Pretty much everyone has endured a toxic romance (or five) in their life, and if you’re shaking your head no, you haven’t, then you’re a shining star, my friend. A true exception. It’s fairly straightforward for most of us to list off bad behavior in the romantic domain. Maybe your partner is constantly flaking out on you, mooching off you, refusing to communicate their feelings, draining all your energy, or even putting you down and being abusive. Most of us would agree that these types of behaviors are grounds for seriously reevaluating the merits of said relationship, and possibly making the decision to end it already and move on to more nourishing unions.

But when it comes to our friends, things are not always as straightforward. If sex and romance make a relationship, so does its absence, by gosh.

Have you ever thought about whether your friends were adding positively to your life, versus hacking away at your life source? In an emergency situation, would your friends have your back? If the answer is not immediately clear, it might be time for an overhaul. We stay friends with people for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s simply easier to stay friends than to deal with the fallout, break up friend groups, etc. But the fact remains: convenient or not, any kind of relationship that we don’t feel good about but to which we hang on can be a toxic bane on our existence and needs to be taken out.

Need some guidance? I don’t blame you. As someone who has undergone not one, but two toxic friend break-ups, I offer you these 6 tips for real, live unfriending:

1. Know how to identify a toxic friendship

Seems like a logical first step, no? Maybe you’re questioning your own sanity, asking yourself whether you’re just being dramatic, whether you are, in fact, the issue, blah blah blah. We often do this in romantic relationships too. The thing is: if you keep coming back to these same questions, and something about the relationship simply does not sit right with you, there is very likely something toxic about the dynamic that either needs to be dramatically altered or cut out.

A few general signs: You feel drained after hanging out; you don't like how you act when you're together; you need to persuade yourself to hang out with them; the effort in the relationship is imbalanced or not mutual in some way; they put you down (whether subtly or blatantly), pressure you, guilt you; or you simply fight all the time. If you find yourself feeling that you simply don’t like or respect your friend anymore, it’s probably action time.

2. Set boundaries depending on your approach

Decide on your approach. In other words, do you want to change the nature of the friendship (ie., see a lot less of this person), or are you cutting it off cold turkey? There are very valid reasons for both. If you feel shitty every time you hang out, you might wanna break it off. Regardless of what you decide, be clear when setting new boundaries. If it’s a permanent break, you gotta say it. If it’s a full but temporary break prone to reevaluation at a later date, make that clear. If you just don’t want anymore 1-on-1 hangouts but are still fine with casually being present in the same friend group, say that. Oh, and try to have this conversation in person, unless, of course, you feel so awful around said friend that you can’t stand to be in the same room anymore. Shit happens. Do you.

3. Make it about you and your needs

If you’ve made the decision to end a toxic friendship, you deserve a pat on the back, because this is an act of self-love. There really is no need to play the blame game if you’ve made this brave and positive choice because it typically has the effect of sucking you back into a toxic dynamic, and who needs that, for a last serious convo? Use statements that start with “I feel…” You might be surprised what a difference it makes in terms of results and energy spent. For example: "I feel myself pulled in a different direction these days. I have valued our friendship so much, but don’t have energy for it anymore,” as opposed to “You suck me dry and I can’t stand to be around you anymore.”

4. Address the issue(s)…or not

Maybe you’ve already been down this road, like 2,700 times. It’s pretty human to wanna get down to the nitty-gritty, and make it abundantly clear what the issues are, how they play out, and who plays what role in said toxicity. I would say it’s more important to do this if you have not already done this. If you have already communicated/attempted to communicate the issues but the conversation gets repeatedly derailed, or it turns into a fight, or your friend simply will not hear you, I don’t think it is fruitful to repeat yourself.

5. Keep your friend group in the loop

If you and your toxic friend are in the same friend group, that sucks. I’ve been there. Yet hopefully unlike what sometimes happens in a romantic break-up, your friends don’t feel they have to choose between you both.

I was in a really tight foursome of friends with someone I could no longer be around, earlier this year. In addition to in-person hang-outs (which, by the way, had replaced 1-on-1 hangouts altogether), we shared a WhatsApp group where we told each other everything—all the time. No joke. My first step when I finally realized I couldn’t do it anymore was to tell the others in as mature a way as possible and to remove myself from the WhatsApp group while redoubling my efforts to see the others 1-on-1 style again—something I had really missed. It worked out way better than I had hoped and improved my other friendships quite a lot. If you make it clear that you don’t expect them to choose, and focus positive energy on renewing the friendships you want in your life, there’s not a lot that can go wrong.


6. Release negativity

It’s a break-up, after all. When all is said and done, you might feel the need to treat it as such. If this means screaming at the top of your lungs on a mountaintop, signing up for kickboxing classes, binge-watching TV and eating ice-cream, crying, or writing letters you’ll never send, do it. You got this. Life is too short to spend with people who don’t bring out the best in you. The grass is actually greener on the other side.

Image source: Matt Crump