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One of the reasons why I think that it is so important for romantic relationships to have a foundation of true friendship is because, it’s been my personal observation that, a lot of us are far more down for our friends than our significant other. What I mean by that is, while I constantly hear people come up with a list of all of the things they will and won’t tolerate with their long-term partner, I rarely hear that when it comes to their bestie or homies.
Process what I’m saying for a moment.
When’s the last time you thought to yourself, “If my girl hurts my feelings, I’m out.” Typically, with our friends, there isn’t much of an “out criteria”. It’s weird, but it’s like there’s an automatic acceptance that they are as human as we are, they are gonna mess up sometimes and, when that happens, we’ll find a way to work through it. It’s almost automatic that we’ll take on this kind of approach.
I think that’s why, when a friendship gets to a point where it looks like it has run its course, it can be particularly devastating. Since we didn’t put a “this is it” line on the relationship on the front end, when we do get there, it can feel like a real death; one that we’re not sure how, if or when we’ll fully heal from.
I’ve been there, a few times. On this side of those experiences, there are two things that I know, for sure. First, while you’re in the process of actually going through a friendship break-up, the pain is like no other. And second, if you purpose in your mind to not remain stuck in bitterness or pissed-off-ity, if you choose to heal instead, 8.5 times out of 10, you’ll see that some friendships either weren’t really friendships at all or, the break was necessary in order for you both to move forward to what and who are better for you.
If you’ve currently had a friendship to end, what steps should you take in order to come to these conclusions?
Really Process What Caused the “Break”
When I stop and think about the broken friendships that I’ve experienced over the years, if there’s a common thread, it was my codependency and being more invested, topped with them offending me and expecting me to grin and bear it. You know what that means, right? That means that things were all gravy, so long as I was doing most of the work and didn’t have much of a voice in how things were going. And you know what that means, right? This usually comes as the result of trying to be other people’s friend without being a friend to yourself—first.
That’s why, when you and a friend have a falling out or decide to go your separate ways, before doing anything, it’s always a good idea to take a moment to process why things played out the way that they did. Try and be honest. Try to not only see it from your side either. Also, take a moment to assess if it’s a pattern that has been happening with multiple individuals for a while now.
Once I realized what was up with me—that I wasn’t really choosing my friends but I was letting people randomly decide when they wanted to enter into and exit out of my life—friendship dramas started to subside, healthy and stable friendships began to emerge, and less “breaking” transpired.
The moral to the story here is this—don’t just chalk the friendship ending to “it is what it is”. Really ponder where the cracks in the foundation started so that you can process, heal and prevent similar things from happening in the future.
Is It Love or Loyalty?
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen times before. One of my favorite lines from the movie Love Jones is when Nina told her ex-fiancé, “All we have are all these years” in response to him asking her how she could throw their relationship away. Listen, I’ll be the first one to say that there is much to be said for loyalty in any type of real relationship. At the same time, wisdom has taught me that there is also something to be said for staying loyal to something that is causing you to be disloyal to yourself by remaining attached to it.
Here’s an example. There’s a friendship that I had for a really long time that, for the five or so years leading up to its end, it turned toxic. Extremely so. Not because of us, per se, but due to an affair that the individual was involved in. It caused them to lie a lot and become totally self-involved. It also caused them to make consistent reckless choices. When it got to the point where I realized that I cared more about saving their marriage more than they did and I brought that to their attention, they ghosted. Even though they knew the abandonment and abuse issues that I experienced in my childhood, they bounced without giving our friendship the respect of talking things through.
At first, I responded by trying to assure them that I would still stick around, believing it was being loving. But a friendship is to be a mutual thing. Therefore, if your loyalty is causing you to not get your own needs met, that loyalty can become counterproductive and unhealthy. Loyalty can be unhealthy? I think so.
As a wise man once said, “Even the excess of a virtue can be a vice”, and if you are holding a friendship down alone, it’s time to love yourself enough to love them enough to let them go so that you both can receive…better. And more.
Seek Out One or Two Other Perspectives
As a marriage life coach, there is nothing like meeting one spouse who tells me their side of the story, deciding to take them and their partner on as clients and then hearing the other side. Boy, oh boy. It never fails that when you’re able to see both people’s perspective, the layers totally alter the narrative.
It’s the same thing with friendships. The last one that I decided to end, I had been in it for so long that decided to ask some other people in my life for their perspective. A couple of people knew both of us and a couple of them didn’t. One thing that everyone said was a constant thread is the individual wasn’t emotionally reliable. Not only that but a part of the reason why I wasn’t satisfied in the friendship anymore is because I had outgrown them.
It was good for me to hear all of that because, for a while, I was so steeped in my disappointment that I wanted to lash out at this individual more than anything else. But once I heard other people share that, “Although she’s done some selfish things, she’s always been that way. You’re just pissed now because you’ve changed and she hasn’t”, that helped me to release her rather than cut her off and remain angry.
When I see her now, we hug. I ask her how she is and I sincerely wonder. But it pretty much stops there. Just because a friendship has ended, that doesn’t mean that you and them can’t come to a place of peace. You know that you’re on the path to real healing when you can accept this as a part of your reality. Sometimes other people’s perspective can get you there.
Think About What You Need in the Present
One of the things that I respect so much about married couples is how committed they are at learning how to evolve as individuals while still trying to keep their relationship intact in the process. It is so true that there are times when you grow in one area faster than your partner does and vice versa. And, if you don’t make a point to nurture your union in the process, it could cause you to become strangers; strangers who share the same living space.
That said, some friendships end because they just don’t fulfill you anymore. Neither of you did anything wrong or bad. You just used to need them in one way and now…you don’t. Sometimes this happens when a person gets married or has a child. In theory, you both say that it won’t change the friendship but how can it not? Priorities shift. Interests expand. And unless both people involved are intentional about and committed to keeping their friendship, they can grow apart too.
To stay on top of scenarios like this, something that my closest friends and I do on an annual basis is take inventory of where we are with one another. We ask each other what we need and get really real about if those needs can be met or not. If they can’t, some restructuring-in-love has to happen. And you know what? That is totally OK. Remember that the root word for relationship is “relate”. If a friendship is coming to an end because the two of you can no longer relate to one another, that is easier to heal from because it’s not about any drama or even a lack of love or respect. You’re simply freeing up space so that both of you can get what you need rather than resenting one another for not being able to do it for each other.
Get the Closure That You Need
I know that closure is a controversial topic for some, but personally, I think that when two people share something as special as a relationship or friendship, they owe it to one another to give it closure. Closure honors what once was, provides clarity and gives both people an understanding of what to expect moving forward. Another reason why I’m such a big fan of closure is that when you don’t officially end things, it can give people the impression that they can fade in and out of your life at their own leisure. And, because you did not require closure, your roller coaster emotional state about the entire situation can let them.
So yes, if it really is time to transition out of a friendship, request a formal meeting, preferably in person, to hash everything out. It will prevent both of you from making assumptions. Plus, it’s a sign of basic-level respect—something both of you should give each other if there was ever a true friendship there, to begin with.
Forgive. Grieve. Release.
Nelson Mandela once said, “When a deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgive.” He’s spot-on. As someone who personally believes that forgiveness is not an act, so much as a process, I feel that when we struggle with not forgiving someone, that is a form of self-abuse.
Unforgivingness is typically about trying to punish someone for the pain that they caused and then taking control of the situation. But while we’re over here still not forgiving, they are out somewhere living their best life—or at the very least, not putting in nearly as much energy into us as we are into them by not letting the offense and pain go.
No one said that forgiveness was easy (at least no one who has actually done it before), but if you want to heal, you have to pardon the pain and work on letting go of the resentment—not just for your sake, but the sake of your other relationships and the future individuals who will come into your life (two great reads about not forgiving someone are “8 Signs You Have NOT Forgiven Someone” and “5 Tests to Determine If You’ve Forgiven Someone“).
The reason why I recommend forgiving before grieving is because forgiveness helps you to grieve in a healthier space. If you’re trying to mourn something or one while you’re still mad or bitter, it will prevent you from fully processing the situation in a productive way. As a result, you could remain stuck in the cycle of grief for years to come.
And finally, release them. I’m pretty open about the fact that I like the word “release” because, to me, it takes the pressure off of having to decide what comes next as it relates to a broken relationship. Rather than trying to control the ultimate outcome, I fully let God do it. I focus on learning what I needed to, developing healthier boundaries and bettering myself. The rest, I leave the rest up to him. If life sees fit for me and a past friend to reunite for some point or purpose, the forgiving and grieving that I did keeps me from totally closing myself off to that. At the same time, if I am to truly leave what was behind me, healing makes that possible too.
Broken friendships are difficult. But they are not impossible for you to heal from. With time, intention and self-love, you can get through the end of a friendship and come out all the better from it. Because, if you really immerse yourself in the healing process, it can make you a better friend to yourself and others. I am living proof of that.