Ending Friendships…Good for Mental Health?

Friends are the best.  They give us a shoulder to cry on and someone to laugh with.  But friends can also be a drain, a stress and a strain on our mental health and happiness.  Like any relationship, friendships can have their ups and downs.  Periods of closeness, arguments and distance aren’t uncommon.  But what happens when a friend starts causing you stress and strain all the time, for months and years on end?  Is it OK to end a friendship?

Break up with your BFF?


Just like romantic relationships, not all friendships are meant to last forever. Some friendships flourish in the workplace, and then flounder when one person moves on to another job.  Other friendships grow quickly during shared experiences (during summer camp or a birthing class) and then die out when that time is over.

So how do you know when a friendship has run its course? What’s the right time to pull the plug?

You don’t feel good after you come home.  After spending time with friends, we usually feel good: happy and light-hearted..  But there are times when we feel down or sad after a date with our friends.  This can happen when she tells us bad news or that’s she’s moving across the country.  Close friends can even share each other’s pain in a very real way.  For example, when your dear friend tells you she’s divorcing.  That’s all to be expected in the course of a friendship.  What’s not so great is when you feel crummy visit after visit, month after month, year after year.  When that happens, it’s probably time to re-evaluate the friendship to determine if it’s worth the stress.

The phone’s only working one way.  Friendships require participation by both people.  Good, lasting relationships just don’t flourish when it’s only one person doing the calling, texting, emailing and planning.  If months and years go by and you find you are the only one asking to get together, it might mean the friendship isn’t so robust – and maybe be causing you pain to boot.  Time to have a heart to heart about why the friendship is so one-sided, or just end it altogether.

It died of natural causes.  I’ve had friendships that have been great for a while, and then have slowly withered away with the passage of time.  I used to feel bad and stressed about them, like it was my responsibility to resurrect the relationship to its former glory.  But then I realized that these friendships had just taken their course, and instead of feeling guilty for not doing more to save them I could simply relish the memories I’d gained while they were still strong.

For more about what makes a good friend, and how to spot a true and lasting friendship, check this out.


A Good Friendship

I spend a significant amount of time thinking about friendship and what makes it work. Perhaps it’s because I have had my heart broken by friends in the past – though I have been lucky enough to have some successful friendships too. Either way, friendships between girls/women can be tricky business. Some observations:

  • It’s OK to have short-term friendships. While we may think the “ideal” friendship is one that lasts for many years, there is something to be said for friendships that last for a shorter period of time. I’ve made friends with classmates, co-workers, neighbors who were in my life for only months or a couple of years at a time. Once that period of my life was over, so was the friendship. I have come to realize that that’s OK. It doesn’t mean the friendship was meaningless – it just served its purpose then faded.
  • Sex and the City is not real life. While most of us would love to have Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha as our friends – forever gossiping, traveling, and bonding together, the fact is, that rarely happens. More typically women have just one or two close friends (if they’re lucky) and often their close friends are not friends with each other. Expecting your life to be like Carrie Bradshaw’s just isn’t realistic for most of us (and really, would we want her life anyway?).
  • The “best friend” designation can be hurtful. If your tween and teen years were anything like mine, you spent a good deal of time negotiating who your BFF was. The thing is, I often see/hear adult women going through the same thing. And then once that BFF is found, a declaration is made to the world (or on Facebook). This might make the two in the friendship feel good, but it often hurts others. Is it necessary to claim one friend superior to all the others? What purpose does it really serve?
  • Someone who wants the best for you. One of my friends once told me that she had purged all of her friendships, and saved only those she could say this about:

“I only keep friends who I truly want to see happy and thriving, and who only want the best for me. I’m done with women who secretly want me to fail, mess up, or who harbor jealousies towards me. I’m through with “friends” who listen to my problems then blab.  The only women I want in my life are those who can be truly happy for me when I succeed and vice versa. ”

My friend’s pronouncement changed the way I think about friendships.  Watching her keep only the supportive, nurturing relationships in her life was liberating for her (and me!).

  • Breaking up is hard to do. When friendships between women or girls ends it hurts.  A lot.  We may not see this type of heartbreak in movies like we see the breakup of romances, but they still happen.  And they take time to get over.  It’s OK to feel pain, regret, guilt, etc over the breakup of a friendship.
  • Friendships take a long time to cultivate. Someone once told me it takes 3-5 years to make a good friend, or group of friends.  I didn’t believe it at the time, but I sure do now.  There might be exceptions to the rule, but in general it takes a lot longer to grow a friendship than we might think.  So go easy on yourself if you are new to a community or job and don’t have a good friend yet – be patient (and a good friend yourself) and you’ll get there.
  • It should feel good. It’s taken me many years to realize something relatively simple: friendship should feel good.  Sure there will be times when your heart aches for a friend who’s hurting, but for the most part, friends should make you feel good (and you should make them feel good, too).  Uplifted, energized, heard, accepted – these are some of the emotions you might feel after a lunch date with a friend.  If the feelings are different (jealous, frustrated, angry, low self esteem, etc) it might be time to re-think the friendship.

What have you learned about friendship over the years?  What did I miss?

photo via VitaminSea