- Friendships don’t tend to end in big fights – they’re much more likely to fade away gradually
- Rivalry, negativity and manipulative behaviour can often play a part in driving friends apart
- It’s common for friendships to chop and change over time, but understanding why friendships end can help you to find closure and to build stronger relationships in future
It’s often difficult to pin down the reason why a friendship is fizzling out. But much like romantic relationships, friendships need work – and one of the main reasons friends fall out is inaction.
“Maybe in the movies, close friendships end with slamming doors, cat fights and/or mudslinging, but not in real life,” notes Ruth Kanow Weinstein, a clinical psychologist.
“Most friendships terminate gradually and end with a whimper,” Weinstein says. “Maybe your close friend will pull away, or you will, or it might be a mutual decision or the result of a lack of any action.”
But what are the signs that a friendship might be vanishing? And what are the main arguments that set friends against each other? Here are ten reasons why friendships start to crumble – and how to deal with fractures in your friendship circle.
Even the strongest friendships can be spoiled by a sense of betrayal. This often arises when you find a friend doesn’t really share your values – or when you disagree on something really important. It can also come up when a friend acts against your expectations and does or says something to hurt you.
“We’re friends with people because we think we share a common understanding about the world and a common understanding about what it means to live well,” says Bill Rawlins, professor of communication at Ohio University.
“A friendship helps two people with that shared understanding live up to that understanding,” he explains. “When there is a direct violation of that common understanding, the friendship often ends. Abruptly and with rancor.”
While sharing your everyday annoyances and disappointments with a friend can help you to offload, friendships shouldn’t revolve around negative thoughts. If a friend is bringing you down with harsh criticism, a dismal attitude and unkind comments, it may be time to cut ties.
Psychologist Arlin Cuncic notes that it can be wise to let negative friendships go without starting an argument. “Gradually fading out of the friendship might be a good option if you are afraid of confrontation, if the person is likely not to listen or accept what you are saying, or for toxic situations,” she writes.
8. Changing interests
So many friendships form when a duo discovers a shared interest – whether it’s a hobby, a school or university subject, a sport or a TV show. As our own interests evolve, we may find that the foundations of some friendships crumble away.
However, changes in our interests can also be an opportunity to develop a friendship further. Like interests, shared experiences are key to bonding – so getting your friend to try out your new hobby could lead to a fresher and more interesting relationship.
7. Physical distance
Physical separation is one of the biggest reasons why friendships end, particularly for men. A spell of long-distance friendship – particularly when friends move apart after school or college – can indicate whether a friendship will truly stand the test of time.
When you remember anniversaries and birthdays, show empathy about lifestyle changes, and arrange regular catch-ups, you can strengthen a long-distance friendship and also help your friend to settle in.
A manipulative friend may use your secrets against you, persuade you into bad decisions or drain your attention away from other friends and family. Often the only way to lose a manipulative friend is to “say no – and mean it”, and learn to be “less susceptible to them”, according to Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D.
“Unfortunately, ending or exiting a manipulative relationship – whether friendship or romance – is probably easier than trying to realign it,” she notes.
“Manipulators spend a great deal of time creating a world in which their needs are met by others over whom they maintain control,” she writes. “Trying to shake up that foundational operating system is biting off a lot.”
5. Different standards
Some people expect a lot more from their friends than others do. If the time, compassion and loyalty that you invest in a friend don’t match up to their expectations, the friendship can fall apart fast.
It can be frustrating when a friend repeatedly turns up late or cancels plans at the last minute – and these traits can often cause friendships to fracture.
But unreliability isn’t always a deal-breaker when it comes to friendships. If your friend brings whimsy, excitement and a healthy amount of chaos into your life, you might well choose to overlook their moments of unreliability.
Gossip is contagious – but when it spreads through friendship groups, secrets and rumours can often break pals apart. What’s more, gossiping can wear down your trust in your friends – you never know when you could become the new focus of their chatter.
Dr. Andrea Bonior advises that if your friend’s gossip is taking a negative turn, “you may need to have a conversation with that friend, or else re-evaluate that friendship down the line – especially if that friend is not making you the type of person you want to be.”
2. Unhealthy rivalry
Frenemies – or friendly enemies – can form some of the most interesting friendships of all, especially if their rivalry stays light-hearted. But when competition takes a sour turn, and if you’re frequently comparing yourself unfavourably to your buddy, these friendships can contribute stress and low moods, driving you apart.
1. Busy lives
Busy lives can easily strain a friendship – and it’s important to be open with friends when you’re really overworked or stretched for time. Otherwise, your friends can underestimate how much you care about them.
“Busy people lose friends because friends assume unavailability is rejection,” writes Marisa Franco in Psychology Today. “It’s a fair assumption since some do use perpetual busyness as a passive way to end a relationship.”
“To make sure your friend knows you still care, be sure to be honest with them about your life and reassure them that you value them,” she advises.