We all know how valuable our friendships are, but did you know there’s actual research to back that up?
According to the Mayo Clinic, good friends relieve stress, provide comfort and joy, and prevent loneliness and isolation. A lack of social connection can have a powerful impact on your physical health. They also help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one.
You only have to talk to anyone who has ever been divorced to understand the sense of loss and social isolation that comes when they suddenly lose all their adult friendships after a breakup either because it’s too hard, or because they left the maintenance of social connections to their partners. And we’re not even talking about what happens when abusive partners try to separate you from your friends!
Why you need a strong friendship network
Real, good, friends are there for you no matter what. In good times, and bad, whether they’re coupled up or single, have kids or can’t have kids, and especially when you fight with your boyfriend and need someone to bitch to and share a glass of wine with. A 2021 US study from Colombia and Michigan State Universities suggest that the practical and emotional support provided by your friends has a direct impact on your happiness – the more people prioritised their friendships, the happier they were.
And that tracks. If you don’t have many friends, break up’s are about 100 times harder for one. So keep that in mind next time you’re cuddled up on the couch with your beau and can’t make time for your BFF who just needs a night out to forget about their ex. You never know, you might need them to be there for you in return one day. And a bit part of having strong friendships is making time for them when they need you the most.
We all make compromises in a romantic relationship. They can be as small as going to the restaurant they want for dinner, to as big as compromising part of who you are. But if you’re scared to speak up about what you really want because you’re scared they’ll leave – maybe consider getting therapy? Of course, if you’re in a new relationship and confident in yourself, finding areas of compromise and opening yourself to new experiences can be a good thing. Sometimes you need to choose your battles!
Strong friendships are the foundation of great relationships
There’s a feeling that a partner should be everything to you, and that’s a toxic ideal that stifles everyone. Having external support is crucial, and not just in a red-flaggy ‘they won’t let me spend time with my friends or have any friends’ kind of way. It’s impossible for someone to be everything to you – sexual partner, co-parent, emotional support, only friend. Friends are there to spread out the burden of meeting all our social and emotional needs. And investing there makes for a healthier, happier you – and happier partnerships. Especially if you’re asexual.
Having multiple people to help fulfil your emotional and social needs is a core feature of polyamorous relationships. , but poly relationships are even harder to navigate than mono ones, and require excellent communication, time keeping and emotional negotiation between all parties. If that’s not something you’re into, starting with strong friendships is a good thing.
When you are in a relationship, it’s important that you’re both maintaining friendships with external support networks. Sure, your friendship circles can overlap, and probably will over time. But it’s really healthy to have separate friendship groups and spend time with them. Without always bringing your partner along. Your friends are there to do the things that your partner may not want to do with you, like go make-up shopping or see a chick flick. They are there to remind you of who you are and stay true to what you want for yourself. Both inside and outside of a relationship.
How to forge and maintain strong friendships
Being a good friend is about listening, not judging, being supportive and appreciating the things in a person that make them who they are. All the things that sometimes a partner may not see because they’re too close to you, or might struggle with if you haven’t been together for very long.
Good friends are kind, caring and want the best for you with no agenda of their own. Okay, maybe sometimes they have a partying agenda. But it’s not an agenda that’s at odds with your well being. After all, they’re you’re friends and they love everything that you are. You can trust them with all your secrets, be they wild or not, and you can respect each other’s choices. Also, good friends are the people you have a lot of fun with. Never forget the fun!
Loyalty is one on the most important qualities that I look for in my friends, along with honesty. My friends need to be genuine and give me the freedom to explore different experiences and parts of myself. Adventures are key and the best bonding experiences.
My top tips for building friendships:
- Listen with the intent to hear. You don’t have to solve all their problems.
- Be kind – but also honest, open and authentic.
- Have fun! Go on random adventures together.
- Don’t bitch. This may build short term friendships against a common foe, but you may be the next one to be on the outer.
- Make time to spend time with friends outside your relationship bubble. And yes, this includes doing things without your partner.
- Reach out to say hello, even if you haven’t seen them in a while. Or a long while.
- Wish them happy birthday. Facebook can be great for remembering birthdays.
- Give them a gift – flowers, a card, even sex toys if that’s something you talk about.
- Be there. Show up at important life events like weddings, weight lifting competitions and first birthday parties. And if you say you’re going to show up – show up.
- Accept that people may let you down, but you don’t know what’s going on in their life all the time.
- Tell them: that you love them, that you value your friendship, that you want to stay in touch. Then follow it up with actions.
How to make new friends as an adult
It can be harder to make friends as an adult. If you don’t work in a social environment, or everyone there is at different life stages, try joining a running group, a support group or a Meet Up group in your area. Having a common hobby or interest is a great way to meet new people and have a place to start new conversations. You might even run into people you already know!
You can also try taking a class, or volunteering for a cause you believe in. And maybe check what events you’ve been invited to by the people you do know – and go to them. As awkward as it can be, going to parties where you don’t know many people is a great way to meet new people… strange, I know.
Some final thoughts
The most important thing about being able to be a good friend is putting in the time and effort to keep the relationship going. If one person is always reaching out to talk, or make plans, and the other person isn’t reciprocating, the friendship won’t last long. If that’s a pattern you’re in – move on and make room for other friends that actually want to see you.
Now you know why friendships are important, and how to build good friendships for the long term. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, meet people, do things, and live life together! Forge the bonds of friendship that will help you stay healthy, happy and ready for a healthy romance. I wish you luck, happiness and ease in finding your people. Hopefully for a lifetime.