Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How Friends Are Good Medicine

A week or so back,I read a cute and thought-provoking essay in the Wall Street Journal about friends,and how having them helps your marriage.It was one reporter's observations about how having girlfriends to turn to helped her be a better partner,and have more realistic expectations about her relationship with her husband.

The reporter's musings got me thinking about the role that friends play in our lives. They validate and normalize our life experiences. They comfort us when we go through loss or difficulty.They share our personal history.They know our cast of characters.If they are a good friend,they are not afraid to call us on things.They encourage us to be brave and do the right things.They commiserate with us about things that annoy us.They may see our patterns.They know our strengths,and our weaknesses.The right friends are people we admire and respect who lift us up and let us lift them up,too.They hurt with us when we go through difficulty,and share our joy when life is good.

Close and meaningful friendships mean even more over the lifespan.In adult development,friends mean the most in our teen years and again from midlife on.Some of us get caught up thinking your partner can be everything you need in our twenties and thirties,or as we are in the busy new couple and then parenting years. As children are preparing to launch,reestablishing friendships is a crucial help in making the successful transition to being an emptynester.

Choosing friends who you respect is important.You are likely to be influenced by your close friends.Do they have integrity? Are they honest? Do they take pride in their life's work? Do they strive to be a good parent,partner,and person? Do they deal with life's challenges and losses,or do they hide behind addictions?Are they stuck whining and complaining,or are they living their life fully?

Because of personality style differences,such as extroversion and introversion,different people need different amounts of friends.Introverts prefer people one-on-one,or in a small group setting.True extoverts like the more the merrier.This is actually a continuum from one extreme to the other,with people falling all along the line about what is normal for them.Your partner may need more or less time with friends,and that is perfectly okay.Healthy couples can individuate enough to allow for these differences and not feel threatened by it.

When are friendships NOT healthy and good for you? This is true if your friend aids and assists your weaknesses(think tendency to overspend,drink too much,cheat,lie,etc.).Any friendships which are a secret to your partner are wrong and deceptive,and dishonor both you and your loved one.Friendships which are not balanced are not good,as when one friend does all the initiating of contact,or pays every time,or one person constantly dumps on the other.

The healthiest friendships are fun,have common goals and interests,and feel reciprocal and count-on-able.Some friends can go long time periods without contact and remain close despite big gaps in continuity.Some friendships go the distance in your life,while others seem to have a frehness date and a natural ending once your life situation changes.

There are lots of documented physical and mental health benefits to cultivating strong and meaningful friendships.You are blessed if you have one or more of thge really good ones.As we mature emotionally that no one person can meet your EVERY need,like one stop shopping.Having close and supportive friends promotes your ability to be a better partner and person,and keeps your expectaions realistic that your fantasy partner who intuits your every need and wish,without you communicating,is silly.Real love and authentic connection with your partner and your friends is so much more satisfying.Friends really can be good medicine.

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