“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession; friendship is never anything but sharing.” Elie Wiesel
American culture places a high premium on romantic love. Just try to find a movie or book where it doesn’t show up. But friendship, especially when love has failed, deeply matters and can provide a firm foundation when the ground is shifting beneath you.
The importance of friends is nothing new. Even Aristotle wrote about it. “…to be friends, then, they must be mutually recognized as bearing goodwill and wishing well to each other.” But current studies now back up what we all know when we have a good friend or group of friends. When you are together and you all crack up and can’t stop laughing, that shared experience of laughter and understanding with those who wish us nothing but good, feels like home. That’s especially important when your actual home is changing.
We’ve learned that people who have friends and close confidants are more satisfied with their lives and less likely to suffer from depression.[i] One study found that 28% of people age 40 and up experience depression following their divorce.[ii]
Fortunately, research can do more than scare us! It also suggests that friendships can be made and maintained at any age, relationships with friends can strengthen or stand in for romantic relationships, and even minimal social interactions can be powerful. So whether you have that one true friend (or core group of friends) or need to distance yourself from those who don’t “bear you goodwill” and develop new friendships, consider the following:
1. Nurturing connections with friends takes effort. Invest wisely.
Energy can be in short supply when dealing with a major life change. So take stock first. Is the friendship worth the effort? Can you be you? Is there mutuality and do you generally take turns supporting and being supported? Assess. Things change (don’t you know it?!). Now may even be the time to diversify and expand your group to include others who have already walked your walk. You can learn from each other.
Once you’ve determined the friendship is chock full of mutual goodwill, don’t back burner the need to connect. Summon the energy to schedule a time to get together or say yes to an invitation. Doesn’t matter where you meet or what you do. The point is to meet and pay special attention to whether you are energized and comforted during the meet-up or feel pressure to do or say or be the right thing.
3. Put your needs out there.
That’s hard, especially when you haven’t in the past or been the one in the group who is always taking care of everyone else. You’ll feel vulnerable and you might worry you’ll appear needy. Risk it. Go there. You are vulnerable right now. You’ve chosen your friend(s) carefully so let it go. Do the ugly cry if you need to. You give others permission to speak their need and lean on you in the future when you give them the opportunity to reciprocate and be the one who does some caretaking for you now and then. It’s your turn.
You are in therapy, right? You can soldier on, or you can do the work to understand and grow through your divorce or other life-change. Those who are brave enough to find a good therapist come out stronger on the other side of this punch-to-the-gut season. Those are the people I see standing taller, able to breathe and be excited about the future when our work is done. Don’t be a hero. Actually do that. Call a therapist.
5. Don’t be stupid.
Okay, that was harsh. But don’t avoid the hard work of sharing your pain with a therapist and good friend or two by escaping into a new romantic relationship before you have thoroughly and deeply explored the demise of your current one. Make no mistake. A new relationship derails your attention away from that hard work. You don’t want to deal with a second divorce. https://familyresolutions.us/2021/07/27/the-pull-of-the-new-relationship/
Choosing to surround yourself with a strong friendship support system doesn’t diminish your independence—it enhances it. Just as you’d consult an architect to ensure a strong foundation for your future construction, build a strong foundation of friendships for support and encouragement. Take the initiative to reach out, share your story, and listen to others.
At BERECZ & ASSOCIATES, PLC we understand the complexities of divorce and we’re always here to help when needed.
Wishing you wisdom,
A shout out and huge thank you to some of you who form my friendship foundation (some even saw me through my own divorce!) Their smiling faces are shared throughout this post!