A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences explores the dynamics of undesired friendships and how they can be far more complex and prolonged than the dissolution of romantic relationships.
According to Psychologist Menelaos Apostolou of the University of Nicosia in Cyprus, Greece, terminating an undesired friendship might be a necessary evil you need to practice for the sake of your happiness and well-being.
“Having a good network of friends is crucial for leading a happy and fulfilling life, a fact that motivated me to research the phenomenon of friendship,” explains Apostolou. “The network of friends people can have is limited, so by terminating friendships with individuals who are not good friends, people release space in their network for individuals who could be good friends.”
While we’re usually mindful and specific about the qualities we desire in a romantic partner, we might be inclined to defer evaluating the quality of our friendships. However, having friendships that do not fulfill us or exhaust us can lead to dissatisfaction and an inevitable breakdown of the bond.
“In general, people want friends who are supportive, have good traits such as humor, are similar to them, provide social input, and are available,” he explains. “People may come to realize that their friends do not satisfy these criteria, which would motivate them to end their friendship with them.”
A friendship enters troubled waters when the amount of resources one member is pitching in is not reciprocated by the other for a prolonged period of time. In such cases, the study posits that “it would pay for individuals to terminate a poor quality friendship, which would enable them to reduce resources that they know would not be reciprocated, and open a slot in their social network, which could be filled in with a friend with desirable qualities.”
Therefore, if there is a friend in your life who never shows up, targets your insecurities, or is unreliable with their finances and depends on you to take care of them, contemplating cutting them off would not be an outrageous reaction. According to the study, it might all be a matter of allocating your resources, emotional and material, keeping your mutual best interest in mind.
Apostolou’s study attempted to identify the techniques people use to terminate friendships through open-ended questionnaires followed by a statistical analysis. The study found that people typically use one of two strategies to dissolve friendships they no longer view as essential to their lives:
Gradual termination involves slowly but surely distancing yourself from an undesirable friendship until the bond eventually fades away.
Immediate termination involves cutting a friend off directly and abruptly, as soon as one realizes that the friendship is not good for them.
These two categories were arrived at after having chunked together seven sub-strategies that emerged from the statistical analysis. These include:
Avoiding spending time with them
Having a conversation
Turning your conversations more formal
Talking to them in an unpleasant manner
Making excuses to avoid them
Gradually fading out
“In general, people seem to prefer to use the gradual termination,” says Apostolou. “One possible reason is that this strategy is less likely to create bad feelings and retaliation that comes from them. Yet, the choice of a strategy would depend on various factors such as one’s personality or the situation. For instance, if your friend sleeps with your girlfriend, you will probably go for the immediate termination strategy.”
For anyone who finds themselves in the murky position of considering ending a friendship, Apostolou has the following advice:
“I would also say that it is not a good idea to rush to terminate a friendship if something goes wrong,” he warns. “Instead, it is better to spend some time assessing a friendship, give second chances, try to place yourself in the other person’s shoes, and consider if you have behaved properly toward your friend.”
Friends who stand by you through your trials and tribulations are invaluable. It may be worth considering, however, if maintaining the friendship itself feels like a burden. You may be better off without the dead weight of a friendship that does nothing but empties your cup, after having made multiple attempts to restore the balance.