When it comes to relationships, more often than not you’ll find us talking about the rollercoaster ride that is romance and dating – the red flags! The green flags! Ghosting! The whole shebang.
However, in my years of writing about relationships and interviewing psychologists, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s this: our relationships with our friends are more important than we might think. And they can largely affect our happiness and our health. Yes, really!
Ask any expert and they’ll tell you that the need for a friendship and connection runs deep – it’s something that’s just built into us.
Psychotherapist Lissy Abrahams said, “Humans are social animals have always needed friendships and connections with others for their survival. Primitive man faced impending death when isolated from family and friends, as they were rather weak compared to other creatures in the wild. Forming friendships allowed us to be stronger than any one individual.”
“As social animals we originally formed trusting connections with others to help each other obtain food, shelter, and ward off predators. Even though we no longer live in the wild, we are still hard-wired for this form of interconnectedness.”
“We still connect with others because our drive to survive still exists and tells us to catch up with people, make new friends when we move to a new area or new workplace. We are still wired to seek belonging and connection, we’re just not aware why.”
Research even tells us that people with strong friendships are more likely to live longer. It can also benefit your mental health, as different friends can provide different emotional needs.
“With friends in our life we typically live longer, some studies even suggest friends can add years to our lives. They are good for us in so many ways,” adds Abrahams.
Looking back at the COVID-19 lockdowns and our mental health during the pandemic, it’s easy to see how what can happen to our state of mind when we didn’t share that face-to-face connection with friends.
“Whilst we try to make the most of it with online catch-ups, drinks and dress-ups, we still missed being in the same space as friends. The mental health of millions around the world plummeted. Our psychological distress was real. Our reliance on alcohol and drugs skyrocketed.”
So, yeah. Friendship is pretty integral to our health.
But making friends, learning how to be a friend, and how to keep good friends is something we’re constantly learning and re-learning – no matter how old we are.
According to Abrahams, there are two main types of friends you should surround yourself with.
1. Geographical Friends
The first type of friends you should have are geographical friends. That is, the friends you make because you share a particular location with them.
“Remember, building communities is primitively wired into our DNA. It’s what we do. So, if you’re in a new environment, you’ll be on the lookout for connection with others, as this will increase your desire for safety,” said Abrahams.
“If you join a new gym, school, workplace, or move to a new neighbourhood your mind will be checking out those in your vicinity for future friendship. We cannot underestimate the importance of these connections, as they enrich the new environment.”
“For example, a friendly neighbour keeps an eye on you and notices things that may be somewhat out of kilter for you at home or in the area. They may offer support when you go through hard times or enliven your home when you catch up.”
The same logic applies to workmates.
If you’ve worked in an environment where you didn’t feel you had a friend or someone you could vent to during a stressful day, you’ll know how much it sucks. It’s not that you need to hang out outside of the office – but having a support system at work is crucial.
“We spend more of our waking hours at work than we do at home. Good work friendships can make or break a job. Some jobs may be dull, even somewhat depressing, yet the friendships make it great. Friends help you look forward to going to work and enjoying your time together,” said Abrahams
The not-so-good part? These type of friendships don’t always last.
“If we move jobs or finish university, we may not remain in contact. If we go to a new gym, we may ease off contact with our previous gym buddy,” said Abrahams.
“This can be confusing for some people as they thought the relationship was important irrespective of the current environment.”
However, thanks to social media, these days it’s so much easier to keep in touch with geographical friends, “as not everyone wants to make lengthy phone calls or ‘how are you?’ emails,” said Abrahams.
“If we maintain geographical friendships out of a particular environment they become intentional friendships, no longer bound by the geographic proximity.”
Which brings us to…
2. Intentional Friends
“Intentional friends are those you maintain as you have shared values and provide meaning, offer support, interest, and joy to your life,” shares Abrahams.
These particular friends can be split up into six different sub-categories:
a) One or more full-spectrum best friends
Whether you’re having second thoughts about your relationship or stressing about your career, a full-spectrum best friend is there to help guide you in the right direction and pull you through the tough times.
“These friends are there both in the good and bad times and everything in between. They’re the go-to friends for happy news and celebrations. They can share your joy, and they can also unconditionally love and support you through some pretty hairy times.”
“Full-spectrum best friends may not always like your behaviour or opinions, but they don’t judge you or pull away. They’re loyal and would show their support of you to others even if you’re absent.”
“These best friends help you find light and laughter even in dark times. They sit with you and are not afraid of your grief or distress, whether it’s a breakup, loss of a job, or sickness. They show you through actions and words that you’re not alone.”
b) The completely honest friend
Ah. The brutally honest friend. These kinds of friends don’t tiptoe around anything and aren’t worried they’re going to hurt your feelings – they always remain genuine and open and aren’t afraid to tell you the truth.
“These friends don’t play along with social niceties and are honest with you all the time. They speak their mind, call your BS, and tell you how they feel about your life. They may sound judgemental, yet they’re often trying to support or even protect you,” said Abrahams.
The thing about completely honest friends is that they know your relationship is strong enough to sustain the truth. So, while it’s not always easy (it might even hurt a little), they’re not scared to tell you where you can improve.
And honestly, they’re so important to have in your life.
“They will tell you whether you are being unfair to your partner or too harsh with your kids. They will tell you if you’re being treated appallingly and need to get out of your relationship or a dead-end job. Their honesty is how they show they value you.”
c) A mentor friend
Yes, friendships and mentors can co-exist.
“We no longer live in tribes with wise elders to tap into. We have less contact with religious figures offering advice, and we no longer believe politicians can guide us honestly without their self-interest flaunted in our face. Having friends who are mentors is critical for guiding, advising, thinking through options and opening possibilities.”
Most mentor relationships play a consistent role in your life and will help you challenge your assumptions and give you the insights, advice and support you need to thrive.
“These friends are wise and can analyse situations and hold complexity in mind. They steer clear of black and white simplistic thinking. They’ve lived a bit, learnt lessons along the way, and are happy to share their experiences to support your journey.”
d) A ‘like a mum’ friend
This one – this one’s important. The ‘mum’ friend is that one friend in your circle that’s responsible, caring and always protective of you.
“This is the friend who shows up at your door when they hear a wobble in your voice. They see themselves as part of the solution to the wobble and able to offer comfort. You feel safe to be vulnerable in their presence and even be held by them when you cry,” said Abrahams.
“They’ll fix a meal, encourage you to eat and get you more tissues for your tears and snot. They’re reassuring about the future being better than this moment of distress or pain.”
We’re not crying, you’re crying!
e) The encouraging friend
“This is the friend who wants you to grow and supports your development. They encourage you to expand your life experiences whether through travel, study, or career change.”
Encouraging friends push us out of our comfort zones and where we need to go, making us aware that we can always do better. These kinds of friends believe in you, they know you’re capable, and they’re always ready to cheer you on from the side-line.
“They’re not fearful of a little risk for a greater reward and want you to have an experience-rich life too. For example, they may encourage you to travel for a year even if it means you’re not around for them. They see your growth as separate from their own lives.”
f) The friend ‘I do that with’
You know the one. This is the person who’s always down to hang out. You’re bored on a Sunday arvo with nothing to do? This is who you call.
“It’s great to have friends you have shared specific experiences with. This could be someone who loves exercising with you, walking dogs, going to the movies or comedy shows with. The friendship thrives as you both love and value the experience. It could be your shared thing is nightclubbing or festivals or playing cards or sharing your Wordle results with every day.”
“The friend ‘I do that with’ may also relate to the content and quality of the interaction. Some friendships thrive on having interesting philosophical/life discussions or talking complete s**t together. This type of friend could be the friend you have the greatest laughs with or have amazing ideas and feel creative with.”
Want to hear more? We’ve got you covered! Check out this e-book on what makes a couple relationship a happy one.
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