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Back in college I had a best friend with whom I did everything. We lived together. We worked together. We hung out on the weekends together. We had the same first name and our birthdays are only days apart. We would sing songs from Rent as we walked to class, not having a care in the world.
We both dated guys throughout our years in school together, but nothing was ever really serious and nothing took over our friendship. But then, in my last year of college, with only a month left, I met my future husband. It was a whirlwind romance and what some might call a cliche military story. We became serious fast because like they say, when you know, you know.
That’s when things changed. My future husband and I were engaged only six months after we met, and my BFF didn’t approve. She wasn’t a fan of his, and she had no shame in telling me I was making a mistake. While her honesty was something I always loved about her, I felt hurt that she wasn’t by my side during a new chapter of my life.
Eventually, the bridge between our relationship was starting to crumble and I had to decide- leave the friend I loved or leave the man I loved. She made the choice for me when she stopped returning my calls and emails. And I grieved. I grieved as though she had died because that’s what it felt like. She was just suddenly…gone, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Relationship expert Dr. Katherine Coule sat down with me to talk about toxic friendships and how to know when it’s time for you to leave your friend behind. She says, “There is nothing harder than breaking up a relationship that you don’t want to break up. You may know in your heart of hearts that it’s time to let go, but taking the action to do so is hard.” She continued to explain that even though it’s a friendship, it can still be classified as abusive if the factors are there. “If your friend is talking down to you or being manipulative in trying to destroy your relationship with your significant other, then it’s time to cut ties.”
Toxic friendships can be detrimental to one’s health, too. “The stress the friendship is causing you on top of your other daily stressors can cause anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, and other physical issues that you may not even realize existed until they leave your life,” says Dr. Coule. A friend should be honest but supportive of you unless the relationship you are entering with your significant other is abusive. “But if she just doesn’t like the other person and is acting in envy and jealousy, then it’s time to have a talk.”
Can you salvage a friendship when your friend doesn’t like your partner? “Most of the time, yes. A true friend will recognize that ‘Hey, I don’t really like this guy but he makes her happy and he’s good to her. If I care about her I’ll be in her life as a supporting role.’ But some friends don’t see it that way- they don’t want to make room for a new relationship, and that’s when you have to decide if your partner is someone you’re willing to break off a friendship for,” says Dr. Coule.
Dr. Coule says there are several ways to try to talk to your friend about your new relationship and try to create a balance between old and new:
- Ask her to pay attention– One of the best ways to convince someone that this person is the real deal is to show her. Ask her to watch interactions between you two, watch how he treats others, and recognize that although you’re BFFs you’re not the same person.
- Don’t take her for granted– You’re in love and want to be with your partner all the time, especially in the beginning. But your friend isn’t just going to hang around waiting for you to decide that you have time for her. Make time to spend together just you and her, and don’t be texting your boyfriend/fiance/husband the entire time.
- Be honest– Tell her that you love her and care about her, but that this new relationship is important to you. Tell her how you feel when she acts in certain ways or says certain things, and how it puts a strain on your relationship with her and with your significant other.
- Know when to walk away– Sometimes no matter what you do or say, your friend just won’t be buying what you’re selling. If after a true heart-to-heart you can’t find a balance with her then it may be time to let her go.
In an age of feminism and female empowerment, it can be hard to admit that you ditched your girlfriend for a guy. But in the end, this is the person with whom I am spending my life and building a family. My friendship was important and I cared about her deeply (I still do) but I knew that I had to cut ties with her in order to grow as a person and in my relationship with my future husband. At the time I was young and I know I didn’t say or do all the right things in order to make our friendship work. But my husband is my partner and he’s also my best friend. He was the relationship I needed to cultivate. I’m just sorry she couldn’t be here to watch it grow.