Failure to maintain a friendship can lead to deterioration and eventual dissolution. Causes may be:
- Voluntary (termination due to conflict)
- Involuntary (death of friendship partner)
- External (increased family or work commitments)
- Internal (decreased liking due to perceived lack of support) (Bleiszner & Adams, 1992).
While there are often multiple, interconnecting causes that result in ending a friendship, there are three primary sources of conflict in a friendship that stem from internal/interpersonal causes and may lead to voluntary dissolution: sexual interference, failure to support, and betrayal of trust.
Sexual interference generally involves a friend engaging with another friend’s romantic partner or romantic interest and can lead to feelings of betrayal, jealousy, and anger. Failure to support may entail a friend not coming to another’s aid or defense when criticized. Betrayal of trust can stem from failure to secure private information by telling a secret or disclosing personal information without permission. While these three internal factors may initiate conflict in a friendship, discovery of unfavorable personal traits can also lead to problems.
Have you ever started investing in a friendship only to find out later that the person has some character flaws that you didn’t notice before? As was mentioned earlier, we are more likely to befriend someone whose personal qualities we find attractive. However, we may not get to experience the person in a variety of contexts and circumstances before we invest in the friendship.
We may later find out that our easygoing friend becomes really possessive once we start a romantic relationship and spend less time with him. Or we may find that our happy-go-lucky friend gets moody and irritable when she doesn’t get her way. These individual factors become interactional when our newly realized dissimilarity affects our communication. It is logical that as our liking decreases, as a result of personal reassessment of the friendship, we will engage less in maintaining, in tasks such as self-disclosure and supportive communication.
Research shows that the main strategy to end a friendship is avoidance. As we withdraw from the relationship, the friendship fades away and may eventually disappear, which is distinct from romantic relationships, which usually have an official breakup.
Aside from changes based on personal characteristics discovered through communication, changes in the external factors that help form friendships can also lead to their dissolution. The main change in environmental factors that can lead to ending a friendship is a loss of proximity, such as a large or small geographic move or school or job change.
The two main situational changes that affect friendships are schedule changes and changes in romantic relationships. Even without a change in environment, someone’s job or family responsibilities may increase, limiting the amount of time one has to invest in friendships. Additionally, becoming invested in a romantic relationship may take away from time previously allocated to friends. For environmental and situational changes, the friendship itself is not the cause of the dissolution.
These external factors are sometimes difficult if not impossible to control, and lost or faded friendships are a big part of everyone’s relational history.
Adapted from Communication in the Real World