4 All-Too-Real Reasons Friends Break Up (and How to Deal)
Even Rachel and Monica had their struggles...
Driving a different way home from work to avoid her house. Blocking her on Instagram. Unfriending her on Facebook. Avoiding restaurants where you might encounter her. This sounds a lot like what your ex might do to you after a bad split, but in my far-from-proudest moments, I can say I've done these things (or have had these things done to me) by a former BFF.
"Breaking up with a friend can be a far more isolating experience than breaking up with a lover," says Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Yet they aren't talked about nearly as much. "When female friends break up, the women involved are reluctant to tell other people who might provide support because of the social stigma. Ironically, the one person the woman may have turned to for support might be the BFF she broke up with." (Related: The Surprising Effect Your Friends Have on Your Exercise Habits)
So why does this happen, perhaps now in our digital era more than ever? And what's a woman to do-besides drown her sorrows over a glass of wine while binge-watching episodes of the friend-split show Ex-Best? (Yes, it exists.) Here's what the research and relationship experts say are four of the most common reasons pals part, plus tips for how to bounce back.
1. The slow drift.
Rather than a big blowout, one of the most common friendship-destroyers happens slowly. "Resentment can build when one person feels disappointed or let down by the other, not just once, but again, and again. Over time, it feels like the friend isn't there when she's needed," Levine says, so you drift apart. Start by talking it out with each other and working toward common, supportive ground. "But communication issues are often at the core." If you can't come to a resolution or the MIA pal doesn't feel like anything is amiss, it could be time to call it quits.
2. A friendship crime.
Perhaps the most obvious of all friend-enders, "this is when a friend does something so heinous, it can't be forgotten, like lying, stealing, or having an affair with your partner," Levine explains. Beyond being mean, these actions really hurt. So if you're a victim of said crime(s), don't feel bad about not trying to mend the friendship fences. But remember Levine's top piece of advice: "Don't disparage your friend to mutual friends. It will reflect badly on you."
3. Energy vampires.
"If one person is constantly putting forth the effort, or if she is demanding and always asking for favors, that neediness can suck all of the energy out of the other friend. It's exhausting to always be putting forth more effort," Levine says. But why does this happen? Just 50 percent of friendships are reciprocal, MIT researchers have found, and we're pretty bad at determining which pals are truly pals.
"Compared to the blood ties among family members, relationships with friends are voluntary. We choose our friends because they enhance our lives," Levine says. Which is one of the many reasons why it hurts so much when a friend just disappears-whether that means declining every invite or simply not responding to calls or texts. "When we develop a close, intimate friendship, we don't even consider the possibility that the friendship might end," she adds.
One of the toughest parts: There's often not a clear reason why she Caspers, so it's tough to rationalize why you're no longer friends.
How to Deal-and How to Heal
First of all, "accept the fact that people change, as do life circumstances, and not all friendships last forever. Don't think that a breakup invalidates the entire friendship. You've grown and learned from it, which will make you a better friend and help you make better choices in the future," Levine says.
Then keep these tips in mind as you move forward:
1. Don't hold it in.
"Husbands or male friends may trivialize the breakup as 'cat fighting,'" but that's rarely the case, Levine says. "The person who has broken up with a friend may worry that if she discloses the breakup, other women will think she isn't a good friend or can't keep friends." So if you're afraid to talk about it, put pen to paper, suggests Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., Ph.D., professor and chair of psychology at Monmouth University in New Jersey and cocreator and editor of ScienceOfRelationships.com. "Writing about the experience will help you organize your thoughts and give you a chance to focus on the positive aspects in addition to the negative ones."
2. Extend your reach.
Your happiness is strongly impacted by your friends, and even your friends of friends, says a study published in the British Medical Journal. So go ahead: Follow that acquaintance on Instagram (you know, the woman who always seems to be giggling and adventuring) and start double tapping on the smile-inducing stuff. Her joy may translate to yours, and who knows? You might be inspired to ask her to coffee.
3. Focus on the pals you do have.
This will help keep your mind from ruminating too much about the previous friend. "At first, one of the hardest parts can be dealing with the gaps in your schedule. Those can be frequent reminders of the ways your old friend touched your life," Levine says. Rather than brooding about what was, make the most of the friendships that remain. Even just a few strong relationships have been shown to help you live more-and happier-years, so set up a weekly spin date with that friend you currently only catch for dinner once a month. "Stay busy, pursue your passions and interests, and actively seek out new friendships and rekindle old ones," Levine says. (Related: Science Says That Friendships Are Key to Lasting Health and Happiness)
4. Don't be afraid to go to the pros.
If you feel isolated after the BFF breakup, don't be afraid to seek out the same help. Or, "consider speaking to a mental health professional to help get over the hurdle," she suggests. (Related: Why Everyone Should Try Therapy at Least Once)