Originally published on ABC.net.au on 30th November, written by James Findlay

Sometimes, breaking up with someone you’re casually dating can be easy*. You probably don’t have mutual friends, you might not have anything in common, and there’s a good chance you’ll probably never see them again (with any luck).

Breaking up with a friend, though? It’s a bit more complicated.

And when our generation is being described as one of the most lonely ever, it might be time to take a look around us and work out who we want to be surrounded by. After all, with friendship it’s certainly quality not quantity that matters.

So whether it’s someone you’ve met recently or someone you’ve known since school, telling someone you don’t wanna hang out with them anymore – or that they’re actually a bit of a pain in the ass – is never easy.

Want to know what the best way is to friend let a friend go? Clinical Psychologist Dr Ben Buchanan had some tips for a few Hook Up listeners.

The ‘friendtervention’

Mia and her group of friends recently decided they’d had enough with a girl in their group. “She’ll borrow money with the intention of paying back, but it doesn’t always happen. And she only comes to me when she needs something,” Mia told The Hook Up.

Another of the friends feels like she’s this chick’s “personal chef”…

“[My friend will] cook her dinner and she brings a take-away container with her to take some home to eat the next day…”

So the friends all decided they were going to sit down this rogue friend and perform a “friendtervention”.

“We’re basically going to let her know how we’re all feeling, and the way she’s acting is affecting our friendship.

Sounds like a good idea, right? Ben Buchanan thinks this might not be the best way of sorting things out.

“I think a friendtervention is a bit risky,” Dr Buchanan told The Hook Up, “Usually having a conversation like this is best done one-on-one. If you have a really close-knit group, it might work.”

Dr Buchanan’s tips for a ‘friendtervention’:

  • You should never accuse
  • Start off the conversation with lots of ‘I’ statements. For example, “I feel very upset when you [did blah blah]”, rather than “you do this, you do that”,
  • Don’t use the word “we”. For example, “we think this” as it comes across as a group attack/gang-up
  • Instead of criticising, really attuning into yourself and the feelings you have. Be very specific about the things that have troubled you. Don’t go global.

However, Dr Buchanan says that if you’re going to confront a friend about their behaviour, “these sort of things are better done in a low-key way”.

Cutting the overbearing friend loose

Ben called the show saying he’d recently made a friend who’s turned out to be a bit… much.

“She’s very vicious to people within earshot and she invites herself along to things,” Ben told The Hook Up.

“She says things like, “you’re the best friend I’ve ever met” and hounding me to be a good friend, and I’m like – we only just met.”

Ben also thinks she might have mental health issues, and doesn’t want to make the issues worse by un-friending her.

“I’m happy to support her, but at the same time she’s got a number of traits that grate with me,” Ben said.

Dr Buchanan says you’ve got to have clear boundaries with friendships, and a sign your relationship is not working is when those boundaries are overstepped.

“You’ve got to find out where you feel comfortable being friends with this person,” Dr Buchanan says, “You don’t have to be best friends with everyone and all things to all people. You can have distant friendships and close friendships.”

Dr Buchanan’s tips for setting boundaries:

  • Set boundaries around how frequently you’re in contact and what you’re willing to talk about.
  • Be firm about the boundaries
  • Once they’re overstepped, you’ve got to work out if the friendship will work for you.

“A friendship is a two way thing. You’ve got to be enjoying it – you’ve got to get pleasure out of it, so [look at] how you experience pleasure in relationships and what a good friendship is like for you,” he said.

Can’t I just ghost them?

Yeah, nah. Sure, ghosting is probably the easiest option when it comes to getting rid of a friend, but it’s also the most harsh.

Dr Buchanan says that sometimes people are confused and have no idea why they’ve been ghosted. “Sometimes in bad cases they can still have hope that your phone’s switched off or you’ve been really busy lately, and they really don’t get an explanation why,” he said.

Am I a good friend?

If you’re reading this thinking, “oh shit. Maybe I’M the shit friend?!” then you needn’t worry – we can all improve at being good friends.

Dr Buchanan says:

“If you think about some of the people closest to you and you remember how they’ve been feeling lately and what the major events are in their life AND you care about it, then that’s a pretty good sign you’re a good friend.”

So there you go. Test yourself. Can you remember how your friends are feeling?

Don’t rush into a break-up

The main thing to remember is that friendships are not black and white. There are levels of friendships and you can reset the boundaries on what you want the friendship to look like.

Dr Buchanan’s final point:

“Friendship is one of the most important skills we can learn in life. Seriously. I think that being good at friendships is more important than having any university degree, any qualification, any physical skill or party trick – being good at friends is a core skill.”