Here’s Why Friendship Breakups Can Hurt Even More Than Romantic Splits (2024)

While romantic breakups are extremely painful, friendship breakups can sometimes be even worse. Maybe you're drifting apart from your bestie of ten years, or making a conscious choice to distance yourself from someone who hurt you. Either way, splitting from a friend is hard.

No matter the reason, friendship breakups can be particularly challenging because a close friend is someone you rely on for emotional support, continuity, socialization, and processing, says Akua Boateng, PhD, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in individual and couples therapy in Philadelphia. "Friendships can play a role in your overall mental and emotional health," Boateng says. "When they end, it’s a big shift.”

That said, sometimes friendships can become too damaging to continue. Maybe it's a one-sided relationship, or they’ve majorly crossed one of your boundaries. Because you’ve been friends for so long, it might be difficult to cut ties. However, "you owe it to your relationship [to break it off formally], even if you’re not in a good place with the person," says Andrea Bonior, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing and Losing, and Keeping Up With Your Friends.

Whether you’re thinking of calling it quits with a long-time bestie—or you are that long-time bestie getting broken up with—here’s everything to know about friendship breakups, according to relationship experts.

Reasons To End A Friendship

Friendships can be complicated, and there’s likely not one single cause to break up with a friend. However, these are some common reasons friendships can end:

  • Your communication styles aren't lining up. Each person conveys their needs, boundaries, and expectations differently. "Whenever there’s a challenge on either side communicating those things, it creates a schism that makes the relationship not viable or helpful moving forward," Boateng says. A stall in communication can also lead to people growing apart over time, as it becomes increasingly difficult to keep in touch, especially as their daily lives don’t mesh anymore, Bonior adds.
  • The friendship is off-balance. You might feel like one of you is giving more to the friendship than the other—this is called a one-sided friendship, which oftentimes comes down to one person’s needs not being met. Perhaps you invite your pal to hang out, and they always want you to come to them, rather than switching on and off. Or, maybe they never ask about your life, but talk about theirs all the time. Ultimately, one-sided friendships are a one-way ticket to dissatisfaction.
  • There's been a betrayal. This can look like a large, singular incident of crossing a boundary, or perhaps over time, you've slowly noticed you're in a toxic friendship. (For instance, maybe you don’t feel like your best self around them because they regularly put you down or gossip about you.) In any case, "due to the pain of that betrayal, it becomes very challenging to see how trust can be regained," Boateng says.
  • Your life circ*mstances have changed. "Compatibility is something that evolves with [different] stage[s] of life," says Erin K. Engle, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Say you became friends when you were both single, but now, your friend is married with a baby on the way. You're more likely to drift apart—or stop talking completely—if your priorities aren't compatible anymore, Engle says. (That's especially true if your communication styles don't align, either.)
  • There’s some kind of deal breaker or unresolved issue. Maybe you both *always* fight about a certain topic, like political issues—or maybe, you don’t like your friend’s S.O., and you somehow always end up arguing about their relationship. If you can’t “respectfully hold each other’s positions,” Engle says, your friendship might be headed to Splitsville.
  • You're struggling to make time for each other. Say you're a major planner—like, you're already booked out socially weeks in advance—while your friend likes to call you day of to make nighttime plans. In this case, you might really struggle to see each other, which can result in the friendship taking a backseat for both of you. In this case, "having more direct communication can be really important to clarify differences," Engle says, and if your communication styles don't line up, then the friendship might fade.

How To End A Friendship

So, you've decided it's (probably) time to call it quits. Here's what to do now, according to the experts.

Assess the situation.

"Breakups are painful to consider," Engle says. If you're at all unsure about ending it permanently and you think your relationship can be repaired, consider a friendship break, she says. Tell your friend you'd like to take some space to do a little self-reflection. This will help you decide if you miss the friendship, or if you're better off going your separate ways.

Be as clear and as gentle as possible.

If you’re pulling the plug, whatever you do, make it easier on yourself by not leaving the door open to ambiguity, says Bonior. Make sure they can walk away from the conversation with a definite understanding of why you broke things off. Try saying: "You probably noticed we haven't been spending as much time together lately. To be honest, I feel my life is moving in a different direction these days, so I wanted to tell you I won’t be hanging out as much. I’m glad we’ve had a friendship, but I don’t think we're a good fit anymore."

    Don't point fingers.

    Stick to the facts, describe the circ*mstances, and explain the consequences that resulted, Engle says. "Relationships are dynamic," Engle says. In most situations, it's about "what two people bring to the table," instead of it always being one person's fault. (Unless there was some type of betrayal.)

    Prepare for pushback.

    If the two of you hadn’t already noticeably drifted apart, you might get some pushback. Your friend may promise to change and do better for you. If you think you can work things out and trust they’ll do their part in repairing the friendship, great! But if you've given them multiple chances to be a better friend and they haven't complied, "it may be time to think about minimizing that person's access to you," says Boateng.

    Stand your ground (if you're certain about it).

    That said, if you’re not willing to devote any more time to this friendship and you feel certain you want to break up, don’t budge. Say: "Look, there isn’t anything more for us to do here. I just wanted to let you know that I’m not looking for things to be different; I’m just telling you I’m in a different place."

      How To Cope With A Friendship Breakup

      Now, if a friend breaks up with you, there are a few things to try that will help you cope as you get through the breakup.

      Take some time for self-reflection.

      Try and pinpoint patterns in your other friendships or former friendships, Bonior suggests. "If you notice you’ve had friendships come to an end in a similar way over and over again, it’s important to pay attention to what might be going on," she says. Maybe you're picking people you're incompatible with, you have a tendency to duck out when things get boring, or you're doing something that’s causing conflict.

      Lean on your (non-mutual) friends.

      These people will not only give you comfort and reassurance, but also offer a neutral POV that can add color to your ex-friend's perspective, Engle says. That can help you get objective feedback and become a better friend in future relationships. Ask questions like: What would you do in this instance? Do you agree with my stance, or do you see the situation differently? "That can just invite some healthy curiosity, especially as it relates to closure," if you're feeling a bit unsettled after the breakup, she says.

      Remember, friendships naturally wax and wane.

      There’s no hard and fast rule that says people have to have the same friends their whole lives. "And when they end, that doesn’t negate their positive aspects," says Bonior. "Just because a friendship ended doesn’t mean you have to pretend it never existed or wipe it from your life story because you can still find it very valuable."

      Set up a meeting with a therapist.

      It's always helpful to speak with a mental health professional for additional clarity, closure, or feedback on situations, Engle says. If you're discussing the end of a friendship, seek the help of someone specializing in relational or interpersonal therapy. They can "help understand one's own attachments or early childhood experiences that stand to have bearing on how we relate to others in relationships," especially through adulthood, she says. They can also help you understand any transitions and conflicts in your life that can lead to friendship ruptures.

      Don't downplay your feelings.

      There tends to be a lot of shame and embarrassment around grief when it comes to friendship breakups, but they’re significant losses. You might downplay your feelings and think, "Well, it’s not like I just got divorced or something," but friendships carry a lot of emotional weight—something you might not realize until it’s over. So, "give yourself permission to feel and don’t beat yourself up if it affects you more than you expected," says Bonior.

      Keep it cordial with mutuals.

      Try not to put mutual friends in uncomfortable situations, says Bonior. As hard as it might be, don’t make them choose between you two, and don’t pressure them into seeing things from your perspective. "Be cognizant that people have the right to keep up the friendships they want to keep up, and they might be seeing things from a different lens than you are," she adds. As long as you can maintain respect for each other’s decisions, you shouldn’t have a problem maintaining your other friendships.

      Don't feel pressure to attend group events just yet.

      You might have to back out of certain events with your mutual friends because it’ll be uncomfortable, and you'll both need time and space to heal. (Or maybe, some of you might end up breaking out into smaller groups for a bit.) But if you and your ex-friend can eventually get to a place where you can keep your cool in group settings and respect each other’s space, make it known to a mutual pal that you don’t mind going to that group brunch as long as they're cool with it, too.

      Take precautions on social media.

      If you use social media a lot and you think it would mess with your head to see your ex-friend's Instagram Stories, set some kind of limit, whether you mute their posts or fully unfollow them. Whichever option you choose is fully up to you: Follow your own instincts, Engle says. "What works in real life is probably what works for social media purposes," she says. Translation: If you had a really bad falling out because of a conflict or deal breaker, you might unfollow. But if you had a "softer" breakup and just grew apart, you might choose to mute.

      Think about the good times.

      You don't need to start blasting "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift on repeat—instead, take a moment and express gratitude for this relationship. You can even journal and meditate on what you've appreciated and will take away from this now-former friendship, Bonior says. Consider the purpose this friendship served, and the era in your life that it existed during. Doing so "honors the validity of why the friendship existed in the first place," Engle says, and it helps you see that not everything is permanent. Some friendships are for certain seasons of your life.

      When It's Worth Trying To Repair A Friendship

      Sometimes, friendships deserve a second chance. "I'm a big believer in giving the other person the benefit of the doubt," Boateng explains. If you’re unclear as to whether or not you want to end your friendship, you might want to try talking things through with your bud to ensure you’re on the same page before saying goodbye to them for good. (They might not even know you’re feeling off about your friendship.)

      After you and your friend speak about any issues—such as reiterating boundaries, or talking through a disagreement or deceit—and you’ve given them clear expectations about how you want the relationship to move forward, give them a chance to meet those expectations, Boateng says.

      Overall, though, remember this: "If someone’s presence in your life does you emotional, physical, or mental harm, or it is hindering your own growth, then it’s time to terminate the friendship," Boateng explains.

      Friendship breakups can feel even more complicated than romantic ones. After all, there’s nothing stopping you from avoiding a friendship breakup indefinitely, putting off the confrontation, and hanging out with some other pals instead.

      However, you owe yourself and your friend a clean break if you’re unhappy, says Bonior. If you don’t feel like you’re a good match anymore, you need to let them go—the same way you would a significant other. That's the only way you can truly move on and put your energy into your other fulfilling friendships.

      Meet the Experts: Akua Boateng, PhD, is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in individual and couples therapy in Philadelphia. Andrea Bonior, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and the author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing and Losing, and Keeping Up With Your Friends. Erin K. Engle, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

      Here’s Why Friendship Breakups Can Hurt Even More Than Romantic Splits (1)

      Aryelle Siclait

      Editor

      Aryelle Siclait is the editor at Women's Health where she writes and edits articles about relationships, sexual health, pop culture, and fashion for verticals across WomensHealthMag.com and the print magazine. She's a Boston College graduate and lives in New York.

      Here’s Why Friendship Breakups Can Hurt Even More Than Romantic Splits (2)

      Addison Aloian

      Assistant Love & Life Editor

      Addison Aloian (she/her) is the assistant love & life editor at Women’s Health. Outside of topics related to lifestyle, relationships, and dating, she also loves covering fitness and style. In her free time, she enjoys lifting weights at the gym, reading mystery and romance novels, watching (and critiquing!) the latest movies that have garnered Oscars buzz, and wandering around the West Village in New York City. In addition to Women's Health, her work has also appeared in Allure, StyleCaster, L'Officiel USA, V Magazine, VMAN, and more.

      Here’s Why Friendship Breakups Can Hurt Even More Than Romantic Splits (2024)

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