Is It Time To Initiate A 'Friend Divorce'?

"A close friend can become a close enemy."—African Proverb

What About Your Friends?

I must admit that there's an irony here. What I mean by that is it is fascinating that, since one of my passions is reconciling divorced married couples, it's a little weird that I would even be open to penning a piece about friends who may need to get a "divorce". I think a part of the reason why I somewhat support the latter kind of break-up is because, I actually tend to see more people put up with toxicity in their friendships than in their marriages. It really is interesting—at least it is to me—that someone can vow "until death parts us" to their spouse and be out in two years flat, but an individual they did not make a formal commitment to? That person can talk about them, disregard their needs and ultimately prove to be more of a foe than an ally and somehow, there's all kinds of tolerance and second chances offered up in their direction.

I could pen an entire piece on how a lot of folks are more loyal to their friends than their spouses because they aren't actual friends with their life partner and probably never were…but we'll save that for another day. What I'll say for now is this—because I know, firsthand, all of the good that a healthy friendship can do and all of the bad that a toxic one can bring into your life, I do think that sometimes friendships need to end in their own version of a divorce; divorce in the sense of experiencing "total separation; disunion"—for the ultimate well-being of both individuals. And just what are some of the indicators that you've experienced enough to let a particular friend go?

6 Signs It's Time To Let A Friend Go

1. Does Communication Suck?


If you were to ask a divorced person you know about what led to the ending of their marriage, one of the things that they would probably mention is there was a breakdown in communication. Communication is what helps two people to mentally and emotionally connect to one another, so yeah, if that isn't happening effectively, couples end up feeling misunderstood, ignored and end up growing apart.

Same thing with friendships. If you and one of your friends aren't hearing each other out, respecting each other's feelings and perspectives, are ignoring each other's vocalized needs (and triggers), are impatient while dealing with one another, and/or aren't making the time to emotionally connect, these are clear signs of poor communication. And while it doesn't automatically mean that the friendship is doomed, what it does mean is you two aren't in a good space and, if you leave things where they are, the relationship isn't going to get better…over time, it's only going to get worse.

2. Is Any Form of Abuse Transpiring?


I've been through some stuff. Believe you me. But if I were to think about some of the most emotionally abusive situations that I've been in, it would have to be with people I considered to be my friends. How do you know if one of your friends falls under this category? Manipulation is a form of emotional abuse. Users are emotionally abusive. People who make you feel like you constantly have to walk on eggshells in their presence are emotionally abusive. Individuals who aren't open to negotiating, ones who take the "It's my way or the highway" approach, they are emotionally abusive. Ghosting in and out is a form of emotional abuse. Giving the silent treatment when things don't go their way is emotional abuse. Expecting you to be there for them when they aren't there for you is a form of emotional abuse. Gaslighting you is a form of emotional abuse. I'm sure you get this gist now.

And why do so many of us put up with this type of treatment? From my own personal experiences, 1) I think a lot of us don't realize that it is abuse in the first place and/or 2) we feel like friendship is about standing by our friend, even when they are being assholes. But here's the thing about the second point—an author by the name of Darlene Quimet once said, "Controllers, abusers and manipulators don't question themselves. They don't ask themselves if the problem is them…they always say the problem is someone else." So while you're out here thinking that you're "loving your friend through their abusive tendencies", if they are textbook abusers, they're probably not even thinking about, let alone caring about, how they're acting or how it's affecting you. And when someone isn't self-aware or respectful enough of others to make necessary changes…nothing changes.

Most of us wouldn't stand for physical or perhaps even verbal abuse from a friend. But if you're constantly being taken on an emotional roller coaster ride, that's a form of abuse too. And if you bring this to your friend's attention and, frankly, they don't give a damn, this is a really good reason to strongly consider initiating a friendship divorce. Stat.

3. Is Your Friend Disloyal?


Another reason why a lot of married couples end their union is due to infidelity; you know, one or both people being unfaithful. On the friendship tip, unfaithfulness tends to come in the form of being disloyal. Disloyalty can be someone who talks about you behind your back. Disloyalty can also be someone who breaks "the codes" that are between the two of you. Some other ways that a person can be disloyal include—telling your business, not having your back when times are difficult, being competitive over being supportive (which is oftentimes a clear indication of envy), acknowledging your friendship in different ways based on who they are around (you're their bestie unless someone they think is "more important" is in their presence, then they downplay the relationship), and/or them saying or doing things that prove to be deceptive or untrustworthy in any way.

Sometimes, we'll put up with someone like this because we met them this way. What I mean by that is they treated other folks like this, charmed their way into our lives, and somehow, we thought things would be different when it came to us. But like another author by the name of Chobir Dokan once said, "If they disrespect you to your face, imagine what they are doing behind your back." You are no exception to a point like this.

It's hard to be in a relationship with anyone who is disloyal. So, if you read this part of the article and someone immediately came to mind, just keep in mind that some definitions of disloyal include treacherous, dangerous and insecure. If you want to try and maintain something with someone based on those traits, all I've got to say is good luck. Oh, and be careful too.

4. Are You the Only One Who’s Working on the Relationship?


I think it's hilarious how much Divorce Court pops up in my YouTube feed. Sometimes I watch, sometimes I don't. But when it came to a particular episode where a woman was basically being a man's wife while he was being her boyfriend, I appreciated what Judge Lynn Toler had to say about it—"Never do wife duties at girlfriend prices…the first meal I ever cooked my husband was a week after we were married…you're not giving me a ring and some security, clean your own stuff. I ain't got time for that; I've got things to do. You think I'm good enough to share your body, you think I'm good enough to have your baby—you think that he thinks you're good enough that he can trust you with his clothes and his business but he can't give you his last name? Ugh."

Ugh is right. It's commentary like this that inspired me to pen pieces like "Why I'll Never Call Someone A 'Boyfriend' Again" and "Why You're Always The One Who Prepares A Man For His Wife". And, on the friendship tip, it inspired me to also write "Allow These Things To Happen Before Calling Someone 'Friend'". Trust me, I know what it's like to care for someone, both on a romantic and purely friendship level, and then move on those feelings without getting clarity on whether the person that I'm devoting so much of what I have to is on the same page as I am. When you don't take the time out to see if they see the relationship in the same way that you do, that is how you can end up doing most of the work to maintain it. Why? Because you value it more than they do. Plain and simple.

Coming to this realization isn't an automatic friendship deal-breaker. What should be is once you come to this realization, and bring it to their attention, nothing changes. Now we've got a real problem because, if your friend is cool with you doing 80 percent of what it takes for the relationship to remain intact, not only do they not care very much about the friendship itself, but they don't care as much about you as they should either.

And please tell me why you should remain friends with anyone who would disrespect you in this manner? Like Judge Toler said, "Ugh." Just ugh.

5. Do Things Seem to Be Getting Progressively Worse?


Some friendships, unfortunately, end up dying a very slow and painful death. The reason why is because, although we see the writing that is on the wall, we try and act like the relationship isn't getting to the point where it's proving to be unhelpful or non-beneficial to both individuals. When I think about this particular point, a former friend who stayed at least three years longer than they should have comes to mind. I knew there was a hard conversation that needed to be had, but I kept avoiding it because, since they were so arrogant and entitled, I knew that they would play the victim if I brought my concerns up.

In hindsight, I wish I had though, because if we had ended things sooner, I still would've had some level of respect for them. But because I kept allowing matters to get worse and worse, by the time I did officially dip out, I didn't even really like them anymore. I still don't. A big part of that is because I kept trying to be a friend while they kept being anything but. As a result, it made me resentful, then angry…and then abruptly done. The problem with that is it's a poor assumption that friendship divorces have to be ugly and messy. But if a relationship lasts way past its time, that's exactly how it could end up. A big ole' emotional mess.

Moral to the story—if you see your friendship is on life support, opt for quality more than quantity. End it sooner than later because the sooner that you do, the faster you can heal and open your heart to those who will be good friends in your life.

6. Have “Seasons of Separation” Never Worked Out for the Better?


One more. Whenever a married couple asks me what I think about them separating, the first thing I always say is, "If you're doing it because you need space in order to come back together and work harder at your relationship, I'm all for it." Then I recommend that they invest in the book Hope for the Separated: Wounded Marriages Can Be Healed by Dr. Gary Chapman (the same guy who came up with the love languages theory that many of us apply to our relationships). The reason why I think it's so important to put this on record with troubled couples is because a lot of people just see separation as a step away from divorce. But really, what it needs to be is a time when two people can get the space that they need to see if and how to make their marriage work.

I think that sometimes friendships need the same thing. Several years ago, a former friend of mine and I kept butting heads so much that we took a break for several months. During that time, I really did evaluate the good, the bad and the counterproductive about us. By the time we had a chat about where things stood, I came to the conclusion that, although I would always love her, we really did need to part ways—to "divorce". It was years later before I saw her again, but when I did, there was hugging, there was catching up…there was peace. Then there was walking away from one another so that we could continue on with our lives—separately.

In hindsight, I think that our divorce is the reason why there was no bitterness and drama when we did finally see each other again. When two people choose not to communicate their feelings and needs, when ghosting transpires, that can leave real scars because, there's like an element of disregard and disrespect that's left behind. But as I oftentimes say, when two people come into a relationship together, they really should come to an agreement together if it should end as well. More times than not, this approach results in a "clean break" that still might be painful, but it also can make it easier to heal and move on as well.

Just like marriages, I strongly doubt that a lot of people go into their friendships with an ending in mind. But also, just like marriage, friendships should be healthy, fruitful and mutually beneficial. If you read all of this and that's something that you can't say is transpiring in one of your friendships, it may be time for a total separation—a friendship divorce. Think it over. Pray about it. Discuss it with your friend. If you discover that it is time to move on, there is a poetic irony here—coming to a place of accepting that you both need something different and perhaps better actually is being each other's friend. Even if that means not actually being friends with one another…anymore.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

10 Signs You've Got A Close (TOXIC) Friend

8 Signs That You Might Be The Toxic Friend Of The Group

Breaking Up With Toxic Friends Won't Be Easy, But It's So Necessary

5 Signs Of A Toxic Friendship That Is Secretly Poisoning Your Life

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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