How to break up with a friend: Advice from 2 psychotherapists
Best practices for making a clean, and kind, break from a BFF
This article was originally published August 14, 2018.
Previously, we examined whether you should break up with your friend — objectively weighing the circumstances to decide whether your friend is worthy of a second chance or if your companionship should come to a definite end. If you feel like you've done all you could and that it would be best if there was a break up, the next question is how to proceed. As we all know from romantic relationships - no break up is ideal, but not following certain tactful practices can make the final interaction a lot more messy. To help you make a clean and kind break, we got a few experts to help us with best practices to follow when it's time to say goodbye to a BFF.
Psychotherapist Malcolm Welland insists on keeping it "face to face or (via) phone, especially if it's a breakup", as opposed to ghosting the person or passively drifting apart. Seeing each other's faces (or hearing their voices), leaves less room for sentiments to be misinterpreted — we've all taken a text the wrong way, haven't we? Breaking up in person also shows the importance of this situation and the courage you're showing with your position. Joshua Peters, psychotherapist and clinical manager at the Centre For Interpersonal Relationships, counters that text messaging can be used as "the last resort", for a situation where other means of communication are either impossible or too hostile.
Keep it on neutral ground
It's easy to fall into the habit of choosing your usual hangout to host the breakup, but that's probably not the best idea — that includes your home or theirs. "Find a space that is neutral for the both of you and isn't in a public place", says Peters, "The location helps create distance as well as comfort and security. Make sure this space feels safe and that you can leave if necessary." Certain coffee shops and parks can offer a relative degree of privacy without being too confined. It's also a good idea to choose a location off the beaten path for both of you - you don't want to chance a post-breakup encounter or routinely be reminded of it at a familiar place.
Tell them before anyone else
While it's important to consult other sources and understand the circumstances in a variety of ways, the intentions of the actual break up should be kept between you and your friend. "To avoid unwanted drama, it's always best to tell your friend first and to avoid involving others whenever possible," says Peters. Most social webs involve more than two people and spreading the dirt around and talking behind your former friend's back only makes a bigger mess.
When the moment of truth comes, it can be tempting to ease into it indirectly, but don't. "I see being direct as important because it makes one's intentions clear", states clinical counsellor Kathleen Beaton, "It takes courage to address an issue such as ending a friendship, but it is a much better route to go than avoidance or evasion." Keep the conversation to the essentials of your reasoning and feelings about the friendship coming to an end, and it'll be easier on both parties.
The circumstances are inherently tense, so it wouldn't take much to make them worse by being argumentative, wholly negative or rude. It's important to remain calm and polite through the interaction and, as Beaton adds, "it would also be important to note what we may have received from the friendship, if anything, and to also make note of special times or events in the life of the friendship that may have been meaningful for you", along with affirming "any positive qualities in our friend". Just because some of this friendship contained negatives, doesn't mean the entire experience has to be.
Be prepared to explain clearly
"Giving a reason does not mean blaming the other person", believes Beaton, "but it does mean taking responsibility for being clear about how your needs are not being met in the relationship." You need to be tactful and concise - unloading every grievance through the entirety of the friendship does more harm than good. Peters advises keeping "it to 2-3 core emotions you've felt in the relationship and situations in which you have felt them. We get overwhelmed when someone tells us they're having a dozen emotions at a time."
In the interest of remaining kind and not inflammatory, a common tactic is to frame statements using "I" rather than the accusatory "you". Beaton shares the example of rather than saying "'You are always taking from me, but are never there for me when I need you', we can say, 'I need to have someone share equally in a friendship and to have as much time for me as I have for them.'" Using "I" allows you to take accountability for your standards without placing the burden solely on the other person. Laying the issues out in this manner allows for a more objective interaction.
Even after the actual breakup, consider the work you can and should do on a personal level. Here, Peters shares some important post-break up tips. Firstly, have a post-mortem conversation with another trusted friend, "it's important to grieve the loss of a relationships even if it wasn't a positive one." If you don't feel like you expressed everything you wanted to, Peters suggests "writing a letter to the person (and not sending it) to get out any residual feelings you might have." Social media-wise, don't be afraid to remove them from your network in the name of fulling letting go.
No matter how the chips may fall, your ultimate goal should be forgiveness. You have to act with the intention of letting go of the hurt and negativity this friendship created in your life to make room for better ones. If you still feel like your harbouring these feelings long after the break up, Peters suggests seeing a therapist to help you finally release them. Though the break up may have been caused by an overflow of pent-up negativity, it's crucial to go through this entire process reminding yourself that it's ultimately for the best.