A woman sitting on a gray couch, looking at her phone and wrapped in a gray blanket looking melancholy

How to Heal from a Friend Breakup

By Maggie Kim
November 09, 2021

Breakups are never easy, but at least when you split with a romantic partner, sympathy flows along with the tears, wine, and ballad-heavy playlists. Breaking up with a friend, however, doesn’t get the same attention—even though it can hit just as hard.

"Even though society places so much emphasis on romantic relationships, friendship is incredibly important for our mental and emotional health," says psychologist and friendship expert Marisa G. Franco, Ph.D. "But friendship breakups aren’t given the same space for grief and that can feel very isolating."

We asked Franco to discuss why some friendships fizzle, how to spot those that aren't worth saving, and how to heal from a friend breakup.

Was there an uptick in friend breakups during the pandemic?

We have different types of friends—confidantes, with whom we share vulnerabilities; and, companions, with whom we do things. Our number of companions decreased during the lockdowns, because we simply haven’t been able to do anything. Men especially suffered because they tend to have more of those types of friendships."

Why do friendships end?

There's a breakdown in mutuality—this is the idea that in the friendship, you are considering both your and the other person’s perspectives when navigating the relationship. For example, you may come home tired after a long day of work, but your friend calls at 8 p.m. wanting to talk about an episode of loss. You may have to consider that her needs are bigger than yours in that moment. Do you show up for her or not?

Another reason is we don't talk about issues when they arise. With a romantic partner, we clean out the issues as they arise. Research shows that open conflict in an empathetic way makes relationships better. But the little things usually don’t get cleaned out in friendship. If there’s no open conflict, there’s no chance to heal.

What are the signs we should break off a friendship?

Ask yourself these three questions:

1. Is the friend straight-up malicious? Does he or she put you down consistently, and overall make you feel more bad than good?

2. Is the friend rooting for your success or trying to downplay and deflect your wins?

3. Do you feel drained, negative, censored, inauthentic and not like yourself around this friend?

We include friends in our sense of self. Their wins and losses feel like ours. Studies show how people respond to our joy is more pivotal than how they show up for our distress. A friend should affirm us in the identities and values we see and have for ourselves. A friend needs to value our opinion and allow us to inhabit our full identity.

What are your top tips for healing from a friend breakup?

1. Feel your feelings. Where are they manifesting in your body? Your chest, your stomach, your throat? Focus on it and see how you can feel it fully.

2. Cry, journal, talk about it with another friend. Create art that reflects your feelings; listen to music.

3. Acknowledge what you appreciated and gained from the friendship. When we grieve, we often only see the worst sides of the other person, especially if it was an active breakup (versus a fade-out). But rehumanizing your friend is relieving for yourself.

4. Make meaning out of the experience. Ask yourself: How have I grown? What I have learned? What unique things did I get out of the relationship? What positive changes can I see and what has this taught me about what I want (or don’t want) from friendship?

5. Don’t put your grief on a timeline. It’s like trying to tell a physical wound to heal faster. Emotional wounds are the same. It takes the time that it does, so give yourself that time. You're not being too sensitive or emotional. Your job is to allow the grief.

6. Finally, if you’re seeking closure, think about the worst-case scenario. Is this something you can tolerate? If not, wait until you can, or let go of the idea of closure. You know your friend, so you know his or her capacity to have that last conversation or not.

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