Nothing hurts like a break up with a SO. Trust me. I’ve had my fair share. But have you ever gone through a friendship break up? While they don’t always share the dramatic flair of romantic break ups, that doesn’t make them hurt any less. Losing a friend is like losing a family member. Chosen family that is.
As adults, it’s commonly understood that when romantic relationships aren’t working, you end them. Thank god, my understandings of romantic relationships evolved past the “for life” delusion early on in life. When it comes to friendship, it’s not so obvious though. Up until a recent friendship break up, I had this subconscious belief that when you found a close friend, you would be close with them forever, you were like family. My ideas of friendship hadn’t changed much since the schoolyard, a time when all my girlfriends and I were “BFF4L.”
But shouldn’t friendships be about the same thing as romantic relationships: a commitment to mutual satisfaction that is nurtured through respect, communication and boundaries?
If you’ve just broken up with a close friend, or been broken up with, it could feel like a friendship failure. But don’t freak out too hard. Allow yourself to feel the loss and pain. Whenever you’re ready to see it, there’s a lot of good in parting ways with a close friend. While conflict with friends can be hard, learning to navigate it maturely and knowing when you need to step away is an invaluable skill.
Practicing conflict without ego
Have you ever noticed that you’re at your absolute pettiest when in conflict with a parent or romantic partner? These seem to be the places that we can be the most triggered, where our inner child lashes out, or our insecure attachment styles become activated.
While every friend dynamic is different, generally, friendships are built on less intense dynamics than those with family or romantic partners. Additionally, cultural expectations around what kind of communication and conflict is acceptable in friendship dynamics is different. You can’t say to a friend what you might feel like you can say to a family member or partner. That means that friendship can be a place to practice arriving at conflict without activating our toxicity, where you can learn how to “fight” in mature, non-trauma informed way.
Also, in family or romantic conflict, sometimes it’s hard to see conflict clearly. Friendships give you a place to exercise and learn about your boundaries without the chemical and emotional rose colored glasses of romantic or familial love. When you’re not “in love” with someone, you might be willing to put up less, see irresolvable conflict for what it is, and learn how to adapt.
Learning from the Ending
I know, I know. Sometimes you just want to look up into the sky and scream at whatever is out there: “I’m done learning! I’m done growing!” Sorry buddy, it never stops. While it’s gonna hurt like a MF to lose a friend, what you’re doing is growing in your ability to be a partner. You’re learning what it takes to keep two people happy in any kind of relationship.
You might have learned when to cut off access to yourself when your boundaries are not being respected. You might learn the ways that you don’t or can’t show up for someone else’s boundaries. Either way, it’s a place to learn about your attachment and conflict style so that you can grow and apply that growth to other relationships.
In business relationships, office settings, creative partnerships, parenting, (the list goes on) knowing how to set and respect boundaries and communicate through conflict is insanely vital! You literally will not be a functional adult without it. (If that exists?)
When a friendship ends, it ends for a reason, which means you can put all that practice and learning to good use. As corny as it sounds, if you’re learning you’re not failing, no matter how it ends up. When a friendship ends, a space opens up in your life. You make space for who and what aligns with your values to come into your life. Maybe that will be a healthier friendship, or maybe that means focusing on you and healing from your recent loss.
Yeah, “friends forever” sounds great, but in reality that kind of unconditional love is a phenomenon reserved for few kinds of relationships, like parent to child. And that’s a good thing! Without boundaries and conditions, we create spaces where our humanity is not honored and our truest needs are not treated as vital to the relationship. Adult relationships, whether romantic or not, need to be founded in mutual respect and satisfaction. Maybe it’s not as Disney as you might want, but it’s the only way you can grow as a partner and as an overall person. You know what they say- calm seas never made a good sailor! Really, that’s one of the gifts of failed friendships: learning how to weather the absolute shit storm of life.