Science of People - Logo

12 Steps to Get Over a Friendship Breakup (Effectively!)

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Losing a close friend can be even more painful than a romantic breakup. It is possible to heal from the loss; as you work through the pain, you’ll become even stronger. 

What Causes a Friendship Breakup? 

We’ve all heard that friendships are like seasons: they come and go. And while they assert this with all the profound wisdom of a cross stitch quote, it denies friendships’ much more complex nature. 

If you’ve gone through a friendship breakup, you know it hurts more than the inevitable passing of the seasons. You may feel broadsided by the loss, even if it has been culminating over months or even years. But why do friendships end? Some of the reasons include: 

  • Change of interests and values (moving, getting married, political views, religious views)
  • Misunderstandings
  • Breach of trust
  • When one person feels unsupported
  • Clashes with the partner of a friend
  • Attraction to the partner of a friend
  • Abusive behavior

Watch our video below to learn the secret to being a good friend and how to build friendships as an adult:

#1 Is it a Breakup or a Break? 

You may face self-doubt about moving on from your friend, so take time to determine whether this is the right decision. Sometimes, you can save a friendship by investing more in the relationship. But, there has to be a balance between fighting for the people we care about and not tolerating harmful behavior.

You can (and should) be a friend’s support system, but it can cross a line when you become their therapist or punching bag. 

You’re the only one who can decide to move on or remain in the friendship, but here are some questions to help you think clearly.

  • Has there been a betrayal? If so, has my friend made any attempt to make it right? 
  • Is this just a misunderstanding? 
  • Have I taken steps to talk about how I feel with my friend? 
  • Is my friend toxic? Are they taking any steps to become a healthier person? 
  • Is my friend repeatedly hurting me even though I’ve talked to them about their behavior? 
  • Do I feel judged or belittled by my friend?
  • Does my friend hold me back or help me become a better person? 
  • Is this disagreement something we can overcome, or will it only cause more harm in the long run? 

If you’re at the stage where it’s time for a friendship breakup, keep reading for more steps to work through your feelings of hurt and confusion. 

#2 Prioritize Your Mental Health

Moving on from someone causing you mental and emotional harm is OK.

Go ahead and read that again. 

Studies have shown that social relationships can either sabotage or support behavior change. And we’re not just talking about teens and peer pressure here! One study showed the social circle of some middle-aged adults in Montana had a destructive impact on their physical health. 

When you begin to experience personal growth, it can be frightening and even threatening to the people around you. Your personal growth and your friend’s inability to grow with you may have triggered the friendship breakup. If that’s the case, we applaud you for your bravery and the growth you are pursuing. 

Special Note: A friendship breakup can be excruciating. If you were in a toxic relationship, you might also be recovering from attacks on your confidence and self-worth. If you’re struggling to cope, please seek professional help.

#3 Where Possible, Seek Resolution

Many people express confusion about a friendship breakup, not understanding why it happened or feeling they never got to say what they needed to. 

Talking to the person can be a healthy way to promote understanding, express how you were hurt, and even apologize. Remember, your goal isn’t to launch a personal attack on them. Make sure you can speak calmly and, if possible, wish them well at the end of the conversation. 

If they aren’t open to talking, or it doesn’t feel appropriate or safe to you, try writing out what you’d like to say. 

Expressing your thoughts on paper facilitates a better understanding of what happened. Even if you don’t understand “why,” expressing your emotions on paper can restore a sense of control over a situation where you may have felt helpless. 

Reasons you may be struggling to move on:

  • You felt silenced by the friendship and haven’t had a chance to express how you feel.
  • You have experienced abandonment in the past, and losing this friend has brought up those feelings of abandonment.
  • You’re still waiting for them to come back.
  • You feel guilty, and you’re carrying the blame for the friendship ending.
  • The betrayal has so many layers you don’t know how to unpack it. 
  • You have so much shared history that you struggle to get the needed space.

Action Steps:

  1. Get a piece of paper and write at the top, “What do I need to let go?” 
  2. Sit quietly and listen to your intuition to determine what may keep you from moving on. 
  3. If you aren’t sure, start writing and let your thoughts flow unhindered. 
  4. As you write, look for what blocks you from moving on.
  5. Once you know what that is, explore what you need for resolution.
  6. Healing happens in layers, so don’t be discouraged if you identify multiple things.
  7. Choose one thing that resonates most strongly and work through that. As time passes, continue to work through the areas of pain. 
  8. Often, current pain is complicated because it connects to past pain. 
  9. If you discover the connections to past pain, embrace this as an opportunity for growth. 

Healing takes time; it is a process. So be gentle with yourself. Permit yourself to heal, and don’t push yourself to move on before you are ready. 

#4 Give Yourself the Gift of Forgiveness  

Amazingly, forgiveness protects health even in high-stress situations. One study showed the longitudinal impact of forgiveness on stress levels. Another study showed that self-forgiveness increases physical and mental health. Forgiveness is about taking a step forward to healing and moving on. 

What Forgiveness Is NOT:

  • Weakness
  • Trust
  • Letting the other person get away with wrongdoing
  • Restoration of a relationship
  • Being in close contact with a person who abused you
  • A denial of justice
  • Saying what the other person did was OK or right

Forgiveness takes time and is more of a lifestyle than a one-off event. As you seek to move on from your friendship breakup, you won’t feel (or heal) all the feelings at once! Part of the pain of losing a friendship is you are losing the possibility for the future. 

In a few months or years, you may hear your friend is married, having a baby, or just got a promotion. In relationships where it is an expectation to share these life events, watching from the sidelines can be incredibly painful. It’s important to forgive as new pain surfaces. 

Action Steps:

  1. Write a letter (that you don’t send).
  2. Name the wrong(s) committed against you. 
  3. Express your desire to forgive, and state you are releasing them from your anger.
  4. Express what forgiveness does not mean. (e.g., “Forgiving you doesn’t mean I am taking the blame for what you did.”
  5. Express what forgiveness means to you. (e.g., “Forgiving you means I am letting go of the anger, so I’m not emotionally or spiritually tied to you any longer.)
  6. If possible, wish them well. 

Pro Tip: Some people find it therapeutic to burn the letter as a further act of releasing anger and bitterness. If you do, please burn the letter in a fire-safe container. 

#5 Let Go of the Guilt but Take Responsibility

If you’re feeling guilty about how things ended or earlier situations in your friendship, it’s time to let go of that guilt. 

At the same time, take responsibility for your actions and where you might have failed in the relationship. Taking responsibility is still important even if you’re only responsible for 5% of the negative.

It may sound like we’re giving you conflicting advice here, but this is what it boils down to:

  1. Letting go of false guilt helps you move on and sets you free from feeling tied to the other person. 
  2. Taking responsibility for your actions enables you to grow and become a better friend in future relationships. 

#6 Gain Some Distance 

To move on and find healing, you need distance. You may need to alter the places you go (at least temporarily). Remove them from your social media as well. The last thing you need is to see them popping up in your feed daily. 

If you have mutual friends or a shared community, getting distance becomes more complicated. Resist the urge to force your mutual friends to take sides. If you need to withdraw from activities for a while, that’s fine. Initially, withdrawing can be healing, but don’t give up everything you love just to avoid awkward meetings between you and your former friend. 

Pro Tip: Worried about what you’ll say to the questions from mutual acquaintances? Plan a simple response, and be prepared to redirect the conversation if you don’t want to talk about it. A reply can be as simple as, “We aren’t close anymore.”

#7 Validate Your Emotions

A breakup is a feeling of rejection at the heart of a friendship. Whichever side you are on, there will be a sense that someone you were once so close to no longer values you as a person. 

One study found that feelings of rejection directly impact self-perception by creating feelings of hurt, loneliness, jealousy, guilt, shame, social anxiety, embarrassment, sadness, and anger. 

Society expects you to experience these emotions when you suffer a loss or a romantic breakup. There isn’t always the same understanding for a friendship breakup. So if your social circle isn’t supportive of what you are going through, know we understand and validate your emotions. 

You need to validate them as well. 

Action Step: The emotions brought on by rejection erode your sense of self-worth. Take a few minutes to complete the activities in this guide on how to love yourself. 

#8 Don’t Second Guess It

If you were the person who walked away from the relationship, it’s normal to second-guess yourself. 

The question is: why? What are you second-guessing? Either you are questioning it because:

  1. You did your friend dirty, and you need to apologize. 
  2. You are taking responsibility for the other person. 

If your answer is #1, the rest of this article isn’t for you. Make your phone call. If your answer is #2, keep reading. 

Part of moving on from a friendship is recognizing your relationship has changed. It will be an adjustment to stop investing your emotions and energy in them. While you may always care for them and wish good for their life, you need to transition away from feeling responsible for their well-being. 

You are not responsible for the life and decisions of your friend. Let go of the need to make sure they are OK. 

Action Step: When you worry about your friend, it’s time to “Notice-Shift-Rewire.” You can stop your toxic train of thought with this simple neuroscience technique.

  • Notice: Notice your negative thinking. 
  • Shift to releasing and gratitude: Say or think, “I’m letting go of this. I am not responsible for ____. I am thankful for the time we were friends and wish them well.” 
  • Rewire: Spend at least 15 seconds thinking about what you are grateful for, shift away from thinking about your friend and think instead about the positives in your life. Over time, you will rewire your brain. 

#9 Don’t Let It Follow You 

We find it painful and upsetting to see a friend move on because, the truth is, we haven’t. 

We want to believe we matter enough that they will experience the same amount of pain as we are experiencing. When they seem happy and unaffected, it can feel like we didn’t ever matter to them. Holding on to feelings of injustice may cause the friendship breakup to drag you down and spill over into other areas of your life.

So ironically, one of the keys to moving on is… moving on. Ultimately you’ll have to let go of the need to know they cared. Instead of holding the pain close, release all of your expectations and disappointments. You’re not letting go of all the good things you shared. Instead, you are letting go of the need for them in your life. 

There is life apart from this other person. While they may have shaped a part of who you are or been with you through difficult and painful times, you are still a person, and you can recover from this.

#10 Rebuild Your Ability to Trust

You may not notice this immediately, but over time, you may discover your friendship or the friendship breakup has impacted how you view others. Why is that? Any time there is vulnerability and emotional intimacy, you enter into a relationship of trust. Whether that trust is intentional or not, it impacts your ability to trust others. 

If you are hesitant to get close to new people or withhold and withdraw from other relationships, it could be because of your friendship breakup. 

Actions Steps: 

  1. Go back to Tip #4 to forgive them for breaking your trust.
  2. Watch out for toxic people.
  3. Learn to trust yourself. 
  4. Find new friends.

#11 Invest in Positive Relationships

As you move through the grieving process, there will come a time when it’s essential to begin making new friendships—intentionally investing in creating positive and healthy attachments. 

As you’ve worked through the steps of moving on, you’ve likely identified some of your unhealthy behaviors. Take what you’ve learned from this last friendship to prepare you to be a better friend and to set good boundaries so you don’t accept harmful behavior from others. 

Pro Tip: Avoid spending all your time and emotions on one person—that’s not healthy! Look around you, invest in other relationships you may have neglected in the past, and look for opportunities to make new friends

Action Steps:

  • Make a list of unhealthy qualities you would like to change. 
  • Choose one quality to work on and look for ways to grow in this area.
  • Write down how you want friends to treat you.
  • Choose 1-3 people you can invite to do something fun or get coffee this month.

#12 Form New Habits & Make New Memories 

Sometimes, friendships can cause a narrowing of personality. Whether they were actively holding you back or your friendship allowed you both to become complacent, now is the chance to recognize your potential and expand your horizons. Instead of constantly meditating on the things you did together, work to build new memories and experiences.

Pick 2-3 things from the list below that resonate with you and begin to build a bigger world for yourself!

Action Steps to Expand Your Mindset:

  • Set aside all mental restraints and write down new goals. Then choose one plan to focus on.
  • Identify one thing you can do monthly to learn a new skill or participate in recent activity.
  • Ask for book recommendations from acquaintances who have different views than you so you can add books to your reading list that you wouldn’t usually read.
  • Sign up for a newsletter from an opposing political view.
  • Call or text to reconnect with an old friend.
  • Make brownies and invite your neighbor over for a chat.
  • Text an athletic friend and ask if they would be your gym buddy or go for a hike together.
  • Message an acquaintance who loves culture and history and ask if they’d like to visit a museum with you.
  • Ask your mom (or other trusted family member) what positive quality they feel you may have lost from your former friendship. 
  • Identify someone in your life who you notice has been feeling sad lately and find a way to brighten their day. 

How to Stop Obsessing Over a Lost Friendship FAQ 

How do I deal with a friend’s breakup?  

It’s not easy to deal with a friend breakup, so first distance yourself from them in person and on social media. Give yourself the freedom to work through the stages of grief, accepting that it will take time to heal. 

How can I move on from a friendship? 

You have two options for moving on: Stay busy and invest in new relationships or seek to gain closure from the friend you have distanced yourself from. You can move on from a friendship by sharing with your friend how you feel. If they don’t listen to you, begin to work through your feelings of loss and hurt, offering forgiveness when ready. Invest in your future by becoming a healthier person and making connections with other people. 

Why do friendships break up?

Often, friendships break up when there is a change in interests and values or when there has been a misunderstanding. 

What are the signs of a broken friendship?

A broken friendship may include a lack of trust, lack of communication, feeling disconnected, unresolved conflict, ongoing hurtful behavior, having nothing in common, and one person taking all the responsibility for the friendship. 

Key Takeaways to Deal With the Loss of a Friendship

  • Your pain is real. Give yourself the space and time you need, just like you would with a romantic breakup or any other loss. 
  • It will get better, but don’t stuff your emotions. If you are struggling to work through this, reach out for support. 
  • Wish your friend well, and then let them go. You can’t move on from the loss if you continue to worry about them or get stuck trying to understand why it happened. 
  • Invest in yourself and your future by focusing on your mental health and positive relationships. 

When you’re ready, you’ll want to make new friends. Learn How to Make Friends As An Adult In 5 Easy to Use Steps.

How to Deal with Difficult People at Work

Do you have a difficult boss? Colleague? Client? Learn how to transform your difficult relationship.
I’ll show you my science-based approach to building a strong, productive relationship with even the most difficult people.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Get our latest insights and advice delivered to your inbox.

It’s a privilege to be in your inbox. We promise only to send the good stuff.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.