Written by therapist Ruth Nathaniel
Making friends is hard. Maintaining healthy adult friendships is even harder. There is distance, life contexts, and commitments often at play, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming when trying to forge a healthy friendship in adulthood. I consider myself an incredibly lucky human being when I survey the friendships I am a part of today. The friends I’m thinking about span a vast spectrum of cultures, upbringings, careers, and spirituality. While there are many varying factors at play, I narrowed it down to 3 main tenets to hopefully guide you as you navigate this rewarding social aspect of friendship.
The expectations you and your friend bring to the relationship are likely well-intentioned, but can also be misaligned at times. People experience care in different ways, and it is a wise approach to give yourself enough time to learn what your friend needs and establish what you are able to give them. For example, do you feel loved by time spent together versus their way of receiving love through words of affirmation or encouragement? Be intentional about sharing what helps you feel cared for, and do your best to show them care and affection in the ways they most benefit from. This takes real work, and it’s okay to not get it right all the time. A part of healthy adult friendships is knowing the realities of being finite human beings, and extending grace to one another.
Good friends build each other up. With enough time and shared experiences, you’ll come to learn what your friend’s strengths and weaknesses are and they will become privy to yours! Most importantly, friends will learn that they can turn to one another for the truth and external observations. When you become a friend that is asked for feedback, you are in a delicate and honorable position, and it should not be taken for granted. Healthy adult friendships challenge each person to be the very best they can be. At times the feedback is a tough pill to swallow, and the truth must always be spoken with love and care. Affirm one another that you’re rooting for each other, and are on the journey together!
The best of friends are not defined by their lack of conflict, but rather their willingness to name their feelings and pain in a safe manner. Conflict can bring people so much closer when done right. How can you use conflict to bring you and your friend closer? A quick tip is to lead with “I” statements when sharing you’ve been hurt by something in the friendship, and limiting “you” statements as much as possible. Making space for your friend’s response, and not trying to fill in the blanks for them, will do a world of good for the dialogue. You aren’t a mind-reader, and assuming how someone feels or thinks only limits the room for hearing each other out. People hurt one another, and while we cannot simply avoid all blunders and pain in healthy adult friendships, we can use those moments to identify the error, take responsibility, seek actionable change, and reconcile well.
Now, this blog was a brief dive into what contributes to a healthy adult friendship, but hopefully it will spark discussion between you and a friend. Maybe it’s time to do a check-in and see how you can show up for them in this particular season of life, or create space to advocate for your expectations. Friendship requires energy, care, and commitment, and can thrive in the most stressful conditions when invested in over time. My hope and desire for you is that you’ll experience the fullness of healthy adult friendship in the years to come!
If you want to process your relationships, the communication styles within them, or even examine how you might experience greater fulfillment in the community you are a part of, I’d be honored to support you. Give us a call about setting up an appointment today!