Friendship breakups suck. Having gone through multiple in the last few years, I’m here to tell you you’re not alone, you’re not the only person to have lost people you thought would go the distance, & I am right alongside you in walking through the messy, hurtful process. In some situations you’re lucky enough to simply drift apart, the currents of distance and busy calendars pulling you in two different directions until you look up and realize their ship is crossing the horizon and you didn’t really notice. That’s really the most idyllic way to go about the ending of friendships, isn’t it?
But typically, when we talk about friendship breakups, we mean the violent ripping apart of lives embedded within one another, screaming wounds of betrayal and hurt; the uncomfortable, painful process of untangling and tripping over one another’s baggage. Not only does it hurt like the dickens, it’s usually messy as well. And honestly, I think some of that mess is inevitable and unavoidable because we are humans. But I do believe that if we started talking about friendship breakups a little bit more instead of stuffing them into the dark, hidden corners of our lives, we could grow and find ways to do it better. Not to avoid it altogether, I’m not sure that’s possible, but to exit a person’s life and it not take over yours.
In my opinion, to do this, it means learning how to walk away well and healing from the breakups so you can get back out there again.
How to Walk Away Well
This might be the number one question I get when I talk publicly about ending friendships. How do you do this well in a way that honors God? Well first of all, I’m here to tell you I have habitually not done this well, and it’s the number one way things get messy right from the get. So learn from my mistakes and let me tell you how I plan to do this in the future if something like this ever happens again.
My honest advice? You’re probably going to hate this. Believe the best of them. Remember why you started loving them in the first place. Give them an A+ whether they earned it or not. Forgive them for all the things they’re not sorry for that have hurt you and remember that the same Holy Spirit that is alive and at work in you is in them as well (assuming we’re talking about two believers here). Refuse to talk about them behind their backs in a disparaging way and reject the need to recruit people to your team in disliking them. Take the high road even if they don’t, every single time.
In the same breath I want to remind you that you are not meant to be a battering ram for someone else’s pain and hurt. Bear one another’s burdens without expecting them to bear yours, but bearing a burden is not synonymous with getting beat up. If every time you encounter this person they end up lashing out, I encourage you to listen to my episode on the podcast with Gary Thomas about his book When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom From Toxic People. Because you may be dealing with a toxic person (which is different form an unhealthy person), and you’re going to need some extra tools to untangle yourself from their mess.
How to Heal
Once you’ve done the walking away, you have to heal yourself so that you don’t turn around and wreck someone else’s life with your newly acquired pain and baggage. It’s okay that you’re hurt. It’s okay that you feel beat up and bruised and not sure you ever want to make another friend. Your feelings are valid and if your experiences have been anything like mine, you likely are pretty beat up. If you’ve walked away in the way that we just talked about, hopefully the untangling and ending of the friendship was just a little bit less messy, which should help this part be a little bit easier. But even if not, you have to forgive the person who hurt you.
Culture has told us that we forgive people when they’re sorry, but they’ve gotten restoration and forgiveness mixed up. What if God only forgave us when we were sorry? We’d be up a creek with no paddle. The only hope for relational restoration is mutual apologies and forgiveness, I mean why would you want to mend things with someone who isn’t sorry? But forgiveness…that’s for you. You are worth forgiving someone who hasn’t apologized because your time and energy are too precious to be wasted being eaten alive by bitterness. So let them go. Bless and release them, and then set up some boundaries.
Friend, you’re allowed to gate keep the energy that comes into your life, so if that person comes around and tries to stick a toe in your playground and you haven’t healed enough to deal with them, you can lovingly escort them out. This may look like unfollowing them on social media, firmly but kindly telling others you’re not interested in talking about them or the situation (but definitely talk about it with safe people, you weren’t meant to go through this stuff alone). You may have to tell them you need to take a break from talking and rehashing everything that happened. Boundaries almost always involve some uncomfortable conversations, but listen to me – you are worth it. And you’re worth sticking to them. Don’t look back, you’re not going that way. Don’t scroll their feeds in self-flagellation. Focus on the good, lean in with the people you have, love them well, and allow God to heal the parts of you that need mending, because He’s a really good doctor. Promise.