Saying goodbye to a friend is never easy. Whether you've grown apart over time or you had a big friendship-ending blow-up, losing a friend close to you is certainly a hurtful experience. To make matters worse, you may feel as though your emotions are invalidated since this was only a platonic relationship. But that's simply not the case. "[A friendship breakup] is similar to a romantic breakup," explains Rachel Gersten, LMHC, co-founder of Viva. The truth of the matter is that all types of relationships can break down.
"It's really normal, as difficult as it is, and we should absolutely normalise [friendship breakups]," says Gersten. "Sometimes people meet in earlier stages of life and then grow apart as their lives evolve and priorities change. It can — similarly to a romantic relationship — also be the result of a single event or argument that the relationship unfortunately can't recover from."
If you're struggling with your friendship breakup, in a lot of cases healing will just take time, so you have to be patient with yourself. However, there are some simple approaches that can help ease your hurt.
1. Give Yourself Time to Grieve
Nobody has died, but you've still experienced a loss. When you break contact with a significant person in your life, you need to give yourself time to grieve. Expect the five stages of grief to rear their ugly heads. We're talking denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — and not necessarily in that order. You may flip-flop between them all. "These breakups are really hard. Feelings of sadness and anger are incredibly common and to be expected," says Gersten. "You've just lost an important person in your life. You can expect to experience feelings of grief similar to other losses."
2. Accept That It's Normal
Repeat after us: friendship breakups are normal. If you stayed friends with every single person you met, your social circle would be unmanageably large. Whatever the reason you're no longer in each other's lives, chances are that's valid. You might hold vastly different outlooks on life, have clashing personalities, or simply disagree on something fundamental. It doesn't matter. What matters here is that you gave it your best shot. "Aside from the fact that losing someone close to us is often incredibly hard, I don't think [friendship breakups] are normalised enough," explains Gersten. You're not alone in this experience. "Feelings of shame often pop up because friends 'aren't supposed to' break up. Most of us have experienced something that would fall under this category."
3. Give Yourself Some Space
In the wake of a friendship breakup, keeping your distance will be tough. If you were close friends, you may be used to speaking to them every week, or even every day. While the urge to pick up the phone is strong, it's smart to give yourself some time and space. Unless you believe that there's a chance you can salvage the relationship, avoid reaching out to your ex-friend. Sending them a quick 'you OK?' text may give you short-term relief, but it could slow down the healing process. "You might feel better for a second if you reach out, but if you feel as if it's not moving you towards ultimately feeling better, I would avoid it."
4. Hold Your Tongue
Here's the tough one: if you've got mutual friends, you might be tempted to tarnish your ex-friend's name, whether it's intentional or not. Before you launch into airing your every thought, remember that the words you use say more about you than they do about them. "I would also put a blanket 'no' over making mean comments, either to them or to mutual friends. It's OK to be hurt and to ask for support," advises Gersten. "It's not OK to be mean or to put other people in the uncomfortable position of having to choose sides."
5. Don't Do Anything Reckless
You're upset and reeling. Going on back-to-back nights out or a shopping spree you can't afford might seem appealing. But before you down that tequila shot or fish out your credit card, remember that reckless behaviour won't serve you well. "I have a rule with clients going through breakups and losses: nothing that gets you arrested and nothing that ends you up in a hospital," says Gersten. "I say it to get a laugh, but also because it's true. Do what you need to do in order to get through the day," but don't end up in a tricky situation.
6. Be Kind to Yourself
The pain of a friendship breakup is real. While you may be eager to move forward and prove that you're 'winning' the breakup, time is the only healer. As you're getting over this loss, practice some self-care. Figure out what you need and give it to yourself. "Accept that it's going to be hard and ask yourself what you need," says Gersten. "Ice cream for dinner? Done. Crying and blasting music? You got it. Extra sleep? That works too. There's no magic bullet to suddenly take away the pain, but you can do things to help you feel better in the moment until it's easier to get through each moment."
7. Check In With Yourself
People heal at different rates. You might be feeling yourself again in a week (go you!) or the pain of the friendship breakup may take years to heal. That's OK. Make sure that you check in with yourself regularly. You may want to keep a mood journal or see a therapist. "What's going to work for you is very individualised," says Gersten, "so make sure you're giving yourself the space to check in with how you're feeling and what would help in the moment."