Breaking up with a friend is hard to do: image of butterflies being released from a jar

Breaking Up (with a friend) Is Hard to Do–How to Disengage from a Less than Healthy Friendship

It was in the spring of last year when I found myself breaking up with a friend.

I blame Andy Stanley for making me do it. Stanley is a popular pastor out of Atlanta, Georgia, and from time to time, I work his messages into my podcast schedule.

Late one May morning in 2016, as I was walking through my neighborhood wearing sunscreen, my wide-brimmed hat, and big round Jackie-O sunglasses, Pastor Andy whispered into my earbuds:

“People are not projects. Your job is not to fix them. That’s God’s job.”

With those words, the above-mentioned friend came to mind. For at least four years, I’d been trying to fix her. Pastor Andy is right, I thought. My many attempts to improve her life, her marriage, and her finances weren’t healthy for her or for me.

I determined that day to correct the situation. Unfortunately, in doing so, I made a couple of embarrassing mistakes. Since it’s said that “confession is good for the soul,” and so is a good laugh, I’ll lay out my bloopers-cum-breakup-tips right here.

Breaking Up with a Friend

Word to the wise #1:

Get a second opinion.

When I got home from my walk that morning, I drafted a “Dear-Jane” email. Because my husband Tony Bear possesses excellent judgment, I showed him the letter to see what he thought.

He told me the Andy Stanley part was fine, but that the rest of the note would probably offend her, that it might even make her hostile.

Breaking Up with a Friend

Word to the wise #2:

Double-check those texts.

The next morning, I accidentally sent a text to Dear Jane that was meant for a mutual acquaintance of ours. Though not horrible, it mentioned Dear Jane in less than positive terms.

I was still trying to decide how to handle my mistake when Dear Jane phoned.  After breaking out in a sweat, I decided not to answer.

Two hours later, she showed up at our home. My son went searching for me but couldn’t find me. Because I was hiding in the basement inside Tony Bear’s workroom with the door shut.

That same afternoon, Dear Jane returned. When she did, Junior-Man came and fetched me from the third floor.

Breaking Up with a Friend

Word to the wise #3:

Pray before you say. 

Even though I started our conversation with my Andy Stanley epiphany, the ensuing conversation soon turned ugly. However, I believe it would’ve been even uglier if I hadn’t shot up a quick prayer before I opened my mouth.

Ten minutes later I stood and insisted she leave our house. I then blocked her on social media. And deleted her from my phone.

Breaking Up with a Friend

Word to the wise #4:

Learn from your mistake(s).

In the days to follow, as I reflected on my relationship with Dear Jane, I tried to figure out how I missed the warning signs.

Over the years, Tony had more than once expressed his concern about her, saying I helped her way too much. To a point, I agreed with him, but I never did anything about it.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think I missed the signs because I wasn’t looking for them. I believe the best in people until I see significant proof to the contrary. It’s a nice philosophy, a kind one, but it can be naïve.

If I could go back in time and handle the situation differently, there’s so much I’d change—from the start of our friendship to the end.

Hoping to spare others a similar circumstance, I compiled a list of:

Signs to look for in relationships that may be less than healthy:

  • Pay attention when people warn you about this person.
  • Notice when a relationship consumes a lot of your time and energy.
  • If the person’s requests for your time and resources occasionally come across sounding more like demands, or if you catch yourself feeling like their employee rather than their friend, that’s a warning sign.
  • If the two of you have the same conversation over and over—typically about the rubble that is their life—pay attention to the waving red flag.
  • Another indication that a relationship lacks balance is when it is mostly you give and they take.
  • Beware a person who tends to experience the same problems, the same crises, over and over, especially when you seem to be this person’s only emotional support individual.

I’m not recommending you leave people in distress. What I’m suggesting is you not think you can be someone’s savior.

Actually, in a TED talk recently, beloved writer and speaker Anne Lamott said it way better than I can:

“A good name for God is ‘not me.’”



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