How to break up with your bestie

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Even the best of friendships can falter and fail. This couple and family therapist says it's important to know when to stay and fight and when to call it a day.

In the video above: Being selective with your friends is important when you have a sibling with a disability, a few mums advise. Full ep. here.

If we’re lucky we have at least one friend who’s been in our life from the dorky school days, awkward teenage years, or the post school independence era.

While you might not take vows with this person there is an expectation, or at least the hope, that they’ll be in your life through sickness and health, joy and pain.

“It’s actually a very small group of friends that endure throughout those life transitions,” says couple and family therapist, Jennifer Douglas, from Relationships Australia.

Douglas says generally we only have the capacity to maintain very closely connected friendships with a few people at any one time and that it's normal to outgrow friendships at key life transitions such as going from primary to high school, joining the work force or becoming a parent.

"Friends who can grow with us throughout all these life transitions are rare and special, what we might terms as 'best friends' and there are strong attachment bonds."

But sometimes even in the strongest of friendships the cracks appear and the friendship falters.

“Every relationships holds the potential risk of there being some type of rupture or break in the friendship bond … the more significant the relationship the more impactful those ruptures will be,” Douglas says.

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Even the closest of friendships can falter. Photo: Natacha Badibanga
Natacha Badibanga

Do you stay and fight or walk away?

Douglas says there are a few things to take into consideration when weighing up what to do about a failing friendship.

  • Take a step back and reflect on where your hurt feelings are coming from and what your contribution to the friendship is. “Looking at your own actions is always a good starting point."
  • Try mediation so someone can help the two of you support a conversation about whether the friendship can be repaired or if it’s best to move on. While Douglas acknowledges that mediation may be an awkward topic to bring up she advises to begin the conversation confirming how the important the relationship is to you and to state your intention of wanting to try and work things out to save the friendship. "You can the put forward mediation as one way to ensure disagreements, conflict, or ruptures can be supportively discussed in the presence of a neutral party to avert a relationship breakdown and work towards an agreement and a commitment as to how to repair and go forward."
  • Ask yourself are you significantly being harmed by the relationship, either because the person isn’t acting in your interests, or the interests of the friendship or is hurtful, controlling or even abusive? “Your self preservation and self care has to be a priority,” Douglas says. She notes that self-preservation is about prioritising your own safety and well-being, making sure that you are not being harmed by a damaging, exploitative or abusive friendship. Self–care she explains is more of a general ongoing process of taking responsibility for your own well-being.

I think it’s really important not to underestimate the value of really good friendships, they don’t come along that often.

When it’s time to call it a day

If you’ve decided the relationship can’t be repaired, Douglas says these are the best steps to take.

  • Be open with your friend around your decision to walk away. “There’s lessons to be learnt for you and the other person about how to go forth in future relationships, the risk is if you don’t have the opportunity to have that learning you’ll repeat the same patterns over again.”
  • Give yourself a cooling off period, so set a time frame where you both agree to cease contact before you sit down again and decide whether to say your goodbyes or give things another go.

There is a way you could avoid all this

Don’t have friends … is not the answer.

If you’re reading this hoping you will never be in this position there are some things you can do to avoid losing a friendship explains Douglas, who says we often take a good friend for granted.

  • Check in with your friend. Ask them how they are feeling about you, if you are being a good friend. “It’s about tuning into the relationship.”
  • Show up for your friend when they are in need, “if we know someone is really struggling we turn up at their doorstep with a cooked meal,” Douglas says. “And if you say you are going to show up make sure you do turn up.”

“I think it’s really important not to underestimate the value of really good friendships, they don’t come along that often.”

Source SBS Insight