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Ask Dr. Zoe – When Is a Friendship Toxic?

‘Frazzled Florida Friend’ Asked:

Friends come and go and we all know that, but, how do I know when it’s time for me to let a friend go? What are my signs that this may be a toxic friendship that I need to let go of? Should I just let us “grow apart” or have a conversation with her?

Dr. Zoe Answered:

Hi Frazzled Florida Friend,

At the same time you asked me how to know if you need to let her go, you also asked me what is the best method to end the friendship, which tells me that you probably answered your own first question.

A change needs to happen in your relationship and deep down, you know this. The hard part is determining what the change is. Does she need to be delegated to an outer circle of acquaintances, or dropped altogether?

My professional opinion is that it isn’t a healthy habit to completely cut people out of our lives unless it isn’t possible for there to be any health—even as acquaintances. Please note: this applies only to friendships and family. Romantic relationships have a totally opposite set of rules!

Close friendships require emotional, psychological, and literal space and time from our lives. You are a steward of your time here on this earth and you need to make sure that you are spending it in the best way that you can.

Some friendships need to have the breakup talk. Most do not. Sometimes the breakup talk occurs as a natural consequence of distancing (more on that in a minute).

First, here’s the toxicity test for a relationship:

1. Are they sucking more from you than you are willing to give?
2. Is their influence on you a bad one? (Are they encouraging you to become a better version of you or do you find you aren’t the person you want to be when you’re with them?) Sometimes a friend who isn’t good for you can be a lot of fun, but you need to be a grown up and recognize when they are no longer serving your journey.

If you answered yes to either of these, it’s time to change the friendship. I’m not saying that relationships are only about what you can get from them. They aren’t. But your closest relationships should be reciprocal. And charity relationships shouldn’t be your friends. So, how do you move a friend from the inner circle to an outer circle or beyond?

You have two options:

1. Let the friendship fade and designate her to an outer circle. Invite her to get together in groups but not alone, be less available, don’t initiate phone calls, return her calls less frequently, and she will eventually get the message. Only you know, based on your current relationship, if this tactic will work or not.

Or:

2. Have the breakup talk, which should sound like, “I have enjoyed our friendship (maybe list some gifts you have gotten from the relationship) but I’m realizing that I am not the best version of myself when I am with you. I’m going to take some time to figure that out for myself and I won’t be available to get together with you anymore.”

A third possible option is to have the breakup talk and designate her to an outer circle. You need some serious social skills to pull this one off. You can say something like #2 above, but instead of ending it with not being available, you can end it with, “I won’t be available to get together as much as we have in the past,” and then follow #1.

Ending any relationship is difficult, but there are only a hand full of precious relationships in our life that stand the test of time. The rest are for a season. Treasure the gifts you get from them, but be willing to let them go when they no longer serve you in a healthy way.

You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace!

Dr. Zoe


You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: Great Friends: 9 Qualities to Be One and Find One – 031!

Read what some of our writers have to say about friendship and relating to others: Establishing Healthy Boundaries in the Grit and Grace LifeAnatomy of a Strong WomanHow Friendship Changes as an Adult,8 Ideas For a Fun (and Cheap) Girls’ Night Out, and 9 Qualities That Make a Good Friend.
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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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