Researchers agree friendships are the key to long-term emotional and physical health. But while there’s plenty of concern and conversation around romantic heartache, no one really talks about how devastating friendship breakups are. The feelings of loss and abandonment are just as real as any romantic breakup.
And while there are lots of avenues to find new romantic partners as we age (seriously, pick any website or app to meet someone new), replacing a treasured best friend isn’t as easy once you leave your college dorm room. It’s hard enough to juggle work and family responsibilities, much less find the spare time to nourish lasting, fulfilling friendships.
It can be confusing to know what to do when a friend cuts you out of their life. Aside from dealing with your own pain and confusion, there’s the added stress of not knowing how to talk about the rift with mutual friends. We spoke to therapists, relationship experts, and media personalities to see what advice they can give us about how to handle a friendship breakup with dignity. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Try to take a breath before responding (or choosing not to respond). Often, when a friend does this, our immediate reaction is hurt and anger. We may get defensive and lash out and do something to make things worse. So don't make any rash decisions. But remind yourself that you have the right to be treated well in a relationship, and that if someone can't do that, it doesn't make sense for you to keep trying to make it happen. Also keep in mind that a friendship doesn't have to last forever in order for it to have had meaning and for you to have grown from it. If you do decide to make contact, keep it respectful and clear, like, "I know I don't hear much from you lately. I hope it is not due to something I did; I trust that you will tell me if so. If you are just going in a different direction these days, and though I miss you, I understand and wish you the best."—Andrea Bonior, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix
Allow Yourself to Mourn
You might find yourself going through the stages of grief, which is common after any type of loss including a friend breakup. Don't isolate yourself or pull away from other people in your life. Be mindful of numbing your emotions with TV, food, alcohol, or partying it away. Find healthy, constructive outlets for your energy and emotions—journaling, yoga, etc. —Melody Wilding, LMSW, coach, and human behavior expert
Letting Go, Moving On
Often relationships end because of something to do with the other person, not us. Yet it's hard not to have your mind race with all the possible reasons that would make it our fault. Not knowing the reason why is hard to accept, but we must since we usually never find out. This leaves us with the choice of either torturing ourselves seeking answers we'll never get, or letting it go and moving on. —Kurt Smith, PsyD, clinical director, Guy Stuff Counseling and Coaching
Focus Your Energy Elsewhere
Think about who you aspire to be, and try to befriend people who are already like that. Focus on being more conscious about choosing good potential friends. Sometimes we're so busy stewing about someone, fighting with her in our heads, that we forget to reach out to our loyal friends who've been there all along. As for your ex-friend, perhaps you had to give her up to grow and move forward. Whether or not it was against your will, you'll be mourning the part of you she brought out. —Carlin Fior, Author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are
Try to remember that if a close friendship ends, it may have been for the right reasons. All relationships need to be reciprocal, and if you both weren't getting your needs met equally, your friendship may have run its course. Whether expectations were too high, values and lifestyles changed, old habits continued to cause pain; you both deserve to have a friendship that feels safe. Once you can go through these emotions naturally, you may find you end at acceptance. The loss becomes easier to experience, even though you may always miss them. Try to use this loss as an opportunity to learn to better yourself and future relationships. —Alysha Jeney, relationship expert and therapist, owner of Modern Love Counseling, and co-founder of the Modern Love Box
Friendship breakups are natural, and––now that I've lived in one city for ten years––I can tell you that friends come back to you; you grow up and sometimes feel like reconnecting if not just to say sorry, just to say, "Hey, I hope we're cool." That old quote, "Friends are in your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime," is the most true thing. Not everyone will be there for a lifetime. It's an unreal expectation. Instead, hang tight to the memories, lessons, and growing experiences you lived through because of this person. —Molly McAleer, writer, co-founder of Hello Giggles, and host of the podcasts Plz Advise, Emotionally Broken Psychos, and Mother, May I Sleep with Podcast?
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