Friendship tends to have a complicated place in our lives. For starters, our culture puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of finding a “romantic partner” and far less on finding a solid platonic friend or friend group. However, we often find that we have longer-lasting and more honest relationships with our friends. Many of us have had friendships since childhood, friends who have seen romantic partners come and go. When a romantic breakup occurs, we are permitted (and sometimes expected) to grieve it. We can tell someone, “She cheated on me,” and that is seen as a good reason to have ended it. We can also tell someone, “We just wanted different things,” or “It just wasn’t working anymore,” and that is also seen as good reasoning.
On the other hand, when a friendship ends, we may find ourselves having to both validate our heartbreak and our reason for walking away. If an event, such as a big fight or betrayal, ends the friendship, people may have difficulty understanding why we’re sad to see our friend go. On the other hand, if our needs weren’t being met, people might seem confused as to why we felt we had to make a point of ending the situation.
This could be because our society centralizes only one romantic relationship, whereas we are expected to have many friends. Somehow, we may get it into our heads that friends are more interchangeable than partners, and others may as well. This can make the grieving process of a friendship’s end even more confusing and lonely. Friendship breakups are often ridiculed or overlooked and therefore minimized. We may think, “What’s a big deal, so you two don’t get along anymore?” But friendship breakups can be more complicated and challenging than ending romantic relationships.
It might be a harder decision to break up a friendship during a pandemic when you, that person, or both are feeling extra lonely. You may feel uncomfortable ending a friendship with someone you work with because you’ll still have to see that person. You might feel that your life is going in a direction that your friend can’t understand, or your friend’s life is going in a direction you can’t relate to, but you don’t want to “throw away all that history” over something you can’t quite understand or explain yourself.
What stops you from breaking up with a friend?
1. Feelings of guilt and/or pressure to be a “loyal friend”:
The longer you’ve been friends or, the more storms your friendship has weathered, the harder it can be to ignore feelings of guilt if you end a friendship. You may also be someone who has moved around a lot, either through schools, jobs, or both and fear you’re developing a bad pattern of short-term friendships. You might worry about what that says or means about you. At the end of the day, the only reason to stay in any kind of relationship is because you want to. That doesn’t mean that you have to be one hundred percent happy all the time, but the pros
should outweigh the cons. No perceived amount of need to be “loyal” should matter more to you than your happiness does.
2. You have shared memories
We’ve all been there in a moment when something happens, and all we have to do is look at our friend and know we’re both remembering the same thing. Or someone makes a comment that makes us laugh about an inside joke, and we wish our friend was there to laugh with us. These moments that become woven into our history become part of the fabric of who we feel we are. The person or people who were there for us throughout those times begin to feel like part of us as well. You might think, “Who will I remember this time with?” or “How can I let go of someone with all this history?” The idea of making new memories without that person may seem unimaginable to you.
3. You fear that you might be making a wrong decision:
What if you change your mind? What if you miss your friend more than you thought you would? Not only do you run the risk of that person being too hurt to take you back, but you might also be hard on yourself about the idea of going back and asking to renew the friendship after you know you caused the other person pain. These types of thoughts can lead to us staying in situations until we are almost at our breaking point so that we can feel “sure” that there is nothing left to save.
4. You feel forced by the other person’s behavior:
Setting and upholding boundaries is essential in a situation where you feel the other person isn’t respecting or appreciating you, but it can also be incredibly difficult. We have all probably had a friend with who we have so much fun, or so many memories, or both. We love this person, and we love spending time with her/him/them, but there always seems to be a catch.
Either this person drags their feet about making plans, causing us to feel like last priority, or the person is terrible about replying to our texts, or some other habit that makes us feel unwanted or ignored. These little things can add up and cause us to overthink about the friendship or resent being left out of the loop. If we have taken the time to state our communication or time wants and needs, but this person doesn’t seem to want to make an effort to meet us halfway, we may feel like we have no other choice but to walk away.
Unfortunately, the idea of losing this person from your life may be upsetting, and it still might be the best choice for you. How do you know when it is time to break up with a friend? A good general rule is that it is time to break up with a friend when one or both of you would have to make fundamental changes or sacrifices that you don’t want to continue the friendship. All relationships go through phases where one person needs more flexibility or understanding than the other, but if either of you feels that too much is being asked of you with no acknowledgment that it’ll be your turn next, resentment can build.
Another good rule of thumb is that if you are sad, anxious, or frustrated more often than happy, especially after communicating your wants and needs to the other person, it may be time to walk away from the friendship. If
you always hesitate to tell the other person your news because you worry what they/she/he will say; or if you have been on the fence about overcoming some discord with your friend, and it hurts to think about resuming the relationship. If you find yourself in patterns of worrying about what hurtful thing the person will say or how you will feel after spending time with the other person, those are cues that you may not be in a relationship that is as healthy for you as it should be. All relationships go through changes and challenges, but they should ideally make your life better overall.
How to break up with a friend?
1. Validate your experience:
Once you decide to end your friendship, it is important to validate your feelings and decision. At the end of the day, ending a friendship is a loss. It is a termination of a connection you once had. It is normal to feel a void. Stay compassionate towards yourself for needing to end a friendship; don’t judge yourself and/or berate yourself. Remind yourself that you are the only person who is in charge of your life and that you are responsible for your happiness and peace of mind. If you have made a decision that you feel is right for you, you have every right to have made it.
Put the supports you will need in place before you have the conversation with the other person. If you need to be stocked up on a bubble bath, or have a movie date with a loved one on the books, get those things organized. Go over your reasoning until it feels like second nature. Remind yourself that you deserve to be in a healthy friendship, and so does the other person. Review and solidify the best way to exit the relationship safely; every once in a while, someone who is not receptive to communication or who is abusive or belligerent will need to be walked away from quietly for your safety. However, most of the time, you will be safe enough to have a conversation with the other person that allows you to communicate your decision to step away from the relationship. Prepare for that conversation in ways that work for you: journaling, speaking to a trusted mental health provider, meditating, or any way that you can work out what you want to say and how you want to say it.
2. Communicate your needs openly and respectfully:
Request a time with this friend in which you will both be able to focus on the conversation. When that time comes, utilize your communication skills to handle the situation, including having respect and compassion for both of you and using ‘I-statements.’ Rather than saying, “You don’t make enough time for me,” you can say, “I feel that I need more time than you can give.” Instead of saying, “You decided to be a lawyer, and that’s all you care about,” you can say, “I am going in a different direction than you are, and our lives aren’t compatible anymore.”
Before your conversation, think of the boundaries you would like to set for yourself and communicate those. Would you want to stay in contact with this friend via social media? Would you be expected to greet each other when in each other’s company at social gatherings? Would you send each other birthday wishes even if it is cordial? Prepare yourself that what you are comfortable with and what the other person is comfortable with may not be the same. You or the other person may also agree to one thing during the conversation, then change your mind as time goes by. Do your best to say as much as you need to so that you feel you’ve made yourself clear, but not so much that you’ll cringe later, feeling as if you went too far. The other person may become visibly upset, which can make it hard to stay focused. On the other hand, the other person may appear extremely apathetic, which could be difficult as well. Do your best and recognize that there is no perfect formula for tough conversations.
3. Engage in self-care:
People around you may question you with all the same things you’ve been weighing, “But you’ve been friends for so long!” or, “Well, are you sure you’ve tried everything?” They may have your best interest at heart, but these kinds of questions may undermine your decision and cause you to feel more turmoil than is necessary. Make sure that you are firm in requesting that people not challenge your decision. You may want to tell them, “I did not make this decision lightly, and your support is very helpful,” or, “This is the right thing for me, but it’s also hard. Please don’t make it harder by undermining me.” Establishing boundaries in which you ask for the support and respect of your loved ones will help you feel surrounded and encouraged. Friendship breakups are as valid and difficult as romantic relationships. Make sure to take care of yourself as you would if you broke up with a romantic partner. Pay special attention to your sleep hygiene routine and drink a lot of water. Go for walks to move your body and breathe fresh air, take your favorite spin class, or even just stretch. Participate in meaningful activities and do so alone and with people in your life who make you feel treasured and seen.
You may feel far better or far worse than you expect when you are done with your conversation with the other person or as the reality sinks in. There is no perfect way to navigate the situation or prepare for it; all you can do is make your decision in good faith and with respect and consideration for yourself and the other person. Remember that everyone deserves to have people surrounding them who bring out their best, and make them feel safe, appreciated, and loved. We all deserve friendships to honor, treasure and nurture. Sometimes, those bonds are long-lasting, and sometimes they are temporary. The important thing is that we are honest with ourselves about our own needs and
goals as time goes by.
Embracing You Therapy Group Practice
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with one of our Client Care Coordinators.