5 things to remember when a friendship ends
5 things to remember when a friendship ends
Friends are incredibly important people in our lives. Some are with us for decades. But not all of them can stand the test of time.
We spoke with Marisa Franco, author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — And Keep — Friends, about the complicated dynamics of friendships.
Here are 5 tips to remember if you're processing the loss of a friend.
1. Sometimes things just fizzle out
Losing friends is a regular part of life. In fact, one 2009 study found that people, on average, lose about half of their friends every seven years.
One of the most common reasons those relationships end is because they just fell through the cracks, Franco says.
"Things fizzle out," she says. "Nobody really necessarily wanted the friendship to end, but people kind of got busy and didn't intentionally maintain the friendship."
2. Make the unsaid, said
But when a close, intentional friendship ends, the reasoning is often more complicated, Franco says.
"[Maybe] there's not enough reciprocity. And so someone gets upset over time," she says. "In friendship, we don't make the unsaid said. So small things can kind of accumulate. And because they're never directly addressed, people get to a point where they want to end the friendship before actually addressing the problem, whereas if they had intervened sooner, they might have been able to save the friendship."
To get ahead of that problem, start rethinking your notion of conflict. It's not inherently negative — when done with empathy, confrontation can be a sign that you care enough to fix the friendship.
Franco says people who really value friendships are more likely to address issues rather than just pull away, and that having open conflict is actually linked to having deeper intimacy when the conflict is handled empathically.
"For me, ... in the past I would withdraw, and thus the friendship would no longer be sustainable," she says. "But now I know that if I want to withdraw, that's a sign. That's a sign that I need to have a conversation about something."
3. It's normal to feel grief
When a friendship ends, there is a grieving process. Allow yourself to feel those emotions — and be patient with yourself.
Franco says this can be complicated because of the way society views and values friendships — which can trigger something called "disenfranchised grief."
"When society doesn't value a relationship that you're losing, you have trouble grieving ... because part of the way we grieve is we get that mirroring from people around us saying, I'm so sorry for your loss. This is devastating," Franco says. "But when you lose a friend, it's like, why are you still hung up on this?"
Franco says that invalidating responses prolong our grief.
"We think ... What's wrong with me?" she says. "Instead of being like ... of course I'm sad. Of course I'm upset. Like I lost someone I'm very close to. That means I love them deeply. .... This is a natural part of intimacy and loss."
4. Find ways to express those emotions
The thing about grief is that you can't put a timeline on it.
"Grief is just a process of continuously releasing emotion and little nuggets over time," Franco says. If there's a friend that makes me feel safe, and no matter what you share with them, they're going to validate it and acknowledge the extent of the loss," Franco says.
5. Be kind to yourself along the way
Franco says it's important to not blame yourself and be mean to yourself for not getting over the loss of a friendship.
"Just because this happened like this doesn't mean more friendships will happen like this," Franco says.
Allow yourself to have a fresh perspective when you enter new friendships. You don't want to go into a new connection fearfully. Instead, "acknowledge the bounty and the beauty of the friendships that you do have," says Franco.
She suggests leaning on the people in your life because those feelings of closeness and intimacy can help make sure that "your image of friendship in your brain isn't just colored by this one experience," Franco says.
Franco offers more advice in her book, Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends.
The audio portion of this episode was produced by Sylvie Douglis and edited by Meghan Keane. Our visuals editor is Beck Harlan. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.
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