A friendship break-up can be worse than a romantic one, here’s why

Why friendship break-ups can feel so devastating and how to cope with them...

two friends with arms around each other, laughing on a beach
(Image credit: Getty Images/Oliver Rossi)

Friendship break-ups don't get the same level of attention as romantic ones but sometimes they can be the most heartbreaking. More common than ever over the past year due to the social repercussions of the pandemic, it's likely that many of us have experienced the end of a friendship—for reasons out of our control. 

From childhood besties to co-workers and party pals, many who once had a strong bond have felt their ties loosen after 16 months of lockdown and social-distancing rules. A lack of communication, coronavirus anxiety and the general absence of normality have led to the end of the road for many relationships. However, friendship break-ups were a thing long before the pandemic separated us from our loved ones. 

In fact, they're a pretty common part of life, especially as we grow and evolve as human beings. But whether it's caused by natural drift or a dramatic fallout, losing a connection you once had with someone can be painful—even more so when that someone is a person you've shared endless memories and milestones with. So, how do you cope with the loss of a friend?

“Whether it's caused by natural drift or a dramatic fallout, losing a connection you once had with someone can be painful”

“Going through life we experience different things at different times,” says therapist Rebecca Lockwood. “Friendships can end or come to a natural parting when two people are experiencing different parts of life.” A prime example of this is when one friend starts a family. “It’s important to remember that although a friend may be going through something that you do not understand or cannot relate to, being a listener and just being there for them will make such a difference,” Lockwood advises. 

This is something that happens throughout life as our circumstances change and sometimes our personalities do, too, which ultimately results in friendships not being as strong as they once were or ending altogether. “Breaking up with a friend can be just as difficult if not harder than breaking up with an ex,” says Lockwood. “Especially if the relationship has been since childhood, as these friendships tend to be so significant in our lives overall.” 

Female hand holding daisy flower in a summer field

(Image credit: Getty Images / Anna blrazhuk)

How do you know when it’s time to end a friendship? 

While drifting can occur naturally, sometimes you need to cut off a relationship that is no longer serving you in a healthy and positive way. In this instance, things can be much harder, even more so if emotions are running high. But how exactly do you make the choice to end a friendship that has once meant so much to you? 

According to Lockwood, it's all about being honest with yourself. “When breaking up with friends the questions you should ask yourself are: Do I like being in this person's company any longer? Do they make me feel good? Do I see myself spending more time with this person? Is this just a phase where we are not experiencing the same things in life that will pass?” 

Top tips on how to cope with friendship break-ups 

Grieving the loss of a friendship can be painful, no matter what the reason behind the break-up was, that much we know. But how do you move on? Here, Lockwood breaks down three key things that'll help mend your broken heart... 

Your network matters

The important thing to remember is that you should always surround yourself with people who are supportive and care about you. If you have relationships that are no longer supportive, it’s time to end the relationship or at least reduce the amount of time you spend with that person. It's famously been said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so you have to be clear on what kind of person you are and who is a positive influence.

Communication is key

Speak to people close to you about how you are feeling about the break-up. Don’t feel you have to bottle it up, as speaking to those around you can help you let go of the feelings and also acknowledge that you are human and this is normal. 

It's a process 

Bear in mind that it may be temporary. It may be down to one of you going through a different phase of life and the two of you not relating that well because you don't understand each other and what you are going through. It may be hard to relate at this time because your priorities in life have changed. It could turn out that this is just a friendship break rather than a break-up. 

Sagal Mohammed

Sagal is a journalist, specialising in lifestyle, pop culture, fashion and beauty.  She has written for a number of publications including Vogue, Glamour, Stylist, Evening Standard, Bustle, You Magazine, Dazed and Wonderland to name a few.