• Handling Breakups

Why Breaking Up Is SO Hard To Do

Published: October 25, 2009 | Last Updated: June 5, 2024 By | 14 Replies Continue Reading
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Ever think about why breaking up is so hard to do? Read this!

When I surveyed more than 1500 women for my new book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, I discovered that most of them have an extraordinarily difficult time ending their friendships, even very toxic ones.

It’s not surprising. Like divorce, the potential losses can be staggering and extend well beyond the friendship per se.

That’s because when two women are close, they tend to draw others into their circle: family members, neighbors, co-workers, and other friends. For example, if you’re best friends with your neighbor, the chances are pretty good that your school-age children are friends, too. The kids may even be the raison d’être for the friendship.

  • If you end your friendship, what repercussions will it have on them?
  • Will they still feel comfortable having play dates?
  • How will you feel when seeing your ex-friend at a PTA meeting or on the soccer field?

If your friendship is centered in the workplace, there are also substantial risks of collateral damage.

  • If you break off with a colleague, will you lose her support on work matters?
  • Will you feel uncomfortable if you’re assigned to work on the same project team or each time you pass her in the hall?
  • Will other people around you, who knew how close you once were, feel awkward or ask questions?
  • Might she say something that would irreparably impugn your reputation?
  • If your ex-friend is in a supervisory role, could it threaten your employment?

Breaking up is so hard to do because any breakup extends beyond the two people directly involved.

The longer and closer the friendship, the more ties and connections there are to worry about: You may have introduced your friend to your other friends, your extended family, or other business associates. She’s probably become a significant part of your little corner of the world.

So when you weigh the pros and cons of ending a friendship, don’t overlook the possible side effects of the breakup and consider them in making your decision. If you ultimately decide to proceed, do everything you can to mitigate the damage:

  • Leave gracefully without harsh words or recrimination. Treat your ex-friend with respect simply because she once was your friend.
  • Let her down easily by gradually distancing yourself. Perhaps you can cut back on your time together from once a day to once a week, or you can downgrade a close friendship to a more casual one.
  • If appropriate, communicate what’s happening without going into details to make it easier for the people around you.

Admittedly, no two friendships are the same nor are the circumstances surrounding a breakup. Breaking up is so hard to do but going about it with forethought, understanding, and sensitivity helps everyone better adjust to the loss.

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Comments (14)

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  1. still thinking about it says:

    It’s been over 2 years since I spoke to my former best friend. I still feel bad about it from time to time and I wish I had known how to let it go in stages. It is a lot like a break up. I could try to work it out but I know that it would be messed up again, because I tried to apologize and make things work out but her letters to me were full of mixed messages, how she wished me well but didn’t trust me, how she thought I was cool but also thought I’d never been as good a friend as I could have been. That I’d never been as good a friend to her as she was to me. It makes me sad at times I put so much good faith and effort into that friendship. We were “besties” almost 20 years! In the end her extramarital affair happening at the same time I got engaged just blew apart what seemed to have been drifting for some time. I felt wrapped up, tangled up in her issues and marital problems. So it was a big relief when we stopped talking.

    I have had to learn how to not be “codependent” and I’m eager to be a better friend now that I am more confident about it. But I’m scared to try again, scared to trust any one person again that much, other than my husband. There are a few friends I have now I can be myself with, so that’s wonderful. The truth is I am afraid and maybe just don’t want to try for another “Bestie” based on where it all worked out. But sometimes I crave that person who wants to know everything.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I had to break up with one of my friends after a huge betrayal and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do – including breaking up with long time boyfriends. With good friends you have such a shared history and no one assumes you are going to break up so it is even more out o f the blue. The only thing that helped was working on myself and reading best friend quotes and imagining that I’d have a new best friend one day.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I completely agree. When you have to see this friend all the time and share mutual friends etc it has to be broken off in the most diplomatic way possible. I have been gradually distancing myself from a friend for a few months now. Not because she is a terrible person and has done horrible things to me, but because she hurt my feelings unintentionally and I had to realize she would continue to do so if we were close. Even tried talking to her about what was bothering me but she really never stepped up and changed anything that showed me she valued my friendship and considered me a close friend. When you are close friends with someone, I believe you should treat that person accordingly. She still makes efforts. Texts here and there saying we need to get together soon. Has tried to plan a couple things but it didn’t work out due to conflicting schedules. My plan is to just not initiate anything, and I think eventually she will give up. This has been extremely hard for me. Not what I wanted at all, but sometimes it is about self preservation. I have to see her all the time since we attend church together and she is friends with or knows just about everyone I am friends with. So even though it is hard for me to be friendly and nice, or even accept invitations to get together, I feel like it is the only way for now to not make a mess of things.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Why we shouldnt be friends.
    So I met this girl from college she was funny and outgoing just like me. College was about to end for summer break 2010 and I thought that would be the end of a new friendship because she lived about an hour away. One day she invited me to her house and we hit it off there laughing, crying, and getting to know one another. We even spent most of the summer together, texting and we even went to the beach together it was a blast something that I def. needed. Someone that I learned I could confine in and to the sillest things with. School was back in session for fall semester. We kinda became distant it was kind of awkward. But I tolerated it I met quite a few people through her some good, some not so good. I can say “the good” I still maintain a relationship with them. After thorough thinking maybe our friendship was not that great. I know in every friendship there is its’ ups and downs, and thats what it was constantly, unfortuantely. I have lost a meaningful friendship before this one and still tears me up inside if I let it. It wasn’t much our fault but it ended. When you lose someone that you were once close too and realize one day that, that was over and you meet someone new to try and fill that hole and when you start to have problems with that friendship you want to try harder to keep that friendship. Atleast I do. This person she leaves me with assumptions all the time and I assume that maybe one day she would actually listen and or be there when I truly needed her. I feel a little anger right now. I feel like I have wasted my time. She was someone that I wanted to hangout with, the person that I could call up in the am and be like hey, the person that I could tell anything too without any hesitation. Over a year we have been inconsistant, between feb and marsch it was good and I was still good when she invited me and dis invited me to spring break. This past summer 2011 in May we had a dirty arguement that left us with bitterness She got a new boyfriend and had him for moral support and her girl bestfriend from highchool and college. I learned to overcome the grief and loss through work, school, music, family and mutual friends.Thanks to the social networking I saw through a friends feed since she blocked me and still blocked since May that the former friend that I have been talking about through this blog says” you can’t replace a bestfriend (Lilly) meaning her bestfriend of through highschool and college which is (Lilly)and that hurt when I found that out. I was more less dumbfounded because even before the blow up between us she told me that I was her bestfriend and I was more therefore her than the other one. In the begining she taught me it was ok to have more than one bestfriend and I agree with that but when i read that I was like wow. So the summer ended and school started back up in the fall I was over it not clearly but for the most part. I saw her around school and came to a quick conclusion right now she is so damn stubborn. I thought I was, she clearly is. She has this built up of bitternss its pretty much written all over her face. It might be because her ex boyfriend and I have all of our classes together which isnt my fault, I dont plan on dating him. I accepted the fact that were not friends anymore. This semester which will be over in a few weeks we share a class together. It didnt really effect much like I thought it would. The once in awhile the looks from one another was kinda indulging but nothing ever went from there. I tried to make small talk it didnt really work out as I hoped. I get it i get it now all the signs of disappointment. I would try and ask her if she or kind of hinted around on wanting to do something but nothing, nothing ever came of it and thats okay. It just hurts when I wanted it to work out, I wanted the friendship to work, I wanted to be able to talk to her whenever but thats not the case. I can see the jealousy in her eyes something that Ive never noticed until now. Apparently I still have this fantasy and or desire of hope that maybe one day we might be able to set these things behind us and move forward, lifes to short for this crap. Its hard and she knows when she talks to me and her leaving the assumptions open it hurts me. I just wanna make sure I do things right. She makes me feel that I did something wrong and I know I havent and from others opinons icluding her former friends. I keep hearing the same thing over and over she is a bad friend, and hurts you , you dont need someone in your life that is going to cleary hurt you all the time. I know I have other friends but for some reason I called her the best friend I guess its because I finally actually she was the only person that I have opened up to since a former best friend from middle school to begining of college friendship failed again not really in our hands but she chose to end it. I realize I care too much. red flag she thinks i was clearly after all her men, clearly not. some of them just took more interest in me then her. red flag she never is or was there for me when i needed someone. red flag she allowed others to get in the way of our friendship. she let our friendship die. she would purposely make me feel guilt for no apparent reason. I’m apparent and she’s elusive. Because I believe if you cared then it would have never got to the point it did. now on to the positive side we did go on vacation to the beach we did spend 9 days together. we can laugh. we can eat. we can drink. we can dance. when im stressed and she hugs me i feel some ease. she was a person that i could tell everything too, not anymore. That itself hurts. After writing the positive aspects she has all the qualities of being just a….I dont even know. I cant trust her, and trust is the most important thing. We never got to experience the first thing we ever thought about doing together and that was going to haunted houses. Apparently she didnt want that to happen so it never did. We were not speaking during that time or she hadnt something better to do. and thats fine I realize that now. I should not be around her and let her flaws come over me. She clearly does not care about me or the friendship. She recently did something to me it hurt. like i said we have this class we share and it does get canceled alot so the person that i am, i text her a couple of hours before hnd to let her know that the class will be canceled so she doesnt have to walk cear across campus to show up and look on the door for a peice of paper saying that this class is canceled. Thats where I try and text her and make small talk it may work for a few hours but then nothing. This last time I was mentioning about going shopping and I told her she ought to go because who doesnt like shopping and these deals only come once a year and she thought the idea was fun and even added a smiley face at the end of the text. Then she said she was going to find someone to go with, So i said she was welcome to join me. She texted who are you going with and I was thinking well I was invited to go with a group of friends but If she really wanted to go with me then I’ll do that instead so I replied myself. She failed to reply I was a little upset two days later the class we share was canceled again. So I was like well better text her and tell her so I did and she said she thought it would be since it was the day before thanksgiving break I was like oh ok and she replied but thanks, Four hours later I replied your welcome. Still nothing about going shopping with me. Through this whole process I learn each time and this time I’m finished I cant try anymore that’s overwhelming itself and I look mostly to this book by Irene for survival. I know that I wanted this friendship, and I have looked at it through my eye view and not so much through the view of others because that would not be fair to side with a person that doesnt like her or listen to someone provoking that she is this horrible person even though I have had people say she goes through stages and that fine. People sometimes learn they may have something great when it’s too late and I know that I tried to fix this friendship several times and I was there for her when she needed a shoulder to cry on, even in the middle of the night because of her boyfriends, I was there when she was sick I brought her soup, I bent over and beyond backwards for this friend and she was unappreactive maybe in the moment appreacitive, but all of that doesnt count now and there’s nothing else that I can do. I dont want to go through the process of finding a new best friend so I’m not going to try that. Im going to stick with the ones I have even if they do live an hour away we will make time. Something that she clearly did not make.

  5. Irene says:

    First, I wanted to say that I love your subject line 🙂

    Seriously, regarding your problem: I think that you can’t do anything drastic given your work situation and the social ties you share. 

    It sounds like you realize your friend’s limitations, so you just need to move on psychologically. Be cordial to her at work, act nicely when you are with other people, and minimize the intensity of your relationship.

    I’m not sure how she hurt you but you can still express your feelings in a calm manner outside the office even if she doesn’t. Then try to get over it by adjusting your expectations of her and getting closer with other people.

    Hope this helps.




  6. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your response. It’s appreciated.

  7. Anonymous says:

    HI there,
    It sounds like your friend is more comfortable with a superficial, or less intense level of friendship, except for this one thing, and it has bothered me too with someone. You are close due to sharing intimae details about your life, yet the closeness doesnt match at the level of consideration for other. You are certainly the better friend here, and while your friend shouldnt have to be just like you, want hugs, like to be alone, etc, for working out misunderstandings and consistency there should be some level of mutuality. That’s why you are experiencing cumulative hurt. One thing that has worked for me is asking myself if my friendships are low or high self esteem. I can make exceptions in staying in what I would characterize as a low self esteem friendship and overlook a friend’s neglect or lower my expectations (of course talking and trying to work it out), but I must have high self esteem friends to balance that out. Also, I lessen my emotioanl investment in the low self esteem friendship and maybe downgrade the friendship to more superficial.Sometimes I walk away all together, but usually not with a close friend with history and a foundation of closeness, or if the friend would be hurt in some way if I suddenly walked away. Also, if there is alot of personal sharing and not a match in action in areas such as talking thru problems and consistency, the personal sharing has to go, which automatically downgrades the friendship. The not sharing and lack of consistency is like having sex and not being emotionally close. Maybe because so many people are casual that way in opposite sex relationships that is why they are in friendships too, and why it doesnt bother people as she says. One thing I have done in friendships where I have had enough of being the better friend much too often, is step back and give the other person the opportunity to keep things going. If they step up to the plate they are stepping up to the friendship. If not, they are kind of making the choice for me, and as hurt as I am, at least I can find out how much I mean to them. Hope this helps, wish I had time to edit to make this sound better.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hi Irene:

    I was happy to find your website. There seem to be too few websites that tackle the field of female friendships.

    I, too, am in the process of breaking up with a good friend of mine, whom I met through work. We grew close over the last eight years. Her marriage break-up a number of years ago was what first brought us close. I listened over and over, with non-judgemental ears (her words), to the challenges of her divorce. We are different people yet we have similarities. Ultimately, we’re both honest and trustworthy. Time has allowed me to become more aware of our differences. I like hugs. She doesn’t. I am consistent in our friendship whether or not I’m dating someone. She’s not. I don’t mind being alone. She doesn’t. And this is the biggie…I like to talk things out…she doesn’t. In fact, she constantly tells me that none of her other friends get hurt or upset by her. I like to talk things out when there is a misunderstanding or when one of us gets hurt. That’s how I grew up. She doesn’t like to do that; that is not how she grew up. We know each other very well. The problem, now, is that I’m very hurt by her. It’s a cumulative thing. I’ve given her chance after chance, year after year, thinking that things will be different next time. They’re not. It’s to the point where I feel sick to my stomach when I think of her or see her in the hall at work. If she wasn’t at work, I’d be able to deal and heal more easily. The fact that we have the same social network at work is also problematic. I don’t want to tell our mutual friends/colleagues that we’re not as close as we used to be. I would still like to be good friends with her but I don’t think that it’s realistic. Any words of wisdom or advice regarding any of the above would be welcome. Thanks.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I stumbled across this the other night, I just recently broke it off with someone I considered a best friend since middle school. I used to always think I was the bad person, I was needy or a horrible friend, I was at fault, always guilty of something; but taking stock of the relationship, remembering things that have happened in the past, and reading some of the helpful & very imformative entries about friendship, I realized I wasn’t so bad, I tried to keep the friendship going because she’d guilt me into thinking I was her best friend, even after being put on the back burner, guilted into believing I was out to get her, too needy, too full of myself, that I didn’t try hard enough.
    When in all honesty, I did try; but she never reciprocated my actions, never seemed to appreciate them, talked badly about me behind my back, whether to new friends or mutual friends (which some of them later informed me of her talking about me behind my back, how she did me wrong, etc), judged my relationships, my confidence in myself or abilities, never really tried to make me a part of her life like I wanted her to be a part of mine, tried showing her the same respect, that I wanted to see in return and even sacrificed time to make her happy, walked on eggshells for years around her, kept negative remarks to myself (whenever she had something rude to say about me, when no one who’d defend me was around), felt horrible after spending time with her, she’d make me feel so insecure & that I was trying to be her after getting tattoos, dying my hair certain colors, even down to certain purchases.
    The straw finally broke the camel’s back when she talked badly about me to a mutual friend, blaming me for other life problems (which wasn’t surprising, seeing how I was her personal scapegoat for all her problems) and when asking her about her deal, why she had to act like a bitch towards me, when she couldn’t even keep her word, from a professional stand point, after asking me to pay her in advance for services not performed and tried to change the story around. It wasn’t the first time; but it was definately the last time. She then proceeded to bring up old circumstances, that she seemed to act cool about, that the situations were dropped, when in all honesty, she held that against me, along with other mistakes, slip ups, so forth. If there was a problem, she would talk to everyone else behind my back, fail to bring it up with me, or just keep it to herself, to hold it over my head when I “slipped up”. She brought up all kinds of old things, made it look like it was all me, and she was simply the victim; and made it a point she didn’t care about what I had to say in response, and would just delete it anyways.
    Well, I did respond back, I simply told her that I couldn’t be friends with someone who treated me that way, no one deserves to deal with that, made it quite clear that I wasn’t the victim; but wasn’t the only guilty one involved. I also mentioned, she would read it, I knew she would, that’s the kind of person she was (slander anyone else; but worry about personal appearances).
    She deleted me from her facebook friend list, talked horribly about me, tried to go the distance to make me jealous of sudden accomplishments and I’ve been the bigger person, ignored it, told close mutual friends that I understand where they’re coming from but for persnal reasons, I’m not making amends, moving on with my life & wouldn’t hold it against them if they continued to be friends with said party; and that what it boils down to, there are other friends who;d show me what good qualities I show them in return, who’d enjoy my company and that in the worst of times, were there for me, when she wasn’t..

    I know it was a rant; but I’d like to thank you for putting these informative entries on the internet to help women deal with these situations & people, it really helped me, and helped reinforce the decisions I’ve made with this.

  10. Irene says:

    See my thoughts on your situation here. Hope they are helpful.

    Best, Irene

  11. Anonymous says:

    I too have recently had a friendship break up with my bf. We both had a stressful year, I lost my job and she has had various stresses. She told me I was too intense, despite the fact that I tried not to call or ask her to go out too often. If I ever upset her she went hysterical calling me names and screaming at me over the slightest thing. I miss her terribly and told her so and that i could not stop thinking about her, like an obsession. However, my feelings are that of love for a friend nothing more. We are both happily married with kids. I think she misunderstood what I meant and is now completely ostracizing me, despite telling me she missed me too. Is it normal to feel like this, so sad and unhappy that someone is no longer in your life? I’m very confused why I can’t stop thinking about her. Our kids go to school together and it’s making life very uncomfortable.

  12. Irene says:

    Dear Anonymous:


    I posted your question with a response.

    See: Is it "friendship anxiety"…or depression?


    Thanks for your post!

  13. Anonymous says:

    I’ve gone through multiple friend break-ups and it seems to be a reoccurring theme for me. I never want these friendships to end but it seems like they always fall apart because I ask too much of them. It seems that I always have a feeling of insecurity within friendships to the point where I need so much reassurance that the friend becomes exhausted. I think this tendency may spring from my ongoing depression but, how can I overcome this extreme friendship anxiety? And how can I go about repairing friendships that have been weakened or cut off because of this?

    Too frequently I’ve had friendships that have started well, escalated towards very intense then petered out for the reason above. I don’t want this to happen anymore, what can I do?

  14. Cameron Wilson says:

    Hi Dr. Levine: I found your blog on Cougar Tales. It is so interesting to see that you wrote this book, i Just posted a very detailed post on my blog on this very topic Monday (http://bit.ly/1Gnkig) about my friend breakup with a best friend, and then 6 indicators that someone might need to consider a friend breakup. In my situation, I tried to take the high road after being betrayed and learned years after that my ex best friend had told SO many lies about me. What a horrible, crazy & juvenile experience, but it still stings a bit years later.

    Anyway, I’m very interested in your blog & your book and will follow. Would be interested to get your take on my story, just paste this into your browser.. http://bit.ly/1Gnkig

    Thanks and cheers,

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