How to recover from a broken friendship

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Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

We hear so much about how to deal with the end of romantic relationships, but failed friendships can hurt even more.

We hear so much about how to deal with the end of romantic relationships, but failed friendships can hurt even more. Photo: Stocksy

 We'd chat all day online while we both worked, then as soon as we got home we'd cook together, marathon TV shows, have mates over. We went on adventures every weekend, cycling to the pub and passing out drunk in each other's beds at the end of the night. Living with one of my best friends was so much fun.

Over a tumultuous year, though, our friendship deteriorated slowly, silently. We never addressed it, but the passive aggressive behaviour on both sides increased, and finally, when it became too obvious to ignore, our other housemate staged an intervention. We decided to move out separately, and though we said we'd stay friends, I knew it was over.

We kept up appearances for a while – because we had so many mutual friends, I invited her to my birthday and housewarming. She came to both, and we hugged and said "it's great to see you". Slowly, though, she and many of our friends stopped inviting me to things, and slowly, I stopped inviting them too. Eventually I was down not just one friend, but a whole group. It was unspoken, but unmistakable.

We hear so much about how to deal with the end of romantic relationships, but failed friendships can hurt even more. You lean on friends when things end with a partner, but you can't turn to them when they're the loss you're mourning. Is there such thing as Tinder for rebound friends? Giving each other space at the end of a romance means you might be able to be friends later – but when a friendship ends, there's sometimes nothing left.

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I've had a few friendships end in my time – some from natural drifting, some from dramatic fallouts. Here's what I've learned about how to get through the dreaded friendship breakup.

Know when to call it

Like the couple that constantly breaks up and gets back together, I've had on-again-off-again friendships resulting in emotional drainage that could easily have been avoided. If a friendship consistently causes stress or anxiety, it's not one worth keeping. Toxic relationships are often the hardest to end, but knowing when to call time on a friendship that's hurting you is crucial. Don't feel like you have to pander to someone who's bad for you.

Avoid talking trash

It's easier to cut losses when there are no mutual friends, but when you're in the same circle, it can be tough. Having been both the former friend and the one in the middle, I've learned the importance of not bad-mouthing too much. Of course sometimes you'll need to vent, but unless your ex-friend did something that compromises the safety of mutual friends, it's important to respect their friendships and avoid excessive gossiping or forcing others to pick sides. It's awkward and petty.

Don't stop doing things you love because of them

When you and an ex-friend share common friends and interests, sometimes it's inevitable that you'll be at the same events. Don't miss out on fun occasions altogether because you're avoiding your old pal. When I attend events former friends might be at, I bring another friend so I don't have to face them alone – and if I have to interact with them, I try to keep it pleasant.

Don't feel obliged to remain 'friends'

Social media makes friendship breakups all the more difficult. Following my bestie breakup, I often saw my former friends – many of whom I introduced to each other – hanging out without me. I felt like they were waving it in my face, but really, they were just carrying on with life as usual. Your social feeds should be a safe space, and there's no need to keep people around electronically if seeing these things will hurt you.

It took me over a year to delete my former BFF and some of our mutual friends from Facebook, and I felt a pang of sadness when the ticks disappeared and were replaced by "add friend" – but now I don't have to see anything that makes me sad or uncomfortable.

Make new friendships and/or strengthen existing ones

Platonic love is boundless – sure, one friendship didn't work out, but you can strengthen others. I've found joy in making new friends – through the internet, other friends, workplaces – or catching up with people I haven't seen in a while. The sadness of a friendship ending can feel insurmountable, but there are many other wonderful relationships to nurture.

Say hi again

Some broken friendships are unsalvageable, but some are reborn after time and hurt has passed. Be prepared for the possibility that they might not be interested, and definitely don't bring up old fights, but if you want to try again, reach out and be ready to put in the effort that is required to rebuild and maintain a healthy friendship.