When a Friendship Ends

We all know that romantic relationships can come to end, but what about friendships? As we grow older and more distant from friends we used to hold dear, is it possible to end friendships in a healthy way? Life transitions such as moves, school, career changes, new relationships, and shifts in personal values and world-views are just a few of the things that can drive a wedge between friends.

All of these shifts are natural and even to be expected, however, knowing when we should fight to preserve a friendship and when it might be best to part ways can be difficult.

Here are some tips to help you navigate the ever-changing dynamics of friendships:

Assess The Friendship
Ask yourself if this relationship is bringing you peace and joy, or if it is sucking the life out of you. Is it healthy or toxic? Take an honest account of the relationship and write a list of positives and negatives. Talk to a mentor and seek counsel. There are usually two main ways the dismantling of close friendship occurs – by naturally fizzling out, known as losing touch, or by a friendship break due to conflict.

Friendship Sabbatical vs. Friendship Breakup
Unlike romantic relationships, which often end on bad terms and where both parties rarely end up being friends, close platonic relationships have more potential to end amiably if done well. Instead of ending a friendship abruptly, give it space to breathe. Recognize that you and your friend are likely in different seasons of life or headed in different directions, and that is okay. You never know when your close friendship may rekindle.

Keep In Touch
Be grateful for this person’s presence in your life and do what you can to let them know you still think about and care for them. Send birthday cards; write the occasional email; “like” their photos and posts and aim for a yearly date. Drifting apart is often in response to geography and big life transitions such as college, marriage and having kids. If this is a friendship you still want to invest in, do your part to keep it alive.

… we are only wired for so many close, intimate relationships at any one time.

Know Your Limits
Anthropologist and psychologist Robin Dunbar came up with different numbers of people that an average human could associate with at a time. The smallest group is five people — which is your close support group consisting of friends and often, family members. From there, the next group up is the circle of fifteen — friends you can confide in about most things and turn to sympathy for. Next is fifty, and then one hundred fifty — the individuals you’d invite to a large party and the maximum number of people Dunbar believed you could have meaningful relationships with. As the number goes up, the intimacy level decreases. This is important to note because we are only wired for so many close, intimate relationships at any one time. Friendships are often cyclical and sometimes even seasonal. Be realistic and gentle with yourself; yet be faithful in the friendships before you.

Jim Rohn, motivational speaker said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Be intentional with who you let in your inner circle because they are the people who will shape you the most. If a friendship is no longer healthy, give yourself permission to let it go, but do so with great gentleness, compassion and care. Always aim for a friendship sabbatical rather than a breakup, give your best effort to keep in touch with friends you care about and know your limits for having meaningful relationships.

Have you worked through a changing friendship? What did you learn?

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