Lisa Bahar, MA, LMFT, LPCC | Article

Friend or Frenemy? 10 Questions to Ask Before You Break Up with a Friend

Friend or Frenemy? 10 Questions to Ask Before You Break Up with a Friend
Is your BFF bringing you down? It may be time to let her go

By Natasha Burton - May 17, 2013

A good friendship should have the same qualities of a good romantic relationship -- the ability to give and take, trust, commitment and respect, to name a few. But if things turn sour, it can be just as painful to break up with a pal as it is a boyfriend. To help you figure out if it's really time to pull the plug on a friendship, here are 10 essential questions to ask yourself first.

1. What am I getting from this friendship?
Take stock of the fairness of the friendship, says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., author of The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty. What exactly does the friendship provide you with -- good gossip over cocktails, a shoulder to cry on, a friend you can trust with all of your secrets? And how much are you giving to your pal in return? Ending a friendship should not be done lightly, adds Tessina, so make sure you're really clear on what kind of relationship you have with your friend before breaking ties.

2. How do I feel when I am with her?
Once you can understand the general give and take in your relationship, it's time to get into the nitty-gritty about how the friendship makes you feel, says licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D. When you hang out with your friend, how do you feel -- happy, annoyed or stressed? When you leave her are you relieved, sad, exhausted? "Ultimately, toxic friendships can do as much damage in our lives as toxic relationships of any kind," she says. "If you feel a sense of dread or at least a sense that you can't be yourself with this person, it may be time to leave the friendship."

3. Does she really support me?
One of the most important parts of a friendship is providing mutual support, during good times and bad. But while being supportive doesn’t mean having a friend who always agrees with you, it does mean standing by you and the decisions you make (unless they harm you or other people). If your pal constantly tries to undermine you or she questions your every move, you're not getting the support you need from her, says Durvasula. "Stop trying to get things from the friendship that it doesn't provide. Once you give up on that, you often give up on the friendship itself and it dies a natural death," she says.

4. Does she judge me?
Part of being in a supportive friendship is being able to share your problems, aspirations and hopes without worrying that your friend is judging you, says Durvasula. Pay attention to your pal's reaction when you divulge these sorts of things. Does she seem accepting and encouraging? Or is she quick to put you down? "Bottom line, if she always leaves you feeling 'less,' then it may be time to cut bait," Durvasula says.

5. Is there more to her behavior than meets the eye?
Family therapist Christina Steinorth, author of Cue Cards for Life: Gentle Reminders for Better Relationships, says that if you’ve had a pretty good friendship over the years and things take a sudden turn, your friend may be going through some personal issues, like problems in her marriage, health issues or financial woes. "Many times we are quick to personalize [someone's] rudeness or distance as something they are doing specifically to us, when, in fact, your friend may not even be aware of the fact she’s behaving differently toward you because she’s distracted with problems she may be having in other areas of her life." If that's the case, she'll need your friendship and support.

6. Did I do something to create the current situation?
Another point to consider is your role in the state of your friendship and what you may have done to provoke any ill will before writing off your friend. Marriage and family therapist Lisa Bahar suggests asking yourself if you often get jealous or possessive about her other friends or her significant other (if she's attached), which could lead to her pulling away from you. "This happens a lot with women, when one friend becomes disengaged to avoid the feeling of being controlled," she says. "Because the other feels rejected, she wants to cut off the friendship due to those feelings." Changing your behavior can put the friendship back on track.

7. Does she make you uncomfortable?
Cutting ties, in some cases, has less to do with the friend herself and more with the way she behaves social, Bahar says. If that's the reason you want to part ways, be honest and say something like: "I 'm uncomfortable with your drinking too much and your behavior when you're drunk. I don't want to be around it. If you ever decide to quit drinking, let me know."

8. Am I staying friends with her out of obligation?
Understanding why you are staying friends with someone can help you decide if you need to cut ties, Durvasula says. "Some people stick out friendships because they feel a sense of responsibility or because they already put so much time into it and there's a history," she says. "But, she is your friend, not your child, and obligation is often inauthentic glue that binds friendships and relationships together much longer than necessary." At the end of the day, guilt isn't a reason to keep a friendship going after it's passed its expiration date.

9. Can I heal the relationship or is the damage too great?
Are you sure the friendship can't be repaired? Problems between friends come in all shapes, sizes and levels of hurt, but they have to mean the end of good friendship. Maybe you two just need a break from each other to sort out your feelings, and then come back together and discuss how to move forward. But, if you feel like the friendship ultimately can't be healed, and that you would be sacrificing your own happiness in order to keep it going, let it go, Steinorth advises. "It’s okay to have standards of behavior for people -- close friends included. It helps us maintain a healthy level of self-esteem."

10. What will happen if you walk away from this relationship?
Try to imagine life without this friend, advises Durvasula. "Are you afraid you will be alone? Have to do things alone? Fear is often the thing that keeps broken relationships together," she says. But, don't let irrational fear keep you stuck in a friendship that doesn't bring you any joy -- especially if it's keeping you from nurturing more fulfilling bonds. "Toxic friendships can draw a lot of psychological resources and energy away from us," she says. "It's amazing how much more time we invest in broken relationships than the ones that actually work."