What to do when a friendship comes to an end

Friendships, like romance, can break down. And it’s OK to cry when they do. But it is also important to recognise what went wrong and why.

Will our BFF always be there for us – or will life take them down other paths, with other people?

The fact is, friendships aren’t always forever.

And there can be any number of reasons why they end, according to Relationships Australia national executive officer Nick Tebbey.

“Sometimes, it’s because life takes people in different directions or simply because life gets busy, so we get distracted by other pressures and commitments,” Nick says.

“And, unfortunately, I think we’re all a bit guilty of taking friendships for granted sometimes, and not necessarily investing as much time and energy into them as we do with other relationships. So people can drift apart.”

How Covid impacted some friendships

The results of a recent Australian study suggest the pandemic had a “shrinking” effect on people’s friendships, partly due to the impact of lockdowns. A UK study produced similar results.

Some 22 per cent of adults surveyed for the University College London research experienced a complete breakdown of a relationship during the pandemic.

Lead study author Dr Elise Paul says friendships were vulnerable because of the separation caused by lockdown.

“The stress of the pandemic and lockdown measures which prevented people from seeing those outside their household may have contributed to the breakdown of other relationships, particularly those with people who do not live close by,” Dr Paul said when the research was released.

The Australian study also revealed that some friendships fell victim to opposing views about something Covid-related.

Nick says any disagreement that involves differences of opinion, perspectives or values – whether it’s about Covid or otherwise, can cause a friendship to unravel.

“Friends can disagree about something, which then becomes a sticking point for a relationship that had, up until that time, been a strong one,” Nick says.

“People then have to decide whether the friendship is worth more than that and is worth fighting for or not.”

Making peace with a friendship that’s faded

If you’ve recently said goodbye to a friendship, the following strategies may help you come to terms with it.

Give yourself permission to grieve

“Friendships can be some of our most important relationships, given they can be really formative in our lives,” Nick says.

“So it’s natural to feel a mix of emotions when a friendship ends, and it’s important to give yourself the time and space to process those emotions, just as you would any other relationship.”

Reflect on it

Particularly if the friendship ended in abrupt way.

“Allow yourself some time to think about and reflect on what’s happened and what it means for you, as well as what might have caused or contributed to the friendship ending,” Nick says.

Consider communicating

If a friendship’s dwindled simply due to drifting apart, a US study suggests it’s worth getting in touch, finding that recipients in that scenario appreciate the contact more than you’d think.

Peggy Liu, lead author of the University of Pittsburgh research, says the results have helped her rethink her approach to friends she’s grown distant from.

“I sometimes pause before reaching out to people from my pre-pandemic social circle for a variety of reasons,” Peggy says.

“When that happens, I think about these research findings and remind myself that other people may also want to reach out to me and hesitate for the same reasons.”

If the friendship ended on difficult terms, or you’re not entirely sure why it ended, Nick says opening up an avenue for communication is still an option if you miss the friendship.

“There’s certainly nothing to stop you from reaching out in an unconfrontational way, perhaps with an email or text message,” Nick says.

“It’s about making yourself available, if you want to, without setting any expectations or demands on the other person.”

Connect with others

“The loss of a friendship, particularly if it’s a sudden absence, can create a great void in our lives and lead to feeling lonely and isolated,” Nick says.

He suggests taking stock around whether you need support at this time.

“Make sure you reach out to the other people in your life to help fill the gaps that might have been created by the end of a friendship.”

Written by Karen Fittall.