Testing Your Friendships

There are friendships that are said to go through long periods of time without talking, and those two people can proceed into their relationship together like no time has been lost. I often think twice about this saying, not because I don’t think that people couldn’t get back on the beat, but like any relationship, it needs to be nurtured and cared for if it’s ever going to grow. Friendships have a positive effect on our lives. It’s not just about having a shoulder to cry on, but the health effects are essential for every one of us. I think that we focus on the friendships built since childhood and adolescents, but in reality, it’s the quality of friendships well into adulthood that have an effect on our health and well-being.

It’s our friendships that tend to rank high on our lists that bring us satisfaction. It’s not to say that the friends we made as children and teenagers don’t rank, but as people grow older and move away, we become closer to our adult friends, even sharing characteristics from our childhood friends, but the truth is, as we grow older, our expectations change in our friendships. That’s not a bad thing either. We may even have fewer friendships as we become adults, as quality is the focus over quantity. Having thousands of friends doesn’t afford deeper, shared friendships to develop over time. As adults, we don’t need to win popularity contests, but rather, a handful of strong friendships have a higher value than tons of shallow ones. Late in life, friendships form with neighbors and co-workers and can instead sustain mental health for us.

You may wonder what is the definition of friendship, which can be defined as a voluntary and mutual relationship, involving companionship, a shared history, and mutual appreciation plus friends treating each other as peers. Sharing emotions, and thoughts, having trust, having similar qualities, and being respectful are all important to find in a person that you call a friend, but think about what your current friendships are like, and how do those friendships affect your life? How does your closest one measure up? Here are sample questions to give you an idea of what took place in the focus groups. See how you would answer them:

  1. What does friendship mean to you?
  2. What does your best friend mean to you?
  3. Does your friendship affect your life habits?
  4. Has your perspective on friendship changed over time?
  5. What do you share with your best friend?
  6. Do you argue with your best friend? What do you argue about? How do you solve the conflict?

After thinking about your friendships, you may want to further ask yourself whether the friendships that you have now would be different from the ones that you have had in the past.  You should be able to relate to the major themes, such as:

Behavioral processes:

  • Sharing emotions, thoughts, and activities.
  • Maintaining boundaries even while having a relationship.
  • Self-sacrificing for the good of your friend.

Cognitive processes:

  • Trusting your friend; feeling safe.
  • Being in harmony; complementing each other.
  • Willing to maintain the friend relationship.

Structural characteristics:

  • Being transparent, sincere, and honest.
  • Having similar qualities as your friend but also enjoying the differences.
  • Reciprocating emotions and behavior.

Developmental qualities specific to emerging adulthood:

  • Contributing to the other person’s growth.
  • Accepting the friend’s flaws.
  • Learning from prior friendship experiences.

Perhaps the key distinction for younger vs. older adults has to do with fitting a friendship into a larger social structure, the one that develops as your range of experiences widens. It might also take more effort to maintain that sense of a “partner in life,” but deep down, this may be a quality that has endured over time.

Looking at the previous four features of friendship from above, how many boxes can you check off when it comes to the person you consider your closest friend? Would you go out of your way to help this person, even if it comes at some cost to you? Do you and your friend share a good laugh from time to time?

All relationships have the potential to affect an individual’s well-being, it’s what’s meant to be in life. Friendships have this distinctive feature that can contribute to that well-being, especially once you gain insight into the factors that can help you realize their ability to contribute to your fulfillment and that of your friend over the course of your life, that’s the true test of friendship.

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