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Conflict Coach: Can you fix a toxic friendship?

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Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith uses her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the often stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears regularly.

Dear Conflict Coach: I have a friend who’s wearing me down. Every time we talk, the conversations are truly one-sided. They revolve around what’s going on in her life – usually one drama after another. She never asks how I’m doing or shows interest in anything that’s happening in my life.

I feel like her personal unpaid counsellor. She vents on me and then never does anything to fix the problems in her life. It’s exhausting. I wonder what your recommendations might be for navigating a friendship that has become toxic?

Answer: Are you worried that you will have to leave this friendship altogether? Is it the old friendship you grieve or are you hoping something will miraculously change?

Either way, friendships are meant to feed our souls, to bring us joy and companionship. When a friendship feels one-sided, that ought to be a catalyst for exploring the relationship.

The good news is that there are things you might try to fix a toxic friendship – if you choose to do so.

Start by using silence

I’ve always believed that silence can do the heavy lifting. Whether your friend is someone who has you on ignore or exhausts you with their endless drama and poor decision-making, let silence do the talking.

When a friend is toxic, it can be difficult to argue or debate because this fuels their fire. Instead, respond with silence when they say something that upsets you (or drone on relentlessly). This silence will have a bigger impact than anything you can say.

If you’ve tried responding with silence and your friend hasn’t changed their ways, it’s possible that they’re just a toxic person and nothing will fix the friendship.


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 Need help? Contact Faith

Try setting boundaries

Try setting boundaries with your toxic friend. Let them know how you feel when they do certain things that cause your relationship to be uncomfortable or feel oppressive.

They should agree to your boundaries if they want to fix the friendship. If they don’t agree to your boundaries or continue to violate them anyway, this is a sign that you can’t fix this toxic friendship.

An example of this might be in choosing not to talk about certain subjects or agreeing to keep an evening of conversation light and positive.

You can take a break

Sometimes, all a toxic friendship needs is a break. Maybe you’re spending too much time together, or you both need time to work on yourselves. You could also be contributing to the toxic relationship without even realizing it.

Set a time frame where you won’t talk to or spend time with the toxic friend. If they ask, just tell them you need a break. Take as long as you need.

If, even after the break, your friendship still has toxic attributes, it may be time to throw in the towel and agree to leave the relationship. It can be difficult, but not all toxic relationships are repairable.

It’s possible to fix a toxic friendship as long as you’re both willing to resolve the issues that make the relationship toxic.

However, if you try silence, setting boundaries and taking a break, but your friend still seems toxic, it may be time to accept the fact and resolve to make new friends.

Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. 

For interview requests, click here.


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