Families, Relationships and Societies
An international journal of research and debate

Unclear endings: difficult friendships and the limits of the therapeutic ethic

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Laura EramianDalhousie University, Canada

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Peter MallorySt Francis Xavier University, Canada

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Social scientists typically treat friendship as a positive part of people’s lives, but what happens when friendships fall apart, often with little explanation? Based on interviews in an Atlantic Canadian city, this article focuses on two key themes in people’s experiences of disappointing friendships: first, unintelligibility with regard to why friends exited their lives; and second, people’s interpretations of failed friendships as personal failures. We argue that, even as friendship pain feels personal, we must also understand it through friendship’s inherent qualities of institutional openness and informality and through the limits of the cultural resources of therapeutic communication that people may bring to their friendships. As we show, therapeutic directives to ‘communicate openly’ in personal life sit uncomfortably against friendship’s openness and informality. The article contributes to the critical friendship literature by attending to how the inherent structural and cultural contradictions of friendship shape people’s shared experiences of friendship pain.

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Laura EramianDalhousie University, Canada

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Peter MallorySt Francis Xavier University, Canada

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