How to break up with a friend

Almost everyone has been there at some time in their lives. You have a friend who you might share some good memories with, but suddenly it has become exhausting being around them. Maybe all they want to do is gossip, or they habitually indulge in bad habits, or they have just turned into a toxic person be around. Whatever the problem is, you know one thing: you just aren't happy around them anymore.

The truth is that sometimes friendships have to end. Studies show that it is very common for even close friends to transition out of our lives. Some friendships fade away as people move on with their lives, but sometimes you have to make a conscious decision to end the relationship.

So, once you've decided that there is no salvaging the friendship, what do you do? How do you go about telling your friend that you just don't want to spend time with them anymore? These are the answers.

Acknowledge that it's gonna be tough

Breaking up with a friend is a lot different than breaking up with someone you're dating. Some experts say that it is so difficult to break up with a friend simply because they know so much about you. To make things even harder, there is no accepted protocol for how to end a friendship.

Experts offer a lot of different advice on what to do in the event that you find yourself needing to break up with your friend. Unfortunately, there's no simple rule for a pain-free break up. Relationships and people are complicated, and ending a friendship isn't easy.

Don't hold on to a friendship out of habit

According to Loren Abell, a psychology lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, some people hold on to friendships that are no longer fulfilling because of shared history. These people remain in friendships where the other person treats them poorly and even make excuses for their friend's bad behavior.

Abell conducted a study of women and their friendship. She interviewed the friends of women who had confessed to treating their friends poorly and undermining their confidence. "A lot of the women reported that they just got used to it: It became routine," Abell says. "Or they would defend the friend and say, 'It's just who they are.'"

Abell warns that staying in this sort of friendship can be "emotionally damaging." She says that if a friend makes you "feel embarrassed or guilty" or is "playing on your feelings" that you need to rethink the friendship.

Weigh the value of the relationship

There are different types of friendships, and some of them are more important than others, according to psychotherapist Melissa S. Cohen.

There are the friends that you have because of shared history, such as a childhood friend of your college roommate. Then there are the "forced togetherness" friends, perhaps a coworker or someone else you can't help but spend time with. You also have "surface social friends," and, most importantly, "growth friends, meaning the people you want by your side as you go through life wherever you are."

Most of these friendships can be ended by simply spending less time together and letting the friendship fade out. It's much harder to do this with close friends, however. Cohen suggests that you work harder to keep your best friends and to try to work through your problems. "For those friends, it's worth it to try harder and give the person the benefit of the doubt because those relationships are rare. Be really honest about what's going on."

Address the problem

Alexis Nicole White, a relationship expert, says that, "Addressing the specific issue without being confrontational is best so that you can bring their offensive behaviors to their attention. Many times, people don't even realize that they are offending you."

White says that it also important to create boundaries. "Affirm your boundaries whenever this person continues to cross the line and take things too far," she says. "Let them know, firmly, that respect is a principle foundation in any relationship; and you perceive those lines to have been violated with their comments."

If the friendship doesn't improve, then it is definitely time to let go. Since you have already addressed the problems with your friendship, the reasons you are ending it will be clear to both you and your soon-to-be ex-friend.

Talk to them in person

Andrea Bonior is a clinical psychologist as well as the author of the The Friendship Fix. Bonior advises being straight up your friend and talking to them in person. If you're not looking to end the relationship all together but just want to put some space between you and your friend, let them know that. Bonior suggests saying, "I still want to be able to hang out, but I have to admit I just can't do it as much as I used to because my life is changing."

If the friendship is with a person who is also at a transitional point in their lives, Bonior suggests that the friendship might do what she calls a "slow fade," meaning it will just fizzle out on its own. In this case, it might be enough to simply cut back on contact with them. Bonior warns, however, that you should not use this technique as a way to avoid confronting someone. "The slow fade only works when two people are both moving in two different phases of their lives," she says.

You might have to break up over the phone

While ending a friendship in person might be the best option, it isn't the only one. Sometimes it's impossible to meet face to face, especially if your friend lives far away. Other times, the situation might be so bad that you don't want to see them.

Lauren Frances, relationship expert and author of Dating, Mating, & Manhandling: The Ornithological Guide to Men, weighed in on what to do in this situation. "It's much less painful breaking bad news to volatile and emotional people over the phone, rather than having to manage their feelings in person," she says.

Sending a text message or email is another option, if you really think that avoiding a conversation is for the best. Whatever you do, Frances says to keep it short and then "move on with your day. If she starts shouting, you can simply say: 'I said what I needed to, and am sorry you're angry, but I'm getting off the phone now and am not interested in continuing this conversation.'"

Be gentle

Author and teacher Gabrielle Bernstein says to keep negativity out of the breakup. "When you end a relationship in a negative way, you wind up carrying the resentment around for months, even years," says Bernstein. "Rather than say 'breakup,' you can suggest that you take time apart. Acknowledge your part in the situation and suggest that it be best for both of you to have a separation. Rather than pointing the finger at the other person be sure to own up to your side of the street."

Your friendship might be ending, but your friend still deserves to be treated kindly. At one point, they were a very important person in your life and they deserve your respect.

Don't feel guilty

While you might feel guilty for ending a friendship, you shouldn't. There are many valid reasons for ending a relationship. "Friends can bring out bad stuff for you, and make you competitive, snarky, materialistic, judgmental, or lazy," says Bonior. "The more time you spend with that person, if you're not who you want to be, you won't meet your goal."

It might sound cold, but sometimes you have to put yourself first. If a friendship is no longer meeting your needs, or you don't like the person that you are, around a certain friend, then moving on from the friendship is for the best.

Let yourself grieve

Just because you are the one ending the relationship, it doesn't mean you don't have the right to feel bad. Take the time to grieve the friendship, before moving on.

Like any other loss, the loss of a friend can be a difficult thing. There may have been a really good reason for ending the friendship, but that doesn't mean it won't hurt. It also doesn't mean that you and your former friend did not share some valuable experiences together. "You don't have to be friends for your entire lives in order for it to have been a meaningful friendship," says Bonior. As we do the right thing and treat them with respect, it's OK to take care of ourselves by getting somebody out of our life."

Write out your feelings

Colin Tipping, author of the book Radical Forgiveness, recommends an exercise to help manage all of the feelings and emotions that can come along with letting go of a friendship.

"Write three letters to your friend," he says. "The first should be written to express and release all your emotions. The second can have a softer approach, with fewer negatives and more compassion. The third letter could include what role you might have played during the friendship that inhibited it from lasting." The letters aren't meant to be sent, but are instead to help you process the end of the friendship.

Make new friends

You may have let go of a friend, but that doesn't mean that you should give up on friendship. Friends are very important parts of our lives. The Mayo Clinic says that friends "can have a major impact on your health and well being."

Studies have shown that older adults with an engaging social life tend to live longer, on average. Having a good social network can help reduce stress levels and help you cope with life's milestones. The key is to have good friends. Cutting people out of your life may be necessary from time to time, but you should still maintain a strong support system.

Making and maintaining good friendships takes effort, but it's worth it. Forming new, strong friendships will help you move on and also remind you that you were right in cutting off a friend who no longer made you happy.