How to handle failing friendships

They’re the person who knows your deepest secrets and has your back through thick and thin, but what do you do when you and your best friend go your separate ways? Or how do you know if a friendship is no longer good for you? Dr. Laurel Williams, professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, shares some tips on how to navigate friendship breakups.

Question: What are some signs that you should move on from a friendship? 

Answer: If you feel like you’re putting more effort into the friendship or the relationship than the other person, that’s a pretty good sign. Sometimes friends need more attention or effort at a particular time and sometimes you need more, but if you consider the balance and see that you’re always the one putting in the effort and this other person seems to not be putting in as much, that’s a sign to end it.

Another thing to look at is how closely your values align. You don’t have to find people that are exactly like you, but you should feel that they value you as a person and respect you and your beliefs. If it’s somebody that you feel close to and you tell them close things, but you’re constantly at odds because your values aren’t aligning, then that to me is a warning sign that this isn’t working as a friendship.

Q: What is the best way to end things with a friend? 

A: There’s no one-size-fits-all to this conversation. If it’s causing you stress to keep dodging that person’s calls or always making yourself “not available” and they’re wondering why, then at that point, you might say, “I enjoyed the time we’ve had together, but I kind of see my life going a different direction right now, so that’s of why I haven’t been reaching out or haven’t been responding. I hope everything goes well for you.”

If you think there’s something reparable about it, then you might get more specific and say, “You know the last couple of times we met up, you’ve talked about these things. I’m not sure you understood how that makes me feel.” Maybe they’ll respond with, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know,” and then they make efforts to repair it.

Q: Why can friendship breakups be harder to get over than romantic ones?

A: Well, I think that the way that we define close friendships is that this is somebody that you tell things that you wouldn’t tell anybody else, including your romantic partner. If you are having trouble with a close friend and you find yourself in a situation where you need somebody to bounce ideas off of or just to be a shoulder to cry on but that person isn’t available anymore, then it becomes very much a loss. Now not only do you not have that friend, but they’re also the person that you were relying on to help with some of your emotion regulation, and now they’re not available to do that. That’s why it can feel like a bigger hit.

Q: What if you want to try to reconnect with a former friend?  

A: If you’ve been more distant and you’re recognizing that you might want to reconnect, you have to be a little vulnerable. You also must be prepared for that person to not be interested in rekindling the friendship. That can make reconnecting feel riskier because of the vulnerability.

By Anna Kiappes

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