Dealing with a Friendship Breakup
Romantic breakups can be painful. The end of a friendship can be even more painful. Here’s advice from therapist Dr. Margaret Rutherford on how to get over a friend breakup. We’ve also added in some relevant quotes about to get you through when your friendship is over. .
We women love good friends. And there are friends in your life with whom you simply “click.”
Whether it’s in the third grade, and you suddenly discover the wonder and wisdom of Jane Ann. Or in college, you look up and a grinning Kaitlyn is standing in the door to your dorm room, and asks you something you now can’t remember, but you know she’s going to be important. You’re at work, you hear Gabriela’s voice coming down the hall. Your ears perk up. She turns out to be the maid of honor at your wedding.
You hear it. You feel it. Click, click, click.
Just like that you both slide into a seemingly seamless relationship of laughter, confidences and reassuring contact that you know will last forever, come thick or thin. The bond grows deeper as other relationships come and go, children come along, careers flourish, and maybe even miles stand between you.
Nothing gets in the way. You’re kindred spirits.
These are the kinds of friendships where memories are shared, where your own growth and change has been seen and supported for years. Similar to siblings, they can be the longest and most meaningful relationships of our lives.
Yet one day, reality can begin to change. She’s not returning your texts. Conversations are shorter. You see on Facebook that she’s having lunch with another friend, someone you didn’t even know she knew.
You reach out.
“Can we talk?”
“What’s going on? I feel like you’re disappearing from my life.”
“Have I made you mad? Please talk to me.”
The Beginning of the End of a Friendship
Psychologically, it can be called “emotional cutoff,” when someone intentionally withdraws from a relationship. Or it can be the ultimate manifestation of what’s termed “stonewalling.” The popularized term for it is “ghosting“, although typically used for dating relationships. It can be painful — actually for both the “left” and the “leaver”, but in different ways. (There’s a wonderful anthology about the dynamic, “My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories Of Losing And Leaving Friends.”)
So much of the time, the friend that’s left is dealing with a strange sense of shame, as if they’ve done something or acted some way that was intolerable or hurtful. Yet they don’t know exactly what happened, so there’s huge mystery to it.
I’ve often used the analogy of what happens when you play with your puppy, and then suddenly leave the room and close the door between you. The puppy sniffs around at the door, and in a minute, begin to scratch at it to get your attention — to try to regain the wonderful time that was being had.
I can imagine a world where two friends can sit down, and talk about what, for one of them, is a desired closure of their relationship. Reasons could be shared, tears shed. Yet not too many women would have the ability to do that. It would be very hard, and take a lot of energy — perhaps energy that at least one of the two doesn’t want to expend on the relationship any more.
But most of the time, the leaver slips away. It’s easier. Not so messy. Disappearing helps to avoid conflict.
So what do you do if you’re that puppy?
A good friend ghosted me years ago. It took me a while to work through my emotions, and become emotionally detached. I did the grieving and got on with living.
Here are the steps.
Healing from a Broken Friendship
1) Get Off the Internet
Refrain from social media right after the end of a friendship.
It’s quite tempting, if not downright seductive, to watch your ex-friend from the safety of Facebook or Instagram. And if they’ve unfriended you, you can obsess, play detective, and figure out how to see their page through mutual friends.
All that does is prolong your own grieving, and increase your sense of being replaced in their life.
2) Focus on Other Things
The end of a friendship is the time to focus on creating fresh experiences and new relationships in your own life.
This can be hard, if you have mutual friends. You don’t want them to feel as if they’re in the middle. You don’t want your friends to bash her either. She was your friend for a long time, and bashing her will get you nowhere.
Being proactive can be vital to your own healing. Look for relationships, activities and experiences unrelated to you and your ex. It can feel like you’re starting over, but with time, those relationships will also gleam with the patina of time.
3) Reflect and Journal
Do some writing and thinking about what the friendship meant to you, that isn’t affected by its end.
What was the friendship’s long-term value to you? Whatever inherent gift that relationship brought to you will always be yours.
What even can you learn from it ending? I decided, when my friend separated herself from me, that I’d perhaps never grieved quite like that. And that it was a good thing for me to experience. I got through it, got over it hurting. Maybe that was a lesson I needed to learn.
4) Examine Your Friendship Clearly
Consider that there was something about the friendship you didn’t want to see from the very beginning, or perhaps that you had stayed in denial about.
For example, were you more of the giver from the beginning? Is there something in her past that you represent for her, that she no longer wants in her life? Did you both avoid conflict? Or did you avoid seeing something that was right in front of you, because you didn’t want for it to be real? Sometimes it’s hard to accept the end of a relationship.
Are you being honest with yourself? Did you not see something in yourself that was wearing on the relationship?
Good questions to ask yourself. Take responsibility for what is yours, but no more.
5) Realize your esteem has taken a hit.
Most of us would rather be invited to the party, and decide not to go, than to be invited, and then uninvited. Or not asked to future parties.
Know When the Friendship Is Over
The message from your ex-friend is that whatever you have to offer doesn’t now fit what they need. Realize that that doesn’t discount what you’ve meant to them in the past, or they for you. If you need reassurance from people who love you, ask it. But understand that your own inner voice needs to find reassurance within, to be able to recognize and affirm your own value.
Click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” the new gift book by Dr. Margaret! It’s perfect for engagements, anniversaries, weddings, or for the person you love!
You can hear more about relationships and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford.
Monday 11th of September 2017
Such an important and relevant piece, Margaret. Thank you for this. Sometimes I need to remind myself that friendships don't have to last forever.
Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski
Friday 18th of August 2017
Great advice on dealing with losing friends and love the quotes. Pinned a couple. I have a handful of close friends mostly because I've moved many times in my life. I've probably ghosted a few as we went onto other interests and adventures. But the ones I have are true.
Dr. Margaret Rutherford
Saturday 19th of August 2017
We've probably all withdrawn from relationships when situations change. Every play I've ever been in, the cast always tells each other, "Let's keep in touch." And rarely does that happen. The relationships are context-specific. Thanks Rebecca.
Friday 18th of August 2017
Wonderful advice for a situation most of us have experienced at one time or anther. I'm sharing this in a roundup post that published tomorrow.
Dr. Margaret Rutherford
Saturday 19th of August 2017
Thanks Shelley for commenting and sharing. It is a common experience for sure, as relationshps sometimes lose their context.