Establishing Healthy Friendships (And Knowing When to Move On)

Unfortunately, we often do not learn enough about what makes a relationship healthy. Even if we do, the lesson does not always stick when it comes to our family, friends, and romantic relationships. Like any relationship, friendships have the ability to go from healthy to unhealthy. Friends can be great sources of support, but that does not mean that a friend could also become a bad influence.

Adult friendships get more complicated. When we are young, we become friends with people because our parents are friends, we live close to each other or have a class in common. As adults, it gets harder. So, how do we figure out if our friendships are healthy and valuable? In this article, we will discuss the misconceptions surrounding friendship and signs it is time to let go of a friendship. Let’s get started!

Misconceptions About Friendship

Many of us believe that we should know how to make and keep friends when we are in our early adulthood. We have been making friends since childhood, so what could be so hard, right? The problem is, this belief can make us feel disappointed and alone when we feel like we are the only one struggling. It makes us less likely to reach out for support. The only way to fight the misconceptions is to learn more about them.

We Should Be Able To Make And Keep Friends.

Navigating friendships as an adult can be hard. They require time and effort, two things that come in short supply as we grow up. It is not always easy to commit to things, especially when we have relationships and work responsibilities. The challenges that come with our friendships change as we age too. We find ourselves in new stages of life or cities as we grow in ways we did not when we were children. Do not be hard on yourself if you find you cannot keep friends as easily as you could as a child; circumstances are different now.

We Don’t Have Enough Friends.

There has never been a number to shoot for when it comes to friends. The concept of ‘enough’ is different for every person/ it is not about the number of friends, but rather the level of quality that comes with friendship. One close friend can be so much more than 20 not-so-close friends. Try not to quantify the number of friends and think more about the importance of strong, healthy friendships.

We Should Stay Connected To Childhood Friends.

While it is great to be friends with people from your childhood, sometimes it is unrealistic. We grow, change, move cities. Holding onto a friendship that no longer serves us just because we feel pressure to maintain it is unhealthy. As we age, it is normal to let go of friendships like these. The ones we develop as adults can just be as fulfilling. If you have friends from your childhood you still enjoy and are close to, that is great! Cherish that. But if you do not, or are looking to remove yourself from these friendships, that is okay too.

We Need a ‘Best Friend’.

A best friend is a label or status we give friends, but it has to be reciprocated in order to be healthy. Both people should consider the other their best friend. It may sound easy enough, but research actually shows that half of our friendships are unreciprocated. It is important to keep in mind that one person does not always meet all of our friendship needs and that is okay! You can have someone who is your first phone call when things get hard and another who is the person you do everything with. The definition of a best friend changes as we grow and age. 

When we are free from our friendships, we are able to better evaluate if we need or want to keep being friends with someone.

Signs It Is Time To Let Go Of a Friendship

When we are young, we hear the “best friends forever” over and over. The truth is, some friendships do not last forever. Some are only meant to last a little while. If you feel that a friendship is unfulfilling or frustrating, this may be a sign you are outgrowing it.

Some relationships deplete over time. You might notice every time your friend asks you to make plans you are filled with dread. When you two are together, you might find that you do not tune into the conversation or that the conversation is too much about the other person. You feel like being around them is emotional labor and after you feel exhausted. These friendships take way more than they give.

You may notice that you feel like an old version of yourself with this person, and not in a good way. Ideally, you and your friend grow together and you can be yourself in front of this person. However, sometimes friendships can be stuck in the past and bring out versions of ourselves that we do not always want to be. In a stuck friendship, you may find reminders of this past self stifling. This is a clear sign you are ready to leave the friendship.

When one person stops putting effort into the friendship, it is over. It may be that you always are the person making the plans and the other person does not show up or wants you to arrange things around them constantly. Or, perhaps you are the one no longer putting effort in. It is okay to not be as invested in a friendship as you once were. It may feel easier to just let the friendship play itself out rather than talk about it. 

Or, it is possible that you two just have nothing in common anymore. You may outgrow a friendship if there is nothing in common left. If you were friends in school and then pursued different interests, it may be difficult to find things to relate to or talk about now. It is possible that your conversations jump from topic to topic or you spend most of your time trying to find things to talk about. Whatever it is, it can be very difficult to realize there is nothing much left to keep the relationship together.

It may sound easy to get out of friendships when you see signs like this, but that is not always the case. We often have reasons to continue these friendships, for example:

Reasons Why We Stay In The Friendship

1. You have ‘been through it all’ together.

We all have those people who seem like they have been with us through everything. Nostalgia can lead to closeness, but also can hinder the separation process when it stops being mutual. We sometimes stay close to childhood friends because we feel guilty for violating their trust and bond. Having a history with someone makes exiting more difficult. However, if the relationship is not working for you or all you have with this person is history, it is not enough of a reason to stay.

2. It feels easier than searching for new friendships.

For people who struggle with making new friends or confrontations, remaining in unhappy or unhealthy friendships can feel preferable to the discomfort of moving on. It can be hard to have those open conversations, leading to a resentful, one-sided friendship. You may feel like you will not be able to find a new friend or group of friends to be close to, but that is not true.

3. You are connected in a network.

If you and this person are connected in some sort of network or group, it can make physically exiting the relationship much more difficult. You struggle with being ousted from the larger group as a result of this disconnect. As a result, you may put up with someone who frustrates or upsets you in order to stay part of the group.

4. You do not know how to ‘break up’ with a friend.

We might know how to break up with a significant other from all of our rom-com movies and books, but how do we break up with a friend? This is not a typical conversation we have, and lack of experience may lead to sticking in a relationship because you genuinely do not know how to leave it. If this is the case, turn to another friend or loved one for their advice. Odds are, someone you know has been through it and can help.

A Word From Mental Treat

Despite the focus on ending unhealthy romantic relationships or separating from toxic family relationships, there is little that deals with ending an unhealthy friendship. There is less focus on these relationships, even though it can be just as painful to leave.

It requires uncomfortable truths and conversations, but can sometimes be the best course of action. It takes courage to change, but it is important to. As we age, we must let go of things that are wasting our time and energy. If you feel you are in a friendship that is unhealthy or no longer serving you, get out of it. We wish you the best of luck in this process, and if you ever need a professional to talk to, consider using Mental Treat’s platform.


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Sean McCormick

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