At one time or another, we’ve likely all been advised that we should go through our closets on a regular basis to weed out what no longer works for us, and to remind ourselves what does.

After months of procrastination, I tend to carry out this arduous task every couple of years, and not surprisingly, at the end of it, I’ve usually gathered together at least one large garbage bag of ho-hum clothes, that were previously relegated to the back of my drawers or closets. To the Salvation Army drop off they go, and afterwards, I’m left feeling uplifted, lighter, and free.

Now organized and sorted, my closets and drawers allow me unencumbered access to the items that I love; well, at least that I like (I don’t actually love them all, and some of those might end up in a similar black garbage bag after the next round). Most importantly, though, I no longer feel annoyed when I sift through a heap of clothes that no longer work for me in order to find the ones that do.

Taking the time to sort through, and let go of, ‘sagging’ friendships is as necessary, if not more so. As we grow emotionally and move forward with our lives, we inevitably change as people – sometimes a bit, sometimes a lot – and over time, we might find ourselves hanging onto relationships that, like our clothes, no longer work for us for any number of reasons.

I’m not suggesting that we cast aside friends with the same casual consideration as our old clothes, but what I’ve noticed is that many of us fear letting go of friends that no longer fit into our lives the way they once did. Why?

Well, largely because frequently we find that change, any change, is uncomfortable for us, and so is the sort of conversation that would be necessary in order to close a friendship door with some degree of maturity.

One person may fear hurting the other person, or they simply can’t seem to articulate to themselves, let alone to their friend, why their feelings changed over time, especially if nothing in particular happened that would explain the distance that eventually grew between them. But life happens, and perhaps over time interests begin to differ, conversations don’t flow the way they used to, time isn’t as available to one person the way it is to another, and resentments typically brew as a result.

Other causes for fractures in friendships include when people marry, or they don’t; they might decide to have children, or decide to have none; they might divorce, or get remarried; partners, children, or either of the friends might face serious health issues, or financial highs or lows.

In each of these situations, ruptures in previously stable friendships can occur, and friends who once promised to be there for one another ‘until death do they part’, find they can no longer, or have little interest in, investing the time it takes to support one another the way they once did. In these cases, awkwardness, and, as I mentioned earlier, resentment, often remain the only vestiges of a once-vibrant friendship.

Typically, friends sense the ‘end of the relationship’ long before they become willing to do anything about it. In fact, often nothing gets done at all, and either one, or both, of the people in the relationship simply avoid the other until they’ve each slipped far enough away that it’s obvious to both of them that ‘it’s’ over.

If only one person is experiencing the desire to end the friendship, this particular method can leave the other person in considerable pain, especially when they are unaware of what happened that caused the other person to ‘vacate’ the relationship. And more often than not, they usually never discover the reason why, which is far more hurtful than the end of the friendship itself.

In my role as a psychotherapist, I’ve often worked with female friends who’ve experienced difficulties in their relationships with one another. Many of them have walked away feeling better after having had the opportunity to ‘hash it out’, and usually during the course of the sessions, they either decide to recommit to their friendship, but perhaps with different boundaries, or they decide to terminate it in a way that leaves them both feeling sad, yet free to move forward.

Obviously, this is a far more mature method of ‘spring cleaning’ than the avoidance style, and it clearly does far less damage in the long run, but it’s also very rare, particularly within the context of female friendships. Why?

Well, mainly because as little girls growing up, we were taught to be ‘nice’, and ‘nice girls’ aren’t supposed do things that will hurt others, at least directly. So, the use of avoidance, passive-aggression, or ‘behind the scenes’ machinations frequently create the sort of recipe that ultimately dooms many female friendships.

Men’s friendships are rarely as emotionally intense, and, consequently, not nearly as messy and dramatic when either one, or both, of them decide to end their friendship. They usually just let go without a great deal of angst or hurt feelings left in their wake.

It’s not easy to let go of friendships that no longer work, but let’s face it, not all of them can last forever. As they say, ‘friends are here for a reason, a season, or a lifetime’, so we need to become aware of the various categories our friends fall into. Of course, we don’t always know at first, but time will usually inform us of where each of our relationships belong.

If the basis of the friendship was for a ‘reason’, or for a ‘season’, then once it becomes obvious the time has come to move on, we need to let go with gratitude, and not let our expectations of ‘forever’ dismiss the gold we received from that bond.

As we move forward in life, free time becomes increasingly rare, so we need to decide how we want to spend the precious time that’s available to us. And, if we’re trying to make a relationship fit that clearly no longer does, then one way or another, it’ll end. And, no question, it’s kinder to close the door on it sooner than later, and with love and respect for what you shared together, rather than to let it die of starvation or burst into an inferno of hurt feelings.

So how about you? Do you need to do some spring cleaning in your friendship closet? If so, let me know how it goes!

Author's Bio: 

I am an Adlerian-trained psychotherapist in West Vancouver in a private practice, and I work with individuals, couples, and families. What separates my service from others is my ability to instinctively understand people and the core issues that may be playing a key role in the many complex situations that clients bring to me. Would you like to hear more?