There is absolutely no shortage of songs, films and television series that describe how difficult it is to get a break-up. But when it comes to the end of a friendship, sometimes we are in our own hands.
We learn how to make friends, how to share and how to deal with bullies when we are young, Miriam Kirmayer, clinical therapist, explains to TIME. Those lessons stop when we reach adolescence. Nevertheless, a 2017 study showed that friendship becomes more important as we get older. But if friendships are so important, why do not we talk about what to do when they break down? “It is expected that friendship is an easy thing for adults,” explains Kirmayer. “Although it is clear that is not true.”
The ups, downs and in some cases the end of friendships can be as difficult to deal with as relationships. And this is why:
We do not know what to say
“We often link the end of a friendship to a big deception,” Kirmayer says. In that situation it is easy to explain why it went wrong, and then we put the blame on the other person. Yet most people just grow apart and often not too much drama is involved. That would be the most common reason why friendships end. Sometimes there are other factors that cause it to stop working, such as too much distance or a difference in lifestyle.
Whatever the reason for the end of friendship, the problem is often that we do not know whether or not we should have a conversation with that particular friend. And if we decide to talk about it, we do not know what to say. “That creates situations where we feel hurt,” explains the therapist. “Sometimes we do not handle the right way or we do not know how to do it, because we do not know what a break-up should look like in this case.”
In a romantic relationship, there is often a conversation that announces the end of the relationship, which is painful, but ensures that it can be closed. But that conversation is missing at the end of friendships, which is why it is often more difficult.
We are ashamed because it does not work
“People feel as if they should thoroughly understand how to address these situations and also think that other people know exactly what to do,” says Kirmayer adding that “people often feel as if they are doing something wrong.”
A break-up with a friend is not discussed as extensively as a break-up with a loved one. People with difficulties in their friendships often have the feeling that they are the only ones who have this problem, although nothing less is true. Instead of seeking advice and help with others, they keep the problem to themselves.
In addition, there is a general expectation that not every romantic relationship will hold, but Kirmayer points out that we should expect the same for friendships. The end of a friendship does not mean you were bad friends, it just shows that it did not work.
We do not have the same expectations as our friends
There is a big difference between friendships and relationships, a difference that can make a break-up between two friends worse, says Marni Feuerman, a Florida psychotherapist. “The expectations in a relationship are different,” she explains. “People decide for themselves that they are a couple. The relationship is very defined: we date, we are engaged, we are married.” In some cases, there is even a document that confirms what you are right now.
This is not the case with friends. It is more difficult to determine an expectation between two friends. Friends are therefore faster at different wavelengths. “We do not want to be rejected,” explains the psychotherapist, we do not talk about what we expect from our friends.
A friend who feels like he or she is not appreciated is silent in most cases. This way a friendship goes out faster.
We do not know what is possible and what is not
After we separate with a partner, we often discuss what is possible and what is not. Are we friends? Do we see each other another day? Do we still speak alone? Such a conversation is usually not with friends. “There is a lot of confusion about the end of friendships,” Feuerman explains. Are you going to speak to each other? Do you think it’s okay to do things together with other people? When these questions remain unanswered, it can cause a lot of uncomfortable and especially painful feelings.
The grieving process is unexpected
We often see the end of a romantic relationship coming and we can prepare ourselves for the pain that comes our way. But because the end of friendships is less discussed, and therefore more often unexpected, we are often not well prepared for the pain that comes with it.
“You are actually going through a grieving process a bit and that is completely normal,” says Feuerman. “Do you feel that you cannot change the situation? Then mourn about it, put it over and find a new friendship that is more useful to you.”
After a break-up between two friends, it is normal to feel anger, grief and loneliness when you see the person. These feelings are normal in the beginning and also help you to get over the situation. Give yourself a little time to give it all a place.