Breakups are never easy. Sometimes there’s an isolated event that leads to the demise of the relationship. Maybe an accumulating buildup of small issues eventually takes its toll. Sometimes, we simply grow apart. The same also applies to friendships—and friend breakups.
Like romantic relationships, friendships are formed when two people have similar interests and values, like each other, and enjoy spending time together. But what happens when interests start to change and values shift? What happens when someone feels invalidated, disrespected, or ignored? More often than not, we can sense a breakup—romantic or friendly—before it is going to happen. But do we always entertain that thought? Typically not, because change or starting over can be scary. And if we break up with all of our friends when we’re unhappy or angry, we might eventually end up alone—and for some people, that’s even scarier. So how do we determine if it’s time to break up or work through it?
Here are some questions to help guide your decision:
- Is this friendship adding value to my life, my wellbeing, and my mental health?
- Am I giving more than I am receiving?
- Do I feel good about myself when engaging with this person?
- Is this [thing that is causing me to contemplate this breakup] something I/we can work through and move forward from?
- Do I have the mental capacity to maintain this friendship?
If your answers to questions 4 and 5 are “yes,” it may be helpful to address these incidents instead of brushing them off and allowing potential resentment and anger to build. In the same way, we would in a romantic relationship, have “check-in” conversations with friends. It might feel strange or unfamiliar at first, but how can something be addressed or fixed if the other person is never aware that it’s problematic in the first place? Does your friend make comments that lead you to feel insecure or emotionally unsafe? Do you feel unsupported? Do you find yourself feeling worse after talking to this friend? Talk about it. If you’ve ever experienced a friend breakup, maybe there were small incidents occurring over a period of time that were not addressed before you decided to pull the plug—or, alternatively, a major incident left you no choice but to pull the plug.
It’s also important to mention that sometimes people naturally grow apart, and that’s okay. Sometimes there is no single isolating incident or “major” event that occurs, other than time and perhaps even distance. It’s common to feel obligated to maintain friendships for the sake of longevity, and that’s when this writer will urge you to refer back to questions 1-3.
Now, how do we cope with a friend's breakup?
Feel your feelings. Allow yourself to go through the stages of grief. It’s perfectly okay to feel any combination of anger, frustration, sadness, denial, or guilt at any given time in no particular order. It’s also very normal to have moments when you miss the person and consider giving the friendship another shot. Grief can be quite a rollercoaster and often occurs in waves until we get to the place of acceptance.
In addition to allowing ourselves the space to grieve the end of a friendship, it can also be helpful to unpack, explore and process the friendship with your therapist. In doing so, it’s likely you’ll also learn a great deal about yourself, gain the skills and confidence to navigate both ongoing and new friendships, and cultivate the support system that you absolutely deserve.