Navigating the End of a Friendship: Breaking Up & Moving On

Nothing in life's permanent, friendships included. Learn how to break up with a friend and what to do afterwards.

Published November 9, 2023
Friends talking face to face

Friends are the people we choose to love for no other reason than because of who they are. But when something happens and you need to sever that connection, you can feel like a boat on choppy waters without a rudder. No one sets out with the intention of making friendships to break free from them, but sometimes it’s better for you and your friends to part ways.

All the love that’s still there can make figuring out how to break up with a friend very difficult, so we’ve got a handful of methods to get through the immediate conversation and the emotionally tumultuous aftermath. 

How to Make a Clean Break From a Friendship

Knowing that you need to take a break from a friendship (or end it entirely) doesn’t really give you the tools to create the space you want. There’s not one "right" approach to take. Instead, you can use parts of these different methods to find a path forward that works for you.

Let Distance Do the Talking

If you feel like you and your friend are growing apart and they aren’t making time for you like they used to, or maybe their focus is on other people, it might be time to start distancing yourself. Distancing a friendship is the least painful way to do it, but it does take a long time.

This involves not reaching out to them, not responding as often, and not asking to hang out. Slowly, you can increase the intervals between responses until, one day, there’s not been any contact for months. Granted, these don't leave you with much closure, but they are a good choice if nothing major needs to be addressed or you aren't equipped for confrontation. 

Only Draw a Line in the Sand if Necessary

Breakups of any kind are messy, and it can be an instinct to lash out when we’re hurting. But, once you burn a bridge, it’s gone. So, be mindful if you’re ready to commit to having no contact with your friend.

In some cases, that’s a necessary move to make. If you’re feeling like your safety or well-being is threatened, then drawing a clear boundary might be the only way to extricate yourself from that toxic environment. Although an in-person conversation is the most effective, resorting to over the phone or by text is also appropriate. If you think the situation's going to devolve into something harmful, then it's best not to put yourself in that position. 

Don’t Leave Anything Up for Interpretation

If you’re not going the distance route, then that leaves you with having a conversation with your friend about what things look like moving forward. That might be going no-contact completely, or it might only be checking in every few months. It could look like staying friends on social media but not hanging out in real life. You get to decide what feels right for your situation. 

The point is that both of you should leave the conversation with a clear idea of what to expect. And once you make those expectations, you’ve got to be ready to stick to them.

Quick Tip

There's no one reason to end a friendship. It could be anything from a friend breaking your trust or consistently disrespecting your boundaries to one or both of you having major life changes like moves, careers, or starting families. Trust your instincts — you'll usually know when it's time to say goodbye.

5 Ways to Help You Cope After Breaking Up With a Friend

If breakups didn’t hurt, we all wouldn’t take so long to actually do them. That hemming and hawing often stems from not wanting to feel the pain of letting someone go, even if it’s for the best. But with time and the right approach, you should come out on the other side of that grief a stronger person.

1. Talk to a Professional

Woman talking to profesional therapist

If you’re not already seeing a licensed mental health professional and you’re struggling with the friend breakup, then you could likely benefit from reaching out to one. Granted, we know therapists can be expensive, but if you’ve tried other avenues of healing at home and you’re still struggling, see what low-cost options may be out there.

2. Confide in Others About How You Feel

Talking about how you feel can be an incredible balm to a breakup’s sting. Confide in someone (or multiple people) you trust about what you’re going through and how you’re feeling. Sometimes, just the act of letting the words melt into the air helps you feel less weighed down by them.

3. Practice Mindfulness

It’s all too easy to get stuck in the endless cycle of the "What did I do wrong – Could I have done something differently – It’s all their fault" thoughts. Stop ruminating in the past and the "what ifs" by practicing mindfulness.

Be present in your day-to-day life and find things you can do that you can 100% focus on. Maybe go for a drive or bake something from scratch. The idea is that focusing only on the things in front of you will help draw your attention away from the past.

4. Channel Your Feelings Into a Grief Art Activity

Baker in green apron dividing dough in parts, cutting dough with spatula

You don’t have to lay in bed and cry every day for you to be actively grieving. One therapeutic option is to channel your grief through grief art activities. These can range from writing stream-of-consciousness poetry to painting abstract scenes. As you work on your project, dive into your feelings surrounding the breakup and let them fuel your next move.

5. Build New Friendships

It can seem counterintuitive, but if you find yourself on the other end of an unexpected friendship breakup, then you’re probably feeling a friend-sized hole in your life. A way to stave off the loneliness is to get out there and make some new connections.

Need to Know

Don’t let the situation make you lose confidence in your ability to make friends or force you to question the quality of friend that you are. Sometimes friendships end, and it can open up space for new ones. 

It's Okay for a Friendship to End

Nothing in this world is always permanent, friendships included. Some last a very long time, but others are only here for a season. If it’s time to distance yourself from a friend, take a mindful and measured approach. And in the aftermath, use these techniques to help bolster your healing so you can be ready to make new friends when the time comes.

Navigating the End of a Friendship: Breaking Up & Moving On