Why friendship break-ups happen and how to deal with them, according to a therapist

Why friendship break-ups happen and how to deal with them, according to a therapist

MANILA, Philippines – Break-ups suck, that’s a given, but have you ever broken up with a best friend? For many, that feels even worse.

If you’ve gone through a bestie separation, you’re not alone. Break-ups aren’t exclusive to romantic love – these rifts (whether intentional or circumstantial) are very common in adult friendships, but just not talked about as much.

Maybe you’ve lost touch with your childhood best friend, or maybe you’ve discovered a few dealbreakers in your friendship with a college pal. Maybe you feel like you’ve grown apart from your high school BFF, or just stopped talking altogether after a misunderstanding that never got resolved.

Friendship break-ups come in different shapes and sizes, but they can hurt all the same. Even with or without closure, it’s never easy saying goodbye to a friendship you thought would last forever.

According to MindNation psychologist Lucille Foja, it is considered a “friendship break-up” if friends “simply lose the mutual support, respect, affection and the degree of commitment given to one another.”

Since both romantic relationships and friendships thrive on all these, break-ups with friends cut just as much (or even more), especially since you’ve known them longer and have been with each other throughout the different phases of your life.

“Romantic break-ups often produce profound feelings of heartache, grief, and longing, reflecting the depth of emotional attachment and investment inherent in romantic partnerships,” Lucille said. However, even though there is an absence of that intensity of romance in friendships, friendship break-ups can still be emotionally challenging. There will still be grief, confusion, and sadness over a loss in your life.

Is it the end?

Ending a friendship can be a conscious decision or, at times, a realization that the connection has already faded.

“Various factors contribute to friendship break-ups, and one prevalent reason is diverging perspectives in life that no longer contribute to personal growth, prompting individuals to make the difficult decision to part ways,” Lucille said. What are the other common causes of friendship break-ups?

Poor communication, or lack thereof. When there’s not enough honest communication between friends, feelings of resentment and hurt will brew, especially in the presence of unresolved conflicts. Disagreements and conflicts are normal, but it’s how both parties deal with issues that can make or break a friendship. Silence? Hostility? Defensiveness? Ghosting?

“When issues are left unaddressed, they have the potential to remove the foundation of the relationship. If problems aren’t dealt with, this can lead to the dissolution of a good friendship,” Lucille said.

Transparency and respect are key. If you are ghosted or even demonized – especially in secret – for expressing your feelings, you may feel deceived or betrayed. That’s why it is so important to talk openly with your friends about your needs, and listen to theirs in return.

“This helps stop the friendship from falling apart and keeps feelings of being betrayed in check. When problems are tackled directly, the chance of feeling tricked or hurt decreases, making it less likely for the friendship to break apart,” Lucille added.

Distance. Time apart or physical distance isn’t wrong, but these can be detrimental to a friendship if there is an inability to maintain regular and substantial contact. That doesn’t mean you should be chatting with your friends 24/7, but gestures like checking in on each other from time to time and carving out some time in your busy schedules for a video call or coffee date go a long way.

Life transitions. It’s a fact of life that friendships go through changes, as we move through different stages of life. “Whether it’s the transformative phase of young adulthood, middle adulthood, or other life stages, personal growth often leads to shifts in personality, goals, or priorities,” Lucille said. But it’s when these changes don’t “align well” with the current dynamics of a friendship that a natural drift can happen. Sometimes, this makes us realize that the friendship has come to an end.

At the end of the day, friendship is a commitment. “Distance should not be a factor if both parties are willing to work it out,” Lucille said. It is important to find a middle ground if you want to make the friendship work. Even if you are blessed with a low-maintenance friendship that never feels like time has passed, a solid friendship is still a two-way street that requires effort from both sides.

When to let go

“If your so-called friend undermines your achievements or makes you feel unhappy about your life transitions, it might be a signal to reconsider the friendship,” Lucille said.

Disrespectful or mean behavior also goes against the essence of a healthy friendship. A good friend should provide support. A friendship should be a non-judgmental and loving safe space for you to be unapologetically you, devoid of any backstabbing or passive-aggressiveness.

“In a positive friendship, your feelings should be respected. If you find yourself feeling anxious, confused, or consistently negative in the relationship, this is an indicator that the friendship may not be contributing positively to your life, and ending it might be the best course of action,” Lucille added.

If you find yourself downplaying your accomplishments to avoid hurting your friend’s feelings, it may reveal an underlying sense of jealousy in the friendship. “True friends celebrate each other’s successes and support one another. If you find this lacking, it might be worth considering whether the friendship is genuinely fulfilling.”

Moving on, with or without closure

If you’re in the midst of a friendship break-up, you might ask: Is closure really all that? Lucille says that certain friendships can end without clear closure, with individuals choosing not to disclose the reasons behind the breakup. There are instances where open communication becomes necessary, recognizing that effective communication is a shared responsibility, but this isn’t a privilege many receive.

Yes, coping after a loss is hard. Navigating through a friendship break-up is challenging. But, there are constructive ways to help yourself cope and move forward. It is a loss, so don’t be ashamed to grieve. Feel your feelings. They are valid. Lucille said to remember three words: Acknowledge. Reflect. Grow.

“One crucial step is to permit yourself the time and space to grieve, acknowledging the end of the friendship just as you would any other loss,” she said. It’s okay to take a moment to process your emotions and allow yourself the needed space for healing.

“The second step is reflecting on the lessons learned from the friendship. This can be a valuable part of the coping process. Consider what insights and experiences the friendship brought into your life, helping you grow as an individual,” Lucille said. At least now, you have a clearer idea on what kind of people you want in your life.

Lastly, take it as an opportunity for self-growth and personal development. “Talking to a mental health expert like a psychologist can help; they can guide you in sorting our your feelings as well as provide positive ways you can cope,” Lucille said.

Taking care of yourself

It’s important not to keep your emotions bottled in. Lucille suggests that in order to constructively move forward, one should practice effective communication by expressing your feelings or talking about the issue, which can contribute to a healthier emotional recovery. You can do this while appreciating and nurturing existing friendships. Focusing on the positive connections you currently have can provide a support system during the healing process.

Connection is key. “Connecting with friends, family, or a therapist when you’re feeling down is a good way to handle the grieving,” Lucille said. “When you share your feelings with others, it makes you feel better and reminds you that you’re not going through it all alone.” It helps to zoom out of the issue and zoom in on the other good friends still there for you.

Also, don’t forget to take care of your inner child. Doing things that make you happy, like exercising or hobbies, is also important. “You can remind yourself: Taking care of myself is really important, doing things that bring me joy and help me relax is good for my overall well-being,” Lucille said.

Try to challenge your negative thoughts as well, and gently try to see things in a more positive way. Remind yourself that not every thought we have is true. “You can say to yourself, I can question negative thoughts and replace them with more helpful and realistic ones,” Lucille said.

“Instead of just seeing the break-up as something bad, you can use it as a chance to grow and become a better person. This break-up can be a new beginning for positive changes. I am capable of learning and growing from this experience.” Remember, it’s okay to take things one step at a time and be patient with yourself.

Take your time. Each person has their own timeline for healing. “Progressing after a friendship break-up is a step-by-step journey that includes taking care of yourself, reflecting on the situation, and concentrating on your personal development,” Lucille said.

The most effective way to move past the break-up is embracing acceptance – acknowledging that it occurred and ended that way. It is out of your control now. Let it go, and focus on the things that you can control, which is your own personal growth.

The final say

If you realize that you still want to salvage the friendship, it is possible. Lucille said that the desire for reconciliation has to be mutual. Both should want to communicate the misunderstandings, and assess whether efforts can be made to address and resolve the issues.

“Honest and open communication can often mend strained relationships. Consider also the history of the friendship. If it has been positive and fulfilling in the past, it may be worth investing time and effort into resolving conflicts or misunderstandings,” she said.

On the other hand, if in hindsight you realize the friendship served no good purpose – repeated acts of dishonesty, breach of trust, and negativity – then it may be time to end the friendship. If you feel like he/she wasn’t good for your well-being, don’t force it.

“Continuously forgiving without genuine change may lead to further hurt and disappointment. If your boundaries are consistently disregarded or if the friendship brings more stress than joy, it may be time to reevaluate its significance in your life.”

Ultimately, the decision to hold onto hope or cut ties completely depends on you. What are your preferences, values, and state of well-being? Let that dictate what kind of relationships you choose to let in and keep in your life. Prioritize what aligns with your emotional health and overall happiness. It is safe to prioritize yourself and surround yourself with positive, supportive relationships and let go of toxic friendships. – Rappler.com

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