When to Fix a Friendship and When to Let It Go

When to Fix a Friendship and When to Let It Go

Expert advice on figuring out if a broken friendship is fixable or if it’s time to let go.


By: Laurie Sue Brockway

Breaking up with a good friend is like losing a mate -- or worse. Some friendships end because we can’t give them attention, and others are damaged by disagreements, betrayals, or bad behaviors. Then there are those that just hit a rough spot. Luckily, even the most difficult breakups can sometimes be patched up with a little time and healing.

That was the case with writer Lea Grover, a mom of three. Lost in post-partum depression (PPD) after the birth of her third daughter, she went through a rough patch with a dear friend who also was having emotional issues. She was devastated when her friend walked away.

“I was already paranoid and totally sure that all my friends hated me, so for me it was just confirmation that I was a terrible person who didn't deserve friendship or love or sympathy,” says Grover, a contributor to the new book My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends. But she says she just could not muster the energy to repair their relationship.

Fortunately, a mutual pal stepped in to smooth things over and eventually both Grover and her estranged friend began to balance their own lives enough to rekindle their relationship.

“Many times, what damages a friendship is temporary,” she says. “But it does take time to heal.”

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“Breaking up with an important friend can be every bit as painful as breaking up a love relationship,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction. “But, there are sometimes good reasons to break up, and other times when breaking up is not really necessary.”

Sometimes we separate over silly disputes and sometimes over serious issues. How can you tell when it is time to go and when to find each other again?

1. Apologies are important . You have to be ready to say ‘I am sorry,’” says Lisa Bahar, LMFT, LPCC. “One may want to repair, whereas the other is not ready yet,” she adds. “There may be significant hurt as a result of the friendship ending. Being willing to apologize for your part is important for you, but it may not mean the other is willing or ready to accept the apology.” It may take patience and time for both of you to get there.

2. You have to want it back. “Both parties must trust each other and be honest, accountable, and responsible for their role in the disagreement or circumstance,” says Misha N. Granado, MPH, MS. “Additionally, they must share the desire to maintain the relationship and continue to be active in each other's lives. “

3. Problems should begin to resolve. Not every friendship can be saved. “Usually when the misunderstandings or resentments become the norm, it’s time to part ways,” says adolescent and family counselor Julie W. Smith, MHS.

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4. How to heal the pain. A friendship breakup follows the same pattern of a romantic breakup, says Smith. “It can be difficult and painful to end a friendship,” she says. “There will be feelings of sadness, pain -- even relief -- and an individual must work through the feelings by crying it out, writing a letter (you may or may not need to send it), or speaking with a professional. “

5. When you can never go back. Tessina says “friend abuse” is something no one should tolerate. Look honestly at your relationship for ongoing problems, in the areas of financial, verbal, or emotional abuse. Those could include: a friend who is always borrowing money and never paying back; a friend who frequently puts you down and makes you feel bad; or a friend who controls you with guilt, temper tantrums, or threats. She says these behaviors are red flags:

  • Gossips about you, or undermines
  • Is unreliable and never keeps agreements
  • Becomes jealous when good things happen for you
  • Only comes around when she needs something
  • Always criticizing you, your accomplishments, family, or home
  • Flirts with your mate or someone you are interested in
  • When there is a problem, she never admits her part in it

“When a friendship becomes more work than pleasure on an ongoing basis, it might be time to rethink whether the relationship is worth the effort,” says Randy Kamen, EdD.

But if you feel a void in your life because you lost a good friend, reach out.

“I got treatment for the PPD, and she quit her very stressful job and took some time to herself to put her life back together,” says Grover. “It was about three months before I was ready to open myself up. I sent her a text, asking if she was feeling any better and apologizing for not being able to think about other people compassionately. She replied with her own apology, and then we became friends again.”

Have you ever broken up with friend? Did you regret it?


Laurie Sue Brockway is a journalist and author who has written extensively on love, marriage, parenting, well-being, and emotional health. Her work has appeared in hundreds of print and online publications, including Everyday Health and The Huffington Post.

Image ©iStock.com/webphotographeer


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