Friendship in Adulthood- Couples, Singles, School aged Families & Seniors

Friendships change throughout the course of our lives. The role of friends will vary. In my last post I spoke about friendships in early adulthood and in the young parent stage. But friendship is important throughout life. As couples, many of us default to having our partner be our one real friend, particularly when we’re too busy to connect with others, or have difficulty making our own friends. This can cause problems in the relationship, long term. For those who are single, having friends marry and start families can result in needing to work harder to stay connections. Seniors are known to be some of the loneliest people in our society. One report shows that loneliness is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! And it can occur at any time in life.

Couples

Rory and Susan* had been married for 12 years. Rory had always been more introverted. He worked with his brother and, if pressed, would have said his brother was his closest friend. Susan was more outgoing and would initiate socializing with friends. Rory sometimes went along but rarely initiated connections himself, with friends, or any other family members. When Susan told Rory she was unhappy and felt that they had grown apart, he felt a panicky feeling and threw himself into his job. He became quieter than ever. Eventually he moved to the basement and found himself drinking more and more. Susan spoke to friends on a daily basis who gave support and advice. When she would talk to Rory about wanting him to be more attentive to her, to communicate better, he seemed remote, she couldn’t tell if he was hearing her and she didn’t certainly didn’t feel like things were getting any better.

(* Note: the above scenario is not based on any real person, living or dead, or any specific person’s situation.)

Couples need couple friends and individual friends. When one person has their own friends and the other doesn’t there is a risk that the one without additional friends will rely solely on their partner to be their support in every way. This is a dangerous situation and not recommended for couple health. Stereotypically, a man may rely primarily on his female partner for all emotional support, even when he does have other friends. When there are problems in the relationship, the man may isolate himself and get zero feedback or support, and the woman may find that she has other emotional supports to help her navigate the situation. For the man, when his mood becomes lower, due to isolation and conflict with the person he looks to for emotional support, his ability to respond to the requests of his partner will be reduced. This causes further risk to the relationship. Quality friendships which provide practical and emotional support may not save a relationship, but may have significant positive impacts.

What to Do

  • Men. Many men have been working to restructure the culture of toxic masculinity which leaves men isolated and divorced from their feelings. Recognizing the influences of this culture on you is the first step to determining how much more you want it to have control of your life. It will take risk to open up to another person, but building friendships that involve a deeper connection is worth your energy. See Men  for more on this.
  • Open up to couple friends. Almost every relationship has its challenges, you are not alone. Sharing these challenges is a way of discovering that all is not lost.
  • If you and your partner have conflict and your partner is isolating themselves, you cannot make your partner talk to friends, but you can let someone whom they trust know that you are concerned for them. If you are concerned for their safety you can encourage them to call a crisis line . If they are unwilling, you can call in order to get guidance. If your partner is threatening suicide or homicide, call 911.
  • See also Not Finding ‘The One”

Parents of older children

Julia and Ched* have three children ages 10, 15 and 17. All kids are involved in after school activities. Sam, the youngest, has swim club twice a week, Amy has dance 3x a week and Sean started a job at a gas station on weekends. Throughout their lives, as a family, they’ve gotten to know various couples through their kids activities but rarely spend time just on socializing. They count themselves lucky if they get a date every couple of months. Both Julia and Ched work full time. Julia has her own photography business which often goes into evenings and weekends when Ched takes over the feeding and transportation duties. They are doing okay, financially, but overall, there is little room for time off. Both would say they have friends but rarely see them or talk to them. Julia sometimes feels guilty about this, but feels that it’s just part of the way this part of life goes.

(* Note: the above scenario is not based on any real person, living or dead, or any specific person’s situation.)

As our kids age, go to school, get involved in other activities, many of us increase our work hours as expenses tend to increase. We can sometimes go long periods of time without seeing friends, busy in our own bubble. If our jobs are physical, we might feel too exhausted to connect socially with others, if our jobs are very social we might feel too mentally and emotionally spent to engage with others.

If we slow down a bit, we might find that we have a vague sense of something missing, the intensity of which might depend on the quality of our relationship with our own family, partners, our work satisfaction, and/or our mental health status. Dissatisfaction or struggle in any of these areas can be mitigated by connecting with others who are able to be supportive and non-judgmental.

For others, we might feel like we hardly notice that we haven’t seen friends “in forever” until something happens. Sickness, relationship break up, bereavement, or some kind of disaster or accident can highlight a lack of connection in a sudden and shocking way. At these times we need people. We need community. When we have not invested in other relationships, these events can be particularly devastating.

What to do

  • Re-evaluate priorities. If after school activities are taking up every night of the week, if work is claiming every weekend, it might be worth considering a change.
  • We move around for work, what if we chose to live closer to family and friends, on purpose, for the sake of our children and ourselves, even if it means a pay cut? We all need a basic amount of money to survive but after that we have a lot of options. And what we need can be based on choosing to live where cost of living is lower, sharing accommodations and resources. (See Lonely? Let’s Move Closer).
  • Connecting your children to a broader community will provide greater learning and emotional growth opportunities than most organized activities. Everyone needs to eat, plan a potluck, if hosting others feels overwhelming. Plan a camping trip or a trip with another family.
  • Expand your circle. Adopt a newcomer family, keep an eye out for single people to include in your circle. Include seniors in day to day activities and special events. Take a risk in adding new people to a current group of family and friends.

Single adults

When friends have married and/or started families, it can be difficult to connect as their schedules change. Some people believe that single people are uncomfortable spending time with couples or families. Single people need all kinds of friends. Much of what single people can do to connect is reliant on other groups including them in their circle. However there may be some ideas that you haven’t considered:

What to Do

  • You may need to work to expand your networks as various friends’ lives become taken up with other groups or activities. Check if you have friends that you give to and who give you, emotional and practical supports.
  • Be a joiner. Join groups related to activities you enjoy (meet ups, sports teams, book clubs, art groups, songwriting circles, boards, etc.)
  • Introverts may need to schedule friend time to ensure that this happens. Connection can happen through texts, Facetime, telephone, having someone over to sit and chat, going out for coffee, doing an activity together either  physical or attending some kind of entertainment. Connecting with a group in your home or somewhere else. Showing up at others’ events. Plan a regular socialization time that ensures face to face connection on a regular basis with other types of connection in between.
  • Living in a smaller community can be difficult for single people when the range of activities and available people are slim. It will take persistence to keep your friend circle healthy. You may need to offer to spend time with a parent and their young children or join them at their child’s activity. Seniors are more likely to have free time and be in want of company, reach out to someone there.
  • Living situation. Consider creative living situations. Apart from roommates or renting a room from someone else, you might consider a duplex next to friends (or potential friends).

Seniors

Caring for one’s physical health will provide more options for connections, as illness and disability often increase isolation. As my 85 year old, great aunt says, “move it or lose it.” From retirement, onward, many seniors are having difficulty staying connected to loved ones.

Loneliness in seniors has become such a health crisis that Britain has established a “Ministry of Loneliness.”  In Canada, one initiative that provides affordable housing for university students by matching them live with elderly people, has been one creative solution. There is more we can all do to reduce loneliness in seniors, but here are a few things you can do, if you are a senior:

What to do

  •  If you are a senior or have a loved one who is suffering from loneliness connect to Age and Opportunity.
  •  Learn about texting and Facebook. This is a great start to connecting with others. Ask a young person to show you other social media sites and help you get a phone that you can text from and take pictures with.
  • Volunteer with churches, community centres, schools, or other organizations. Check out Volunteer Manitoba.
  • Start a project – building, writing, crafting, etc. and find others to connect to who enjoy the same things. Public libraries have more and more programs for creativity and will often know about places to connect with groups doing these types of things.
  • Consider a move, if you are in an isolated location, into an apartment building, in a suite with a family, to a more populated location. Do this before transportation and health get in your way and before others feel the need to make this decision for you.
  • Be proactive in connecting with others. Take control of the parts of your life that you have control over, care for your health and listen to your doctor. Don’t isolate yourself. Ask for help when you need it.

Friends are important. We need them at every stage of life. Plan to invest in your friendships, it will be worth it.

Check out What do Adults do for Fun?

And The Rat Race Ain’t Made for Humans – Get out in 4 easy 😉 steps

And What’s Worth Digging For? Finding your Values

One thought on “Friendship in Adulthood- Couples, Singles, School aged Families & Seniors

  1. Pingback: Who are Your Friends? | It's Not Just You

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