How to get over an ex or former friend, according to a therapist and friendship expert

How to get over an ex or former friend

They say all good things come to an end, that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But none of these platitudes change the fact that losing people we love sucks.

The ending of relationships often feels painful and scary and triggers feelings of rejection, inadequacy, and personal failure. Even when it’s clear that a connection needs to end, there’s always a temptation to resist it or agonise over what we could have done differently.

Anna Goldfarb, friendship expert and author of Modern Friendship, explained that parting ways with a friend or intimate partner may not be easy, but it is a part of normal life.

With gentle self-inquiry and reflection, break-ups can also teach valuable lessons about ourselves and what we want from our connections.

Are romantic splits tougher than friendship break-ups?

Goldfarb explained that, in the context of monogamous relationships, romantic break-ups are exclusive by design, which is one reason why romantic break-ups are often framed as a greater loss than a friendship dissolving.

“I’m only a wife to one person on the entire planet, but I’m friends with dozens (if not hundreds) of people. It’s a special title to hold,” she said.

“We have lots of friends throughout our life. Studies show we lose half our friendships every seven years. It’s a more expected churn.”

Friendships are, therefore, considered less of a loss than romantic break-ups since they end more frequently and are considered more easily replaceable.

Intimate relationships also often form a large part of our identity. Particularly as we get older, some of us tend to spend more time with our partners than our friends. That said, losing a beloved friend can still be dysregulating and painful.

Anna Goldfarb friendship expert and author of Modern Friendship

Anna Goldfarb, friendship expert and author of Modern Friendship.

Why does it hurt so much when a friendship ends?

Part of the reason losing a friend is so distressing is that we aren’t emotionally prepared for how hard it is. Friendships are not given the same focus and importance in our culture as romantic connections.

“Any kind of painful break-up will require a grieving period,” said Goldfarb.

“Be gentle with yourself. You’re mourning that your friendship wasn’t what you thought it was. It’s understandable if you’re hurt.”

She explained that friendships fade for many reasons, and it usually isn’t personal. That said, if you’re struggling to get over breaking up with a friend, Goldfarb suggests it’s likely because they played a vital role in your life, which is now vacant.

“Tom Rath outlined the eight roles friends play for us in his book, Vital Friends,” she said.

“A vital friend, he says, is someone who measurably improves your life and whom you can’t afford to live without. Losing a vital friend hurts deeply.”

Following a painful friendship break-up, Goldfarb suggests seeking clarity on why it happened. Common reasons are relocations, a mismatch in values or opinions, conflict, changing life circumstances, or drifting apart due to personality or lifestyle changes.

Understanding why a friendship ended reminds us that it wasn’t a personal failure and ultimately helps us learn valuable lessons about life and ourselves to take into future relationships.

Focusing on your remaining healthy friendships can help you heal from losing an important platonic connection. Be the best friend you can be to those still in your life. Reach out and offer support. Practise gratitude for all the connections throughout your life, whether they last a lifetime or a few weeks.

How to get over a romantic break-up: a therapist’s top tips

If losing a friend feels hard, then the rupture of an intimate connection can feel like the end of the world. Everything reminds you of them, and your daily routine now has a gaping hole where you used to spend time with your significant other.

Michal Klein, a registered psychologist, stressed the importance of having clear boundaries and realistic expectations when going through a romantic break-up. She explained that this is particularly difficult in our modern world where staying connected with an ex online is so easy.

She suggests allowing yourself to go ‘no contact’ initially and taking a relationship ‘detox’. This means unfollowing or muting your ex on social media and respectfully declining to stay in contact via messaging apps, if feasible. Let yourself off the hook and dodge social events you know they will be at, even if it brings up feelings of weakness for avoiding awkward scenarios.

“In the acute early phase of the break-up, the emotional wounds are so raw and open,” said Klein.

“It is so important to ask: what do I need to take the edge off my pain in these vulnerable times?”

People sometimes question why they can’t transition straight into a friendship after a break-up. While every situation is nuanced, it’s uncommon for someone to immediately heal enough to transition into being friends with an ex unburdened by lingering resentment, baggage, or sexual longing.

“Prolonging contact only prolongs the break-up and the time it will take you to process your past experiences,” Klein said.

“It’s very difficult to come to terms with and heal from a break-up if it’s ongoing.”

She suggests gentle self-inquiry when you want to reach out to an ex to clarify your motives for re-engaging. Some useful questions could be:

  • Do I miss the person in particular, or am I lonely and craving company in general?
  • Do I miss who they are or who I hoped and dreamed they would be?
  • Do I miss their entire being, even the parts that contributed to my decision to end things, or do I miss specific parts of their personality, like their warm, gregarious, sexy side?

Transitions are hard, and losing a support person, even when it wasn’t working, is daunting. It’s important to allow yourself to find it challenging while also staying strong to what you know is best for you long-term.

Klein also explained that rituals can be helpful when healing from a difficult break-up. You could write a letter to your ex to journal and process your feelings. You can decide whether or not you send it to them, share it with a friend or therapist, or keep it to yourself.

This letter or journal entry can explore your relationship’s impacts on you, good and bad, the lessons it taught you, and help you gain clarity and closure. If writing a letter doesn’t work for you, you could create art or listen to songs that help you to reflect and grieve.

Michal Klein registered psychologist

Michal Klein, registered psychologist.

I can buy myself flowers: Becoming your own best friend after a break-up

Whether you’ve split from a partner or a dear friend, you need to put yourself and your needs first to deal with the loss and grief. Now is the time to show up for yourself with more loving compassion than ever.

Everyone deals with loss differently. Some may dive into meaningful work to reconnect to their broader purpose outside the friendship or relationship. Others may seek out connection through other friends or family members who remind you of your lovableness and value. Some prefer solo pursuits of beloved hobbies that distract your mind from the break-up.

Nourish yourself with good food, enough rest, joyful movement, and pastimes that make you feel good about yourself. If you are struggling excessively to heal from a break-up, don’t continue to struggle through it alone. Reach out for support from a trusted friend or seek help from a mental health professional.

When you feel ready, you can begin reflecting on the relationship and take ownership of the role you played. Forgive yourself for mistakes you made or red flags you ignored while resolving to make more conscious and informed decisions in your next relationship or new friendship.

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon is a passionate writer, editor and community development professional. With over ten years’ experience in the disability, health and advocacy sectors, Emma is dedicated to creating work that highlights important social issues.