How To Navigate A Friendship Breakup

Some relationships are just toxic.

In Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, Colm (Brendan Gleeson) decides that he doesn’t want Pádraic (Colin Farrell) to be his friend anymore. What follows is a saga of hurt, disorientation, and a refusal to accept that a friendship might be ended so suddenly, and seemingly with no explanation. 

Not every relationship ending is going to be an allegory for the Irish civil war, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t come with their own confusion and suffering. After all, breakups are traditionally associated with romance, mired by different life paths, wanting different things, and ultimately falling out of love. 

But is it possible to fall out of love, or even fall out of like, with a friend? And if so, what are you supposed to do about it? 

Life Coach Directory’s Sian Winslade says that there are many reasons why a person might want to break up with a friend. They might be moving away, they could have entirely different interests, their values may have changed and they don’t see the friendship going beyond a certain point. 

Then there’s the slightly more weighted reasons. The friend could be hostile, they could constantly be putting the person down, they could be lying behind the person’s back and gaslighting them. They could be taking a lot more than what they’re giving back. Whatever the reason, Sian says that if a friendship breakup is on the cards, it’s always better to be honest. 

“It’s incredibly empowering to know and understand that friendships do not have to be forever,” she says. “You can explain that you are wanting different things from the friendship and that you can see them happier with others rather than yourself.

“I have occasionally explained to friends that I don’t have the time to give them what they want from me. I may even go as far as to say: ‘I know that you feel like I’m disappointing you with my lack of commitment to the friendship, but I don’t have anything more to give to this. I know that by letting you go, I am making room for someone else to step in.’”

It could be extremely difficult to say this to someone who you have known for so long, but if a person no longer has a place in your life, it’s best to tell them. After all, if you didn’t want to see someone in a romantic setting anymore, you would let them know. The key, says Sian, is to be gentle and honest. “When friendships have run their course, it’s a good idea to let them go with dignity and respect,” she says. “You can begin by highlighting all the good times so that they don’t feel like it has all been a waste of time.”

Sometimes, friendships end because people simply drift – they don’t hang out as much, they aren’t WhatsApping like they used to, there’s a mutual understanding that their relationship wasn’t what it once was. They simply, as Brendan Gleeson so aptly put it in the Banshees of Inisherin, don’t want to be friends anymore. 

Other times though, it’s not just small annoyances and differences of opinion that can trigger a friendship breakup. Toxic relationships, for instance, are not only reserved for romantic relationships. In fact, they’re incredibly common among friends and, a lot of the time, are simply ignored in ways they might not be when romance is involved. 

Life Coach Directory’s Kanika Tandon says that everyone has the right to healthy and loving relationships, and that sometimes, removing yourself from a friendship is necessary.  

“Boundaries are your best friends, and it is okay to shift people in and out of your zone of closeness if they drain you more than they lift your spirits up,” she says. “Toxic relationships come in many forms and the common thread between any toxic relationship is that they will make you doubt your self-worth, drain away your confidence and make you question your beliefs.

“Toxic relationships can be like slow poison and take away a lot from you. Rather than uplifting you and making you feel good about yourself, they break you down and make you feel less than and not good enough.”

So, how do you recognise a toxic friendship? Such relationships tend to make you feel worthless, exhausted, and joyless. They can often be controlling, as the person exhibiting toxic behaviour uses the friendship to benefit themselves with little care for the person on the receiving end. The relationship can become a constant source of upset and frustration, rather than one of support and love. 

Sian says that once a friendship has become toxic, it’s difficult to undo those kinds of behaviours, and that ending the relationship may be the only way forward. “Leaving toxic relationships allows you to step away from the situation and see how bad things have become,” she says. 

“It is important to notice when your relationship is becoming toxic, it might happen slowly and not even be that obvious in the beginning. Once you find yourself feeling upset, angry, and frustrated more than you are not, it is time to leave the relationship. It is easy to always blame one another, but the truth is some people are just not meant to be together… Or stick around much longer than they ever should have.”

Breaking up with a friend can be incredibly difficult, regardless of whether you’re the one doing the breaking up or being broken up with. And yet, the pain associated with the end of friendship is rarely spoken about – at least, not in the same way that the pain of a failed romantic relationship is. 

But it should be. People are likely to experience more friendship loss over the course of their lives compared to romantic ones, and as we grow older, it’s often friends that we turn to in times of crisis or upheaval. A 2017 study from the Personal Relationships journal stated that as people’s lives progress, friendships only become increasingly more important – sometimes even more so than romantic partnerships or family. 

So, going forward into later life, it would only make sense that you’d want the friends in your life to be top tier. You want to support them through difficult times, and to feel supported yourself. You want to be there for them, and for them to be there for you. You want to feel as if you’re getting as much out of the friendship as they are, and that your relationship is solid, even if it has changed over the years. 

And if you’re not getting those things, it might just be time for a breakup. 


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