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Friendship Fallouts: The Ambiguous Grief Surrounding the Loss of a Friendship

Updated: Mar 26

Ambiguous grief refers to an individual’s profound sense of loss in regards to a non-death related event. Examples of ambiguous loss can include divorce from a romantic partner, estrangement from a family member, or a falling out with a close friend. As time passes and life circumstances and priorities evolve, organic adjustments in our relationships change as well. Whether you have experienced the slow distancing from a childhood friend, or a seemingly abrupt ending to a friendship following an argument, the loss of a relationship that you once held dearly can feel isolating and incredibly painful. You might be left missing how things used to be within a friendship, mourning the loss of an anticipated future with that person, or yearning for answers to questions related to how and why things changed. Below we discuss some thought processes related to navigating the loss of a friendship, as well as considerations around proactive measures that we can take to promote healthier functioning friendships. 



losing a friend is difficult


Navigating the loss of a friendship:

Accept feelings of loss and permit yourself to grieve. Ambiguous loss can feel particularly isolating because the impact of the loss on an individual and their accompanying grieving behaviors may not be as readily recognized or valued by others.  The qualities of ambiguous loss may prompt insecurities surrounding what is the “right” way to grieve. Your feelings and emotions stemming from this loss are valid and therefore warrant space for you to process them in a time and manner that feels right for you. 

  • If you are contemplating seeking out closure, ask yourself what closure looks like for you? What function will this reconnection serve and what outcome are you hoping for?

  • Lean into other bonds. Whether it’s reconnecting with an old friend whom you haven’t spent time with recently, calling a family member, or catching up with a friendly coworker, reorient yourself to the relationships with individuals who you care about and who continue to be present in your life. 

  • Take time to reflect on your role in the dynamics leading up to the friendship changing. This is not to suggest that you should ruminate or magnify your role in the friendship’s ending, but it could be helpful to assess whether there are takeaways that you want to be mindful of for current and future relationships. 


Proactive means for promoting healthy friendships or repairing those on the rocks:

  • Clarify expectations of one another - Be intentional with one another in clarifying the values you hold within the relationship and how you would like to act in alignment with such values. 

  • Discuss communication strategies that enable you to be open and honest. When you feel like you are drifting apart from a friend or that there has been a change in the dynamic that you feel unsettled about, consider voicing your observations to your friend and collaborate in identifying contributing factors for the shift as well as where you would like to make adjustments. 

  • If you are unhappy with the current state of your friendship, reflect on the positive qualities of the relationship before initiating a conversation with this person. Remind yourself what about this relationship “fills your cup up.” In other words, what are you grateful for within this relationship?

  • Investigate opportunities for strengthening your role as a listener. Often relationship tensions can stem from one or all individuals feeling as though they are not being heard. Listening to your friend’s needs sends a powerful message that you care about them and strengthening your relationship. 


By: Laura Kiernan

Mental Health Counseling Intern


References 

Boss, P. (2000). Ambiguous loss: Learning to live with unresolved grief. Harvard University Press. 



navigate the grief of losing a friend with a therapist



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