03/14/2008 12:48 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Five Ways to Unload A Toxic Friend

Contrary to the myth of best friends forever, many female friendships don't always turn out the way we hoped they would. The friend who is constantly making one-sided demands of you is one disappointing example.

When a close friend is always in need of one thing or another -- money, favors, introductions, coddling, praise, or simply more time than you have to give -- the relationship begins to grow weary. You feel like you're walking around with an emotional ball and chain around your ankle.

The term toxic friendship refers to a variety of relationships that are consistently negative and draining. The nature of these relationships is defined by patterns, not by one-time or occasional lapses in the reciprocity that is the essence of a healthy friendship.

Why would anyone put up with a friend like that? It, too, can be explained by the concept of reciprocity. Friendships continue when they are mutually satisfying -- even if the relationship is toxic. Many women have a hard time extricating themselves from these relationships. These include:

* People who like to feel needed
* People who feel like they aren't worthy of healthier, more balanced relationships
* People who are stuck -- either feeling angry or sorry for their needy friend

Get real: If your truly needy friend has been that way for some time, the real possibilities of changing the relationship verge on hopeless. Yet it's hard to find a way out. Here are some ways to unload:

1) Change the nature of your friendship by learning to say "no" and setting boundaries (e.g. "Even though we are both single, I don't want to spend every Friday night together" or "I can't have dinners with you after work because I need to get home to my family."')

2) Tell her that you have to tend to your own needs (or those of anyone else you can think of -- your mother, your kid, or your cat)

3) Slip away - Spend less time with her and add other less demanding friends to your inventory

4) Take a relationship sabbatical, a well-deserved hiatus from the friendship

5) If you've reached the point where you feel there is nothing really to lose, simply cut loose!

Get rid of the guilt. These are people whose needs can never be satiated. No matter what you give, what you do, how much, or how often, it will never be enough. Since character tends to endure, this person probably treats other people the same way she treats you. It's likely that many of her friends have probably already dropped out of the picture and that's why she is so dependent on you.

Based on online survey of more than 1300 women, Irene is writing a book about female friendships called The Myth of Best Friends Forever (Overlook Press, January 2009). Post your own experiences and questions in the comments section of this blog.