successes. They may put you down in front of others and fail to provide genuine and authentic support when you are doing well. You may notice that these friends are more readily available or only want to listen when you are going through a tough time, versus when you want to celebrate something good.
2. They only call or ask to hang out when they need something.
When a friend only reaches out because they need something—maybe they need to borrow something or maybe they need someone to vent to—then this is a big sign that the friendship is one-sided and can leave you feeling exhausted, drained, and irritable. Furthermore, you might notice that your efforts are not returned, and these friends may be less available when you are in need. In healthy friendships, there is a sense of emotional reciprocity that includes checking in on each other's emotional well-being, sometimes just to say "hello."
3. You dread seeing their name pop up on your phone.
Most of the time, if you see a text message or an incoming call from a friend, you might feel anywhere from neutral to happy. But if the friendship is on its way to being unhealthy (or is already there), you might notice that you feel a sense of dread, anxiousness, and avoidance. Keep in mind that this is not the same avoidance or anxiousness from having social anxiety; the anxiousness and avoidance from having an unhealthy friendship are accompanied by negative thoughts about the person, not the experience of having to socialize.
4. They disrespect you or violate your boundaries.
This is a huge red flag that it is time to end a friendship. Our boundaries are what keep us safe, and they are what help to sustain our emotional and mental health. Boundaries can be physical, mental, and emotional. An unhealthy friend may violate those boundaries by putting you down, betraying your trust, talking negatively about you to others, or being dishonest. They lack accountability and make excuses for their behaviors, often saying "that's just how I am" or blaming you for being "too sensitive." We also end up betraying ourselves by having a friend who continuously violates our boundaries. This can lead us to question our sense of self and cause resentment and frustration—the opposite of what a healthy friendship should do for you.
5. You find yourself making excuses to get out of hanging out with them.
Sometimes, your body can pick up on information before your mind does. Pay attention to how your body responds when you are scheduled to hang out with a friend. Does your body feel resistant? Dread? Are you already coming up with excuses not to see the person or to limit how long the hangout session is? Oftentimes, you will start to feel a sense of regret, dread, or hesitancy when it's time to hang out with a friend who has not been respecting you or your boundaries. There may be reasons you are dreading hanging out with that person: Perhaps they only want to talk about relationship problems, frequently gossip about other people, or even avoid paying their portion of the bill. It is important to examine what it is about their behaviors you are avoiding so you can begin to set boundaries around what you will and won't tolerate in your future relationships.
6. Your growth is affected by the friendship.
This is very commonly seen by people who have had long-term childhood friendships. As we grow and evolve, our interests, values, morals, and ethics do too. The people we were in the past are often not the people we are now, and sometimes, this means letting go of friends who support the older narrative of who we once were and not who we are now.
These are the friends who don't support or reinforce your goals, who prevent you from pursuing your dreams, and whose behaviors limit you from furthering yourself in life. You might find that these friends may not respect where you are in life and ask you to do things that no longer fall in line with who you are or where you are trying to go. When you are with them, you find yourself falling back into old behaviors and patterns that you may have been trying to shed. It is OK to have friends with whom your values and ethics no longer align; however, when the mismatch in values and ethics prevents you from growing and getting to where you want to go, it is OK to choose a friend circle that supports your growth and fosters the best version of you.
7. The conversations feel forced.
Emotional reciprocity and mutual conversation are part of the foundation of a healthy friendship. When you find that you no longer have things in common and are no longer interested in the conversations at hand, this is a sign that the people in the friendship may have outgrown each other. This is OK. The conversation feeling forced can look like:
- Coming up with topics beforehand
- Pretending to be interested
- Finding yourself asking a lot of questions to prevent awkward silences
- Feeling like you are pulling teeth to get a conversation going.
In the end, this is a sign that your personalities and energies are not compatible. By deciding to no longer spend time with these people, you are honoring and respecting your time and ultimately choosing you.
8. You feel drained after hanging out with them.
This is a clear sign that the friendship is no longer enjoyable. You may feel drained for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the friend is very negative or always complaining, or you find that you are tired of having the same conversations over and over. This happens when a friend is frequently complaining about their relationship, work, or what-have-you, and when you try to provide feedback, they reject it. The conversation goes in circles.
Just because you are friends with someone does not mean that they are entitled to your emotional energy. When you find yourself being emotionally drained by someone, this is a sign that the friendship no longer "sparks joy." Additional symptoms when spending time with someone who is emotionally draining are feeling:
There could be various other reasons you might feel drained. Regardless of the reason, you are allowed to end a friendship with someone who frequently drains you of your emotional energy.
9. They are possessive, jealous, and controlling.
These friends frequently call, text, and feel entitled to your time. They become upset when you don't call them back right away and may even demand that you explain to them why you were unable to answer right away. These friends may also become jealous when you do things with other people or if they feel that you are getting closer to someone else. In healthy friendships, we allow others to have their own personal space, and we do not take things personally when friends don't respond right away. We also understand that people have their own lives and do not emotionally punish our friends when they don't reply to our messages right away. Healthy friendships maintain their independence and experience a sense of trust.
Ultimately, how you feel within the friendship is a big indicator that it is time to end the friendship. It's important to listen to how we feel and to end relationships that are not positively contributing to our personal growth and mental health. It is important to strive for friendships that leave us feeling heard, respected, appreciated, safe, and loved. There is nothing wrong with ending friendships. This is a healthy part of sending boundaries and practicing self-care.
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Alyssa "Lia" Mancao, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and certified cognitive therapist with nine years of experience treating depression, anxiety, trauma, issues with self-esteem, body image, and the inner child. She received her bachelor's degree in sociology and social work from California Polytechnic State University, Pomona and her master's degree in social work from the University of Southern California's Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. She has provided clinical treatment for children, adolescents, adults, and families in outpatient and residential settings, including with the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinic at Harbor-UCLA, the Child and Family Guidance Center, Counseling4Kids, and in private practice.
She regularly shares insights and wisdom on her popular Instagram platform @alyssamariewellness, where she has over 66,000 followers.