From the time we are born we begin forming relationships. First, it is with our parents, siblings and extended family. Then, we discover people outside of the familial circle. As dictionaries define it, by having a friend, we gain “a person who you like and enjoy being with”, and “a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection” (Merriam Webster & Oxford Dictionaries).
Having friendships offers many benefits to our emotional and physical health. Friends help us navigate the ups and downs of life. Many studies have shown that friendships have a positive social, emotional, and physical well-being effect. Friends can boost our happiness and help reduce stress, helping us feel good about ourselves, boosting self-esteem and confidence. Friends empathize with us, listen, laugh, and support through hard times. Often, just their physical presence can help us cheer up.
People who have one or more close friends have better health than those who have only casual or no friends. As we grow older, because of the physical changes, illnesses, losses, coping with aging and retirement, and dealing with other life transitions, friendships become even more important. At the same time, many adults report increasing sense of loneliness and social isolation. Many adults are missing the valuable support that a close friendship can provide. Although casual friendships can help, close friends are much more powerful in helping to relieve stress and depression.
Why do so many adults desire to have more close relationships, yet report feeling isolated and lonely? Here are some reflections that may help to explain the process of forming and maintaining adult friendships.
- To have friends, you have to be a good friend first. It is a give and take process. When was the last time you reached out to someone not when you needed something, but to check up on another person, just to show interest in his or her life? Friendship is about frequent contact. We need to reach out to others in times of stress to offer support and care. We also need to stay in touch on a regular basis. Don’t wait, reach out first. You will be surprised how many people will be happy to hear from you. You may also discover that frequent contact and showing interest in one’s life helps foster deeper bonds, transforming some acquaintances into friends.
- No one likes to be around someone who is always negative. Nonstop complaining puts a strain on any friendship. Listen to yourself objectively: are you a joy to be around, talking about positive and interesting things? Or you often judge, complain and gossip? Change your attitude if needed, and more people will enjoy the gift of your company, wanting to be around you.
- A major part in any relationship is communication. Be sure to listen to your friends, pay attention, ask questions, offer supportive comments, remember things that are important to them. Make eye contact, use supportive body language to show your acceptance, refraining from negativity and judgment. Be careful with the words you choose. Don’t be afraid to say “sorry” if you have to. Reach out to clarify misunderstandings and solve disagreements. Be humble enough to be “a bigger person”, as the payoff of having good friends is worth it.
- Practice acceptance and forgiveness. Remember that no one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Forgiveness is at the foundation of a friendship. If you have one good friend, consider yourself blessed. So, let go of little things. Be generous with forgiveness when your friends say or do something minor that may offend or upset you. Minor frustrations related to differences of opinions, personality or attitudes are inevitable in all relationships. Agree to disagree on some issues and move on.
- Cultivate trust and respect of personal boundaries. Friends are our confidants. What is shared between two friends often can not be shared with others. Broken trust and shaken confidence are hard to repair. Be a safe harbor for your friend’s vulnerability.
There is no down side to having friends, only numerous and important benefits. Friendships are your lifelines during good and bad times. Friends are your sources of joy, accountability, and support. So, if you are feeling at times isolated and lonely, reach out more. Just like you, many adults are also feeling isolated and lonely. People may not say it, but deep inside we all crave the same intention: to have more love, care, respect, and support in life. Friendships provide us with these things abundantly. Yes, reaching out, building and maintaining friendships require effort and work on your part, but it is surely worth it.