How to Tell a Friend They’ve Let You Down

A script for airing your grievances in a productive way

Allie Volpe
Published in
5 min readAug 27, 2019


Photo: lechatnoir / E+ / Getty Images

FFriendship, like any relationship, is a fickle beast. You support your friends yet can feel jealous of their success. You enjoy being around them but sometimes need a little space. You can think the world of a friend while still knowing they’re capable of letting you down.

And if you stay close with someone for long enough, they inevitably will let you down at some point, whether that means spilling a secret or leaving you to fend for yourself in a stressful time. When you feel wronged this way, it’s important to advocate for yourself — for your own sake (research has shown a positive link between assertiveness and self-respect) as well as for the health of the relationship.

Pulling it off takes some careful thought and preparation — otherwise your friend can feel attacked, you feel frustrated and unheard, and everyone’s unhappy. Done thoughtfully, though, an airing of grievances can strengthen a friendship.

“Good relationships don’t usually thrive conflict-free, but healthy relationships can deal with conflict in a healthy way,” says Suzanne Degges-White, a professor of counseling and counselor education at Northern Illinois University. “That’s why it’s important to let a friend know how you’re feeling. They can’t grow if they don’t know where they’re falling short.”

Here’s what that looks like.

Evaluate the relationship — and yourself

Before you broach the subject of your hurt feelings, perform what etiquette expert Elaine Swann calls a “friend-entory,” or a friendship inventory, to determine if a difficult conversation would break the relationship or strengthen it.

“Recognize that after a serious conversation, someone’s feelings will possibly be hurt and someone may possibly be offended,” Swann says. “You have to know whether your friendship can weather that storm. Ask yourself: If we have this conversation, are we able to get through this?”

If the answer is no, that tells you something valuable about this person, and perhaps it’s best to avoid the drama altogether and slowly phase them out of…



Allie Volpe
Writer for

Writes about lifestyle, trends, and pop psychology for The Atlantic, New York Times, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Washington Post, and more.