Why do some friendships end?
Good friends are soul mates with whom we can laugh, cry and share secrets. When you’re together — no matter how long it’s been since you’ve last seen each other — you never run out of important things to say. So when these relationships unexpectedly veer off course or even break, the resulting hurt can run deep.
Yes, it’s hard to imagine a close friendship falling apart. But friendships fail more often than we realize, says Florence Isaacs, author of Toxic Friends/True Friends: How Your Friends Can Make or Break Your Health, Happiness, Family and Career (William Morrow & Co., 1999).
“This is because people change and circumstances change,” she says. “Most friendships that break up do so because of external issues such as one person moving far away or one friend getting married and having children, while the other remains single. Their lifestyles differ, and they may not have that much in common anymore.”
Glenn Sparks, Ph.D., a professor of communications at Purdue University in Indiana, and his research team studied the friendships of a group of college graduates from 1983 to 2002. On average, the graduates moved six times after college, and the typical distance between friends was 895 miles. He found that college friendships often succumbed to geography, marriage, growing families and career demands.
Even changed economic circumstances can doom a relationship. Take the case of two close friends who graduated from the same high school. One friend became a successful, well-heeled professional, and the other is in an unsatisfying, minimum-wage job. It’s not surprising that such an unequal relationship might take a nosedive.
“Healthy friendships are generally relationships between equals,” Isaacs says. “If the balance shifts dramatically and permanently, envy can rear its ugly head in the person who is less affluent or powerful.”
Dealing with a breakup
When relationships fall apart, they can be difficult to salvage because of the residual hurt and anger. But you may look back and recognize that the friendship isn’t worth saving or realize that the break wasn’t as sudden as it appeared. You and your friend might have been slowly drifting apart, sharing less and spending less time together.
So what’s the best way to deal with this breakup?
“Accept that the end of a friendship is an important loss, even though the person isn’t your sister, spouse or parent,” Isaacs says. “Allow yourself to mourn, and then move on.”
What about former friends whom you’re likely to run into again, such as a fellow student, co-worker or neighbor?
“I’d nod hello — but walk on or walk away, or simply ignore the person,” she adds. “This is hard to do, but there’s no point in further interchange. It’s over.”
Accepting that all friendships, even good ones, might not last a lifetime should make healing easier. However, if you’re losing one friend after another, you need to take a look in the mirror: Step back and determine whether you’re choosing the wrong women as friends or repeating a mistake that’s causing these relationships to break.
Saving a friendship
Fortunately, some failed friendships can be saved. “Often rifts develop because of ‘little things’ that were never addressed at the time they occurred,” Isaacs says. When that happens, she recommends that the two friends have a heart-to-heart talk. “Forget about the awkwardness and say something like: ‘I’ve really missed you. Can we talk?’ You and your friend may resolve a minor communication problem that can be addressed and forgotten.”
Here’s how you can save your friendship:
• Make time to communicate with friends. A phone call, letter, email or instant message (IM) can keep you connected. Get together regularly if you can.
• Give it time. Sometimes, all a failed relationship needs is time for two friends to gain perspective on a blowup or disagreement they had. With the passage of time, one or both may decide that the issue itself was relatively unimportant in the scheme of things compared to the significance of the friendship.
• Own up to your shortcomings, and be ready to apologize. Friendship is not a matter of pride and keeping appearances. Don’t throw away a friendship over silly disagreements that will have no significance in the future.