Like romantic relationships, friendships can end. We tend to treat the loss of a friend as a mere blip, but these splits are often just as painful. Let's start giving friendship break ups the respect they deserve.
In some ways, they're harder to navigate than the loss of a romantic partner because we have so few cultural examples of how a friendship break up should be treated. Carly Breit interviewed a clinical therapist named Miriam Kirmayer and a psychotherapist Marni Feuerman on the topic for Time.
Kirmayer specialises in young adult and adult friendships, and believes that part of the reason the end of a friendship is so hard is that we have an "expectation that friendships should be easy for adults." They're not! But there are lots of good reasons why, and a few things you can to do mitigate the pain — and maybe even change how we treat friendships on a cultural level.
Have "The Talk"
If you sense a friend is slipping away, you might need to have a talk that mirrors a break up conversation with a romantic partner. We tend to think of friendships ending because of some huge betrayal, says Kirmayer, but in reality, you're probably just growing apart as people. That makes it difficult to pinpoint the moment when it's time to discuss the state of your relationship, or if you even need to. Sometimes, you just let it die. That still sucks.
"This can create situations where we can end up feeling hurt," says Kirmayer. "Whether it's handled inappropriately or simply because it's unexpected, we really don't know what [friendship breakups] should look like."
It may not seem worth it to have this confrontation with someone you've grown apart from, but that conversation offers an important thing that romantic break ups afford: closure. You might find it far less confusing and open-ended if you discuss what's happening, even if it's awkward.
For instance, you could address the distance that's grown between you, say you feel you need to take a break from making plans, or even say that the relationship you have has become unhealthy, if that's the case. It might be difficult, but then you at least both know where you stand.
Set Parameters For The Future
That breakup talk also sometimes includes deciding how you will engage with each other in future. It's possible you'll never see one another again, but let's face it. It's a small world. Better to know how you will be interacting if you bump into one another out there.
"There's a lot of confusion about what a friendship breakup means," explains Feuerman. "Are you still planning to communicate in certain contexts? Are you open to seeing each other in a group setting if you have mutual friends?"
Feuerman actually recommends setting certain parameters towards the beginning of friendships, so you know what you're expecting of one another. She admits this is hard and extremely rare. People are scared to say what their needs are and to be rejected:
Instead, a friend who doesn't feel like his or her needs are being met might stay silent. That person may realise the friendship isn't working and is more inclined to allow it to end naturally, according to Feuerman. And that lack of communication can hurt the other friend just as much, as they're left wondering what they did wrong.
Rather than setting up a friendship contract with somebody, just try to remind yourself that you need to respectfully communicate if someone upsets or offends you — and hear them when they have complaints about your behaviour. That might be enough to keep a future breakup from happening in the first place.
Let Go Of Shame
Because we don't talk about this stuff as much, people tend to feel ashamed and isolated by the end of their friendships. It must mean one of you is bad, or did something wrong, right? No. Sometimes friendships just aren't working, and that doesn't reflect anything about the people involved. They're just not suited to each other, and that's OK. If you manage to let go of that feeling, then talk about it openly. It'll help everyone around you.
"People feel like they should have this figured out, and assume that everyone else has this figured out," says Kirmayer. "They feel like they are doing something wrong going through friendship breakups."
We aren't surprised when romantic relationships end. There shouldn't be pressure to assume all friends are BFFs.
Feel Your Grief
When we don't talk about friend breakups, we don't leave space to feel sorrow over separating from someone who was meaningful in our lives. Even if it was ultimately a bad relationship, that person meant something to you, and losing them hurts.
"You'll actually go through a bit of a grief process with it, and that's OK," says Feuerman. "If you feel like you can't change the toxic friendship situation, it's OK to mourn it, move on and find relationships that are much more satisfying."
You don't have to pretend that you're over it or that some other friend will come along to replace them immediately. Be honest about how you feel and process it. It's normal to miss somebody, even when they don't have a place in your life anymore.