He never really talks to you or shares his thoughts, but he’s great in bed. Is this the type of friendship you should aim for in a relationship? There’s a nice girl at work, but you’re happily married, should you have D&Ms with her during the breaks? What about sharing your secrets, and your likes and dislikes, with a guy you’ve only met on the net? Is that ok?
It depends on your aims. Quick fixes – one-night stands, jokey relationships with work mates – are ok for the short term. But if you want true happiness in the long term, you need to have a long look at your relationships. This is one area, where a little bit of time spent thinking and planning can go a long way to future happiness.
Humans have evolved to survive better in groups. Yet the types of friendships we choose can determine if we live wonderful satisfying lives or end up lonely and in a heap.
To help us make sense of the complicated mess known as ‘friendships’ it’s useful to break them into two basic types: close and casual.
Fostering the most meaningful – close – friendships can go a long way to creating a happier life and longer, more fulfilling, relationships.
First we need to know:
What is a close friendship?
Think of a friend in your mind and ask yourself the following questions:
· Would I give my life to protect that person?
· Would I expect them to do the same?
When we were tribal, we knew we had each other’s backs. In this day and age, relationships are not so clear. But asking ourselves the questions above helps filter the muddy waters.
What then is a casual friendship?
Everything from friendly acquaintances to good mates or girlfriends, but not close enough we’d take a bullet for each other.
What are some examples of friendships we should make, and keep, close?
Long-term relationship friendships – think marriage – should always strive to be, and remain, close. The closer, and more meaningful, the better.
Family friendships should be close too, but with so many families being dysfunctional these days many of us no longer have, or maintain, close family friendships.
We should also strive for one or two really close friends of the same sex, or sexual inclination – close girlfriends, or mates – who we can trust. The person who tells it to you straight, without saving your feelings. You know the type: the one who warns you about falling for a loser, before the first date.
Some friendships should also remain casual. Like those with the opposite sex (who isn’t our partner). (Unless you’re LGBT of course.) Even if they are just online.
One of my clients Tessa – name changed – came to me feeling down. She would get on great with male friends at work, but her relationship with her husband was suffering. They almost never spoke anymore. Tessa had all these great male friends to fulfil her friendship needs at work but it was contributing to driving her and her husband apart.
So, to get back on track Tessa agreed to refocus her energies on making her husband her best friend. Instead of all the people at work; who ultimately didn’t care for her.
Working with patients I’ve come to realise we all have ten broad friendship needs, or desires in common. The more we meet these needs the closer our relationships.
Melissa and her sister June – names changed – had grown apart. Through counseling Melissa recognised she had tried to dominate her sister, tell her what to do, rather than try to be her friend. I advised Melissa to meet more of the ten basic needs: make regular time for June, never ignore her, listen more without being critical, share more of what they had in common, validate June’s concerns rather than dismiss them, respect her as an equal, support her endeavors, and help ensure she felt safe. Clearly there’s more to meeting needs than what I’ve written here; this is just a brief summary.
Friendships can truly satisfy us and enrich our lives. The key is to get the right balance of close and casual friends, and know how to make, and keep, them.