Why Friendships End

Five reasons your relationship may have faded

Posted Mar 15, 2018

"Life is balance of holding on and letting go."

–Rumi

Breakups are not limited to romantic relationships. The painful and potentially agonizing process we associate with partnerships can pertain to friendships as well. Why would it not? Similar to our romantic partnerships, friends are influential in our lives. Friends are there to listen to us, encourage us, and help us. Friendships help to improve our happiness, confidence, worth, and coping while giving us a sense of belonging. Not to mention, many friendships may outlast romantic relationships. The combined connection and investment in companionship is bound to make it difficult to cope if the bond comes to an end. At times the cause may be blatantly clear, mutually agreed upon, and beneficial. However, the schism can seem sudden, unsettling, or unwarranted. When this happens, you may find yourself baffled and hurt. This pain could inhibit you from letting go.

We are hardwired to empathize. Typically, we are drawn to friends who will provide reciprocity in the areas we value (e.g., time, energy, and love). A common cause of dwindling friendship is the simple lack of balance. Here are some examples of imbalances that may contribute to a friendship breakup:

Caring & Sharing

For many, a fundamental aspect of friendship is caring. Compassion is related to happiness in a partnership. Love and care can vary in how they are provided and received.  It’s possible that although both friends are sharing care, crossed signals cause a misinterpretation in affection. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that there is an actual imbalance in care, ultimately causing a friend to feel misunderstood, disrespected, minimized, and/or hurt.  

I thought you cared for me too…

I was always there for you, why aren’t you here for me?

I’m glad we spend time together, but it just isn’t quality time anymore.

Oversharing can also be a factor. If a friend trusts and values another and hopes to share to seek insight or comfort, but the disclosure falls flat, this may rupture the bond. Additionally, a friend may overshare consistently, which can be overwhelming. Although the role of a friend is to provide support, a constant cloud of negativity can be deleterious to your connection. In addition to oversharing within the relationship, sharing may reach beyond the partnership. As in a romantic relationship, unless it's otherwise discussed, the perception of broken trust may cause a crack that slowly continues to fissure.

How could you break my confidence?

I know you didn’t mean to, but now I can’t help but second guess myself around you.

Time & Energy

Friendships may dwindle due to a difference in investment of time and energy. It may seem as though these are one in the same, however, when considering quality in relationships, they may not be. It could be as direct as recognizing a difference in measurable time. However, before you pull out your calendars and calculators, please know that it isn’t always that clear. Quantifying how one invests in a relationship varies from person to person. Regardless of time invested, the quality of the experience may vary. Recognizing this could cause an individual to feel taken for granted, disrespected, and unloved.

Whenever we get together, I spend much more time trying to meet you at your convenience.

Throughout your struggle I was there by your side; during my struggle you were distracted by your phone.

Affiliation & Lifestyles

Typically, we are drawn to our friends on the basis of affiliation. The two kindergarteners with the same lunch box, the classmates who love the same restaurant, and the new colleagues in the same office are all simple examples of how commonalities pave the path to partnership. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t make friendships based off of my Barbie lunchbox, affinity for New York-style pizza, and passion for therapy.

Nevertheless, people change over time. Friendships may grow in parallel, grow closer, or grow apart. The things that previously magnetized us to our friends may no longer exist, or at least our connection to them may have dissipated. Similarly, contexts may change as well. Although bonded between certain links, we may not recognize all of the factors that also help to fasten our friendships. Just because we both love pizza doesn’t mean we still live the same lifestyle. I am still passionate about therapy; however, I am no longer in my graduate program. The context has shifted and this change reverberated in my friendships.  

…but we used to love playing sports together!

I wish I could still spend that time with you, but it’s important for me to spend time with my partner.

Distance & Connection

A main way context can change is increasing distance. Could a friendship be as simple as out of sight, out of mind? Are long-distance friendships automatically doomed? Of course not. Phone calls, text messages, and emails are just a few of the many ways to continue to foster a friendship from miles away. Regardless of distance, technological advances allow us to easily maintain a connection. Distance doesn’t need to be the reason for your friendship failure if you opt to use social media to keep you close. However, it can be hard to adjust to a screen bond from a face-to-face friendship.

We just don’t have anything to talk about anymore.

I know it only takes a moment, but it’s hard to remember to reach out.

Expectations

According to research from Tel Aviv University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we have poor perception in assessing who our friends are. How can this be possible? I am happy to own my bias here, as this leads me to what I infer may be one of the most common for ending friendships: mismatched expectations. Desires for caring, sharing, time, energy, closeness, and reciprocity may vary from friend to friend. Even if you are both giving your all, a mismatch can be impactful. Our hopes may fuel our expectations. Further, we may never make these intentions clear with our friends. In turn, our hopes may evolve into guilt, pressure, and entrapment, ultimately corroding the connection.

…but you were my best friend.

I thought you understood me.

Friendships can foster our happiness, and with their endings our happiness may momentarily fade. Confusion, sadness, and frustration can ensue during this difficult time. I hope the causes discussed help to provide insight into common imbalances that may break our bonds. Please know that this list is not exhaustive by any means. These examples consider accountability from both friends, but it is not always the case that both are responsible. As noted earlier, parting ways can be mutually beneficial. Also, personal factors such as stressors, background, attachment, and mental health could distract a friend from reciprocating in the way they may wish to. Regardless, we have the opportunity to learn from our past partnerships.

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