3 Healthy Ways To Cope With Outgrowing A Friendship
Research reveals the signs that it might be time to trim some branches on your friendship tree.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | January 29, 2024
Acknowledging and coping with the feeling that you've outgrown a friendship can be incredibly difficult. Many people come to therapy upon the realization that they and their friends are on different paths in life. They may say things like:
- "My friend and I used to be inseparable, but now it feels like we've become strangers whenever we're together."
- "We always used to be on the same page about things, but now it feels like we're in entirely different chapters of our lives."
- "We used to be so close, but we just don't click the way we used to anymore, and I'm not sure if we can bring it back to what it was."
The realization that you're growing apart from a friend can leave you grappling with an array of confusing emotions and uncertainties. Facing the challenge of moving forward while cherishing the memories of what once was can be difficult to process.
If you're trying to navigate this process, you need to take practical steps to prioritize your own growth. Here's how to make peace with the changes, and how to forge new connections that align with the person you're becoming.
Signs That You Have Outgrown A Friendship
With some fading friendships, it can be especially hard to pinpoint what went wrong and when the denouement started. According to research from Current Opinion in Psychology, which sought to conceptualize friendship dissolution, there are several reasons for and signs of outgrowing a friendship:
- The emergence of new friends. If you notice yourself consistently forming new and meaningful connections, this could be a sign that your social circle is expanding. This emergence of new friendships could indicate that your interests, values or priorities are evolving, and you are seeking connections that align more closely with your current self.
- Growing dislike for a friend. Feelings of growing dislike or discomfort towards a friend can be indicative of a shift in emotional tone of the relationship. This might result from changes in behavior, beliefs or communication styles that no longer resonate with you. When negative feelings outweigh the positive aspects of the friendship, it might be time to consider that the connection is no longer fulfilling or supportive.
- Turning points. Major life events can act as catalysts for changes in friendships. If you or your friend experience significant life transitions–such as moving away, starting a new job, facing a life crisis or entering a new stage in life (e.g., marriage, having children, etc.)–these events can create challenges in maintaining the same level of closeness. The adjustments required during these turning points may reveal you and your friend to be on divergent paths, or to have differing priorities.
- Growing apart from one another. The feeling of growing apart from a friend may manifest in various ways, including differences in interests, worldviews or life goals. You might find that your individual journeys are leading you in separate directions, making it challenging to relate to one another on a deep level. This sense of growing apart can be a natural outcome of personal growth.
Attempts to recognize these signs allow for introspection and an honest assessment of your friendship's current state. As these signs and indicators suggest a shift in dynamics, it's worthwhile to approach the situation with empathy and transparency to determine the best course for both you and your fading friend.
What To Do When Your Friendship Is Fading
Unlike relationships we have with our family, friendships are always voluntary. If you notice that your friendship is changing, becoming toxic or simply no longer serving you, you have every right to choose to dissolve your friendship in any capacity you desire.
According to a study from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, there are various ways that an outgrown friendship can be handled, all of which can be used for different reasons. For each sign of an outgrown friendship, there are three dissolution strategies:
- Distancing yourself from the friend. Acting in a way that diminishes the frequency of contact or the closeness of the friendship. For instance, choosing not to initiate contact with the friend, but responding when the friend reaches out.
- Compartmentalizing the friendship. Setting limits for the types of activities or the topics of conversation allowable within the friendship. For example, choosing not to rely on them for help or advice, deciding to no longer drink with them or choosing not to discuss politics with them. These boundaries allow the friendship to continue, but within a delimited capacity.
- Ending the friendship. Choosing to cut all contact with the friend entirely.
When considering the distancing strategy, it's important to reflect on whether the changes in your friendship are something that can be handled by dialing back on contact, and whether there's potential for positive transformation. This approach is suitable for easing into adjustments, especially if the issues are not overly distressing.
Compartmentalizing the friendship becomes relevant when specific aspects of the relationship are problematic, such as differing values or incompatible activities. Setting up clear boundaries allows for a more controlled interaction, preserving elements of the friendship that still fulfill you and your friend.
However, if the relationship is a consistent source of negativity, discomfort or holds you back from personal growth, opting to end the friendship may be the most appropriate choice for the both of you. Trusting your instincts and understanding your personal priorities and emotional needs are crucial elements in determining the right dissolution strategy and the optimal timing for its implementation.
Outgrown friendships are like chapters in a book: once cherished, now a part of the past. As we evolve, so do our connections, and it's okay to acknowledge when a friendship no longer aligns with our journey. Friendship dissolution is a natural part of life that can be a catalyst for personal growth, making room for new experiences and connections that resonate with our present selves.
If you'd like insight on your decision making style to guide you through your friendship choices, you can try the Intuitive Decision Style Scale: The Intuitive Decision Style Scale
A similar version of this article can also be found on Forbes.com, here.