Why Friendships End

In this post for my year-long series, New Year; New Types of Friends, I describe the reasons why friendships end. So far, I’ve run through the History, Philosophy, Psychology, and Physiology (physical aspects) of friendships, then described The Friendships Throughout a Man’s Life and How Much Time Men Need to Become Friends. After those introductory posts, I began providing examples of real-life friendships in politics, sports, entertainment, movies, television, literature, and even cartoons (a future post will include links to each of these subsets). I also described how music strengthens friendships, the benefits of diversity in your friendships, and the differences between male and female friendships.

Next up is a post on the spirituality of friendship. I will conclude the series with my formula for creating GodBuddies, which are the deeper, more authentic friendships that most men need. All this should give you the tools to enhance your friendships to help you become a more godly man.

Let’s start first with the phases of a friendship.

Phases of Friendship

Across all age groups, there are generally three phases of friendship: formation, maintenance, and dissolution, or the closing down or ending over time. Of course, the duration of these phases varies by individual and circumstances. Some friendships can be maintained indefinitely, but all will dissolve or end at some point, as you will read later in this post.  

The formation stage of a friendship is when strangers or acquaintances begin finding commonality since there is bonding power in finding two or more areas you have in common. This binding leads to developing chemistry which bonds two people together. In children and young adults, there are more opportunities to form friendships at school, in the neighborhood. Adults meet and form friendships with people who are similar in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, personality, behaviors, values, and attitudes. 

The next phase is the maintenance or development stage. Once an initial friendship is formed, you begin to do recreational or leisure activities together. You share interests and provide basic support and advice. Conversations typically are based on sports, weather, and regular daily activities. As you begin to spend more time together though, the duration and depth of your interactions increase. More frequent interactions are easier with friends in close proximity (e.g., neighbors, at work, in social clubs, or sports groups). As discussions arise about family issues, relationships, and personal struggles, you develop a level of trust and begin to expose your vulnerabilities. However, this depth can also lead to disagreements about values and decisions. Learning to manage and resolve any conflicts is critical since it can actually deepen the emotional connection.

The ending stage of friendship can be abrupt or can slowly dissolve over time. Some end quickly when there are changes in life stages such as marriage, having children, or career advancement. Some friendships will end gradually. You may discover you now have less in common or one of you feels less supported by the other. An unresolved conflict can end a friendship. In this stage, you may be able to continue the friendship but it may also become more difficult over time. For older adults especially, friendships often end just after retirement (i.e. when you are no longer “friends of proximity”), divorce, widowhood, or someone has deteriorating health. Friendships end quickly too due to death or betrayal. 

Why Friendships End

In their post on the Art of Manliness, 3 Reasons Friendships End, Brett and Kate McKay describe the ambiguity of a friendship relationship. Unlike marriage or a business partnership (which are based on a covenant or contract with a start date and terms of the relationship), a friendship is less defined. This makes it hard to determine when the relationship should end. So the McKay’s state there are typically three reasons why a friendship erodes: 

  • Loss of Commonalities
  • Mismatched Expectations
  • Betrayal 

More on Why Friendships End

I’d like to expand on these three reasons further: 

  • Circumstances Change: Your lives have changed, you no longer work together, or go to the same school. You could have lost your emotional closeness and authenticity. Associated with accountability, authenticity is tough for many men since they tend to move away from their friends and isolate themselves when their sin increases. 
  • Distance Increases: You’ve grown apart and the gap widens in terms of interests, commitments, or even proximity. When distance becomes an issue, it creates uncertainty in the relationship. You start asking questions. It is in those conversations when you speak with honesty, you create opportunities to grow closer but also grow apart. Boys and men are not taught how to engage in deep conversations and tend to avoid them since they are perceived as signs of weakness or indecision.
  • Obligations Change: Your obligations have changed due to marriage, children, or job responsibilities. While your friendship can still remain a priority (with a proper balance of your other obligations), you may have to work harder to maintain it. But if you no longer enjoy the friendship, it may be time to consider whether it has become an obligatory friendship and may no longer be valuable. 
  • You are Now Rivals: Your friend has become a frenemy (a friendly rival). If so, look deeper at your relationship to see if you are being used. You may also have to be honest and determine if you are also using them. 
  • Toxicity and Negatively: The friend has become a negative influence in your life. They can make you feel inadequate, frustrated, and angry. They are not making any effort to change and it feels exhausting to spend time with them. Although understanding what makes them so negative is important, if their negativity is affecting your mood, it’s okay to break off the friendship.
  • Values Change: Your values or morality have become different than your friend’s. Especially with friendships from your youth or college days, you may have left your childish ways behind but your friend has not “grown up” so you are no longer aligned. 
  • Lying and Deceit: Your friend is deceitful. He lies about his marriage, his work, and just about everything.  Check out an older post for more on how not to be “That Guy”.
  • Death: Sadly, some friendships end when someone dies, either unexpectedly or after a long illness. Be mindful of whether ending a friendship is even necessary when someone is terminally ill.

The Reality is All Friendships End

The reality is that all friendships will end. Most men can ease in and out of friendships easier than women (as I outlined in my post about the differences between male & female friendships). Many can let a friendship go away without so much as a twinge of regret or sadness. Sometimes this is a good trait but most often we end a friendship wrong.

Sometimes, you will need to make the tough decision to end a friendship, especially with someone who corrupts your character, leads you toward temptations, or pulls you away from God. If so, you can end a friendship without being a jerk about it by avoiding these unhelpful approaches: 

  • Becoming hostile or aggressive toward them. 
  • Using others to end the friendship for you.
  • Sending them a text saying “it’s over.”
  • Seeking revenge or posting negative things on social media.
  • Ghosting them by ending all communication without saying why.  

The bottom line is DO NOT end a friendship without speaking to the other person. The only reason you could do this is when there’s physical or emotional abuse. Your first priority is to keep yourself safe and not subject yourself to further stress or risk. 

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GodBuddy Focus

The Bible is clear about how seasonal life is: “There is a time for everything, “a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). This also applies to our friendships  

Despite these reasons, GodBuddies should realize when it’s time to end a friendship. It may have become detrimental or they may no longer add value themself. They also realize when it’s time for new friends who bring them closer to God. No friendship is forever.

So regardless of the reason (except due to an untimely death), you should end all friendships properly:  

  1. End things in person. Don’t write an emotional “breakup” letter. If you can’t meet due to a change in proximity, then call them. Do not text them!
  2. Pray for gentleness and do it with love.
  3. Consider the “It’s me, not you” approach. Your needs for friendship have changed. 
  4. Be prepared for a response but try to de-escalate. If your friend responds in a negative way, don’t match the negative energy. Just listen and let them get things off their chest. 
  5. Be honest but gentle with your reasoning. Prepare in advance for possible graceful rebuttals but don’t over-explain. You made your decision and it’s final. 

Just make sure you end your friendship with love and grace whenever possible.

My next post gets into the spirituality of friendships.

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