Why Friendships Fall Apart

October 17, 2023

When you haven’t heard from someone for six months . . . a year . . . two years . . . it can be difficult to interpret the silence and even more difficult to pull off a conversation that gives you a sense of resolution. For many reasons, we are left without the clarity we crave, and we are forced to settle for a lot of internal processing and prayer processing, in order to find peace.

For every loss, we have a story: a story we tell ourselves and a story we share with others. 

In working through my own losses, particularly the friendships that have faded with time, I have found that the perspective, or lens, I choose has a profound effect on the story I tell. And the story I tell has a profound effect on how I feel about my friend and about myself. Some lenses exacerbate our bitterness and insecurity, while others enhance our sense of grace and compassion.

A shift in perspective, tempered by the healing hand of time, can help us lay hurts to rest, offer forgiveness, understand our friend’s standpoint (even if we still disagree), or release our own feelings of guilt and regret. An open-minded look back may help us to remember a fuller picture rather than just a few negative moments. Let’s consider a few key lenses, or perspectives, that might help you make sense of, and make peace with, the faded friendships you’ve experienced.

Some people don’t know how to maintain long-distance friendships.

My family has moved a million times, and I was forced early in life to learn how to maintain long-distance friendships. My friend Julie recently reminded me that when I was a preteen and my family moved from Atlanta to Boston, I used to record audio messages on cassette tapes and mail them home to my Georgia friends. 

Julie and I have maintained our friendship from across the miles; however, I have tried to remain connected with other friends after a move and gotten little response. I used to feel hurt by this and wonder if I’d done something to damage the friendship, but in most cases, I’ve realized: They just don’t know how to do this. In their mind, a move automatically severs friendships—it’s in town or nothing. They’re just planning to let our friendship go. And sometimes, I let people let me go. It’s not personal; it’s just their way. Yes, it’s their loss—if they were willing to put forth a bit more effort, we could probably still be close—but since it’s not fun to chase people down, I have decided I’m okay with letting some out-of-town friendships fade.

Some people are “out of sight, out of mind” friends.

Ever had one of these friends? This lens might seem like it overlaps the long-distance issue, but it’s a little different. Out of sight, out of mind friends may live in the same town as you, but they basically fall off the planet during busy school seasons, work seasons, or kid seasons. They don’t mean to do it, but they kind of give you whiplash. When you’re with them in person, you feel totally loved and close, and you feel dumb for ever questioning the friendship, but when you’re not together for a little while, they sort of . . . vanish. They forget to call, text, respond, sometimes for weeks at a time. At first you think they’re mad or ghosting you, but eventually you realize, they’re just . . . distracted. Spacey. Or maybe busy and overwhelmed, caught up in their own daily life.

Some friendships are seasonal.

The picture pops up in my Instagram feed, and my heart catches. How have her kids gotten so tall? Surprise gives way to a surge of guilt which twists into insecurity.

I ponder the friendship for a while until truth sets in: this friend and I relied on each other a great deal during a difficult season in our lives and the friendship was a gift that encouraged us both through that long, lonely slog. Even back then, we didn’t talk all that often, but when we did, it was meaningful. We kept up for a while, but as time went on, we allowed more and more time between phone calls until . . . well, here we were. 

It was then that I realized: that friendship was a gift that saw us both through a challenging season, and that’s probably all it will ever be. We still love each other. But life has gotten busy and we’ve both moved on to other friendships, and that’s okay. The friendship isn’t broken, just . . . somewhat faded. A little bit past tense. The affection is still there, but the “dailiness” of the relationship is gone. Although seasonal friendships don’t last forever the way lifetime friendships do, they are still gifts we enjoy in their time. We can look back on our memories through the lenses of joy and gratitude, not regret and disappointment. Those friendships were blessings in their day, even if that day has ended.

Friendships (especially lifetime friendships) sometimes ebb and flow.

God has blessed me with several lifetime friendships, women who have shared decades of life with me. Each of these friendships has gone through different seasons. In some seasons, a friend and I will draw especially close: maybe we’re going through a similar struggle or joy, and we need one another’s support and companionship more than usual. 

But each of those friendships has also weathered seasons where we aren’t as closely connected. Maybe one or both of us is busier than usual, and phone calls and visits are difficult. Maybe one or both of us are going through a tough time, and for whatever reason we are leaning into other friendships that are better equipped to support us in that particular struggle. 

When I sense one of my friendships drifting, sometimes I check in with them to rule out conflict or hurt as the source of the distance. But other times, by praying and paying attention, I figure out for myself what’s going on, and it usually has nothing to do with me: she’s stressed with work or school; her marriage is struggling; her kids are keeping her busy; her work is overwhelming; she’s discouraged and not ready to talk about it yet.

Friendships sometimes ebb and flow. They come in close, then pull away for a while, but the best friendships, like the tide, come back to us.

The way we choose to see our friends, our conflicts, and ourselves matters. The way we tell our story matters. As you decide how to tell the story of your faded friendship, I pray you view it through Christlike lenses, lenses that are clear, light-bringing, and life-giving.

Adapted from When a Friendship Falls Apart: Finding God’s Path for Healing, Forgiveness, and (Maybe) Help Letting Go by Elizabeth Laing Thompson, releasing from Tyndale House Publishers in October 2023. 

Grab the book, here.

Wife to the world’s most patient husband, Kevin—she calls him Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, which might be why he’s so patient with her. Mom to the Crazies, her four sweetly wacky kids—kids they never thought they’d be able to conceive: Cassidy, Blake, Avery, and Sawyer. Elizabeth writes fiction for tweens and teens, and Christian inspiration books for women. When she’s not inhaling Starbucks mochas and plotting her next book, she works from home as a part-time editor and women’s minister, and as a full-time diaper changer, baby snuggler, laundry slayer, floor mopper, not-so-gourmet chef, homework helper, kid chauffeur, and tantrum tamer. She is living proof that geeky girls can live happily ever after.

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