Why Friendship Breakups Can Be More Devastating Than Romantic Ones

“Friendship breakups are hard because often you identify with your closest friends, they are a part of you."
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As I was mindlessly scrolling on Twitter one night, I saw a tweet that resonated with me: “Spending time with your friends is like free therapy,” because it really is. After being with my friends for just a few hours or so, life feels worth worthwhile again.

Being seen by someone outside of a romantic relationship is precious and a reminder that soulmates aren’t just limited to romance.

And just like romance, sometime comes heartbreak and breakups. When a friendship ends, you’re often left wondering where it all went wrong and how you can heal from it.

No, friendship breakups are not for the fainthearted. Last year I dealt with a few at the same time and it was one of the most painful experiences of my life.

Despite breakups with friends being so common, we’re only now just realising the impact they can have one us.

We know how to deal with romantic heartbreak. We eat ice cream, cry, listen to sad music, and mourn what will never be. Slowly but surely we grieve and move on.

But when a friendship ends we don’t really know what to do or who to turn to. So what how do we heal?

Counselling Directory member Jennifer Warwick thinks friendship breakups can sometimes be more painful than romantic ones.

“We see and hear stories about romantic relationships beginning and ending but don’t typically see many stories about how friends get together or break up,” Warwick says.

She continues: “tThis may mean it’s something we don’t think about and so are not prepared for when it happens.

“A friendship is something that grows over time. Our friends are integral to our sense of identity and who we are. They are the ones who are around us through thick and thin, and these relationships, when they end, can cause a lot of sadness and distress.”

Additionally, when a friendship comes to an end we might start to question what that says about us as a friend.

“A friendship may come to an end because you’ve grown apart. This can be really hard to deal with because there’s not one thing that happened that made you stop being friends,” Warwick explains.

“It can be that gradually life has moved on and you’re doing different things and in different places. There can be a point where one of you said says to the other that you realise you don’t have much in common anymore.

“That can feel devastating, especially if it’s someone you’ve been friends with for a long time. If it was a friendship bonded over a difficult time in your life, the end of the friendship can also bring back feelings that you had around that time.”

As we all know, the pandemic was challenging and affected various areas of our lives including friendships.

33-year-old Kim Saka from Michigan believes that the pandemic was the underlying reason why the dynamic in her friendship group of 18 years changed:

“We all took part in Zoom parties and stuff like that for a while, but by the end of 2020, my friends wanted to hang out as a large group every single weekend, unmasked (vaccines weren’t available then either).”

Kim and her now husband weren’t comfortable with socialising out of the home at that point and slowly started drifting away from the group. “

She explains: “Around this same time, we were trying to plan a COVID wedding that had an ever-changing date, and I lost my job.”

“I turned inward and began to isolate myself and was very depressed. Months went by without any word from any of these people who made a point to hang out weekly.

“When the issue was brought up, things got worse and it felt like an exile due to being away because of the things going on in my life.”

Kim dealt with the breakup by spending more time with herself whilst also attending therapy. “It has helped me immensely in dealing with the fallout,” she says.

Samantha* who is a 25-year-old accountant from Devon is going through a friendship breakup with one of her oldest and closest friends.

The pair went to secondary school together and quickly became inseparable, and they managed to stay close until recently. “In the last couple of years, it’s become apparent we like to live our lives differently,” Samantha says.

“She likes to go out every weekend, I like to go out only once or twice a month. I am dabbling with drinking less, she doesn’t understand my sober curiosity.”

“I think in a lot of cases if the individuals are able to communicate and explain that ‘my choices are not to threaten yours’ and ‘you can live now you want to live and vise versa but if it’s not compatible, the friendship expectations should shift’.”

She describes her friend as being quite a fiery person. She recalls times when her ex-friend would scream in her face in front of other people.

“I had a very honest conversation with her about how ‘our relationship is not sustainable the way it is’ and how I’d like to change it so it can be long-lasting and healthy,” Samantha shares.

She thought her behaviour would stop but after another blow-up, Samantha started to distance herself.

She added: “Friendship breakups are hard because often you identify with your closest friends, they are a part of you.

“They have seen you through different seasons of life, helped you through situations you couldn’t have gone through alone, etc. But growing up entails a sense of understanding that things change ― we all grow and change ― and some people don’t grow parallel.”

As we grow older and get into our late twenties, we start experiencing changes in our friendships. We may still be carrying friends from school, and university, and work with us into our late 20s and early 30s, but we’re not those same people anymore.

“When we get into our late 20s, we are more likely to start thinking about settling down with a partner or starting a family. That is where those different directions your lives are going in start to become more apparent,” Warwick says.

“You can find that your friendships drifting away. It could be that you are still doing the same thing, but you’re spending more time with your partner, their partner’s friends, or new work.”

Ending a friendship can be heartbreaking and you have to remind yourself that your feelings are valid. “If it’s a friend you’ve known for a large part of your life, or since you were kids, there’s a feeling that you’re losing part of who you are or who you were when you were together,” says Warwick.

You’re probably going to miss the laughs you had, how they were there for you and it’s okay to feel sad about that. “So give yourself a chance to be kind to yourself. Give yourself a little bit of time to grieve because it is a loss, but know that things will get better and you will get through it.”

Remember that the pain you’re experiencing will go away and you’ll eventually meet and build new friendships.

“That’s the thing about friendships; we’re always in a situation where there are new people to meet whenever there are people around us, there are chances to make to go out and make connections with people who could turn out to be really good friends.”