Friendship breakups are hard. They can be demoralising and really upsetting. Sometimes they are salvageable and sometimes we have to accept the break-down in friendship, then go through the grief and healing process. It’s weird, though, because a romantic relationship normally has a clear ending and even a serious chat when it comes to saying goodbye. On the other hand, a friendships often will just fade away. After months or even years we can gradually discover that the important people who we once talked to about absolutely everything are no longer anywhere to be found. Even if the friendship was a long time ago, it can still hurt when you no longer speak to that person.
Wouldn’t it be better to go through a process during friendship breakups just like romantic ones? There are ways to recover quicker from those friendships and move forward into better, more rewarding connections. Try these 4 steps to move on and heal more quickly:
1. Be honest with yourself about the pain of the friendship breakup
Sometimes when we have a friendship breakdown we dismiss it without ever grieving the situation. After all, it wasn’t a romantic relationship and you weren’t in love with the person, so what’s the point of grieving? You did, however, love that person as a friend and we must recognise that. Sometimes our brains can’t tell the difference between a romantic relationship or a friendship – it just recognises the grief and the pain. If we don’t address those thoughts and feelings about the loss, it can cause unnecessary negative effects on future friendships and even the world around us.
Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical therapist who specialises in young adult and adult friendships, has been quoted in Time Magazine:
There is also a common expectation that not every romantic relationship will last forever, and Kirmayer says we need to expect the same of friendships in order to normalize the experience. The end of a friendship doesn’t mean one or both friends are bad people or bad friends, she says; it simply means the relationship wasn’t working.
Kirmayer also discusses the grief process of friendship breakups. She talks about how unexpected it can be that we would feel the need to grieve a friendship breakup:
“You’ll actually go through a bit of a grief process with it, and that’s okay,” she says. “If you feel like you can’t change the toxic friendship situation, it’s okay to mourn it, move on and find relationships that are much more satisfying.”
After a friendship breakup, it’s common to feel anger, sadness, loneliness and anxiety about seeing the person and fearful of mutual friends picking sides, Kirmayer says. Understanding that all of these feelings are normal will help you start moving forward.
2. Practice self-care
When we are upset, we should take a moment to recognise those feelings rather than just push through them. We don’t have to wallow in our self-pity, however, recognising and being honest with the feelings of sadness does help us to better care for our emotional wellbeing. If you are upset and grieving the friendship, try doing something that brings you joy once a day. That could be taking a walk, doing some gardening, going for a coffee at your favourite cafe, watching a funny movie, eating your favourite meal, painting your nails or playing a sport.
It’s ok to take it easy and to sit in your sadness for a moment. One of the biggest things that stunts us emotionally is when we try and pretend that the sadness doesn’t exist. Try writing out your feelings in a journal, talking it out with a trusted confidant or just sitting in silence and reflecting on what happened. Once we take the time to do this, we can then acknowledge the sadness, accept it and then move forward to happiness. Doing this practice also helps us move on to happiness without any emotional junk still buried in us regarding the friendship. The goal for a lot of us is to live a full and healthy life; we don’t want a “happy” life with pain still buried deep down inside. Burying the pain will only stunt our growth emotionally and cause us to still be stuck in bitterness and resentment.
3. Avoid pondering on the breakup over and over again.
I have an aunty who I call when times are tough. She often gives me an unbiased logical viewpoint on any given situation that I am facing. When I have been through friendship breakups, talking to my aunty has been a lifesaver. What happens is that when I talk it out, I start to solve the problem or frustration myself. It means that all my aunty has to do in that situation is to just listen. When we talk things out rather than keeping them in our heads, it helps us recognise the gaps in our train of thought. We can better problem solve and find solutions to handling uneasy and upsetting situations in the future.
Health Online helps us to make a plan to take action when we are ruminating:
Instead of repeating the same negative thought over and over again, take that thought and make a plan to take action to address it. In your head, outline each step you need to take to address the problem, or write it down on a piece of paper. Be as specific as possible and also realistic with your expectations. Doing this will disrupt your rumination. It will also help you move forward in the attempt to get a negative thought out of your head once and for all.
Once you’ve outlined a plan of action to address your ruminating thoughts, take one small step to address the issue. Refer to the plan you made to solve the problem you’ve been obsessing over.
Move forward with each step slowly and incrementally until your mind is put at ease.
4. Try making a new friend
Beyond Blue is a website that has been established to provide information about anxiety, depression and suicide. It discusses how connections and making friends is important to managing depression and anxiety.
Connections matter. Strong ties with family, friends and the community provide us with happiness, security, support and a sense of purpose. Being connected to others is important for our mental and physical wellbeing and can be a protective factor against anxiety and depression.
Loneliness is a feeling of a lack of companionship or quality relationships with other people. As we get older, changes in our personal circumstances and lifestyle can result in us feeling less connected to others and increase the risk of us becoming lonely. However, loneliness is not an inevitable part of getting older – there are lots of things you can do to expand and strengthen your social networks.
So if you have found yourself in a friendship breakup. Try researching new Facebook groups or community groups to connect to a new person. You don’t even need to have a lot in common at the start. Over time, once you spend enough transparent moments with someone, you will begin to find things that you have in common or shared experiences. You also don’t need to be best friends with everyone you meet. Even just a friend to call or to socialise with helps greatly in reducing loneliness and depression.
When I was at home pregnant with hyperemesis gravidarum I was often stuck on the couch or in bed as the severe sickness was very debilitating. It stopped me working, going out or even shopping. I was getting lonely and wanted to make a new mum friend in an area that my husband and I had just moved to. I put a notice out on our community Facebook page. I asked if anyone wanted to be friends who were expectant mothers or who had babies. One of the women in the community group responded. We went out to our local cafe for a meet-up and today we hang out with our toddlers regularly. It’s become a fun and rewarding friendship…one that would not have happened if I had stayed lonely at home every day.
Breaking up with friends is hard to do. We must recognise that just like romantic relationship breakups, friendships breakups also go through a period of grief. Allow yourself the time to heal. Be kind to yourself. Find things that you love, evaluate the friendship that once was, talk it out…and then move forward with clarity.
Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.