Friendships are reflections of who we are – they take time to build
The best friendships are where ‘joy is magnified and sadness shared’, says relationship counsellor Lauren Clucas.
Though the word “relationship” may conjure thoughts of romance, platonic friendships often have similar elements to romantic partnerships and can be just as important in an individual’s life.
In fact, relationship counsellor Lauren Clucas tells Daily Maverick that her practice is not limited to couples seeking therapy, but to close friends and business partners as well.
“There is that beautiful sense of synergy that we get in relationships, which are reflections as to who we are,” she says.
For example, some friendships remind us of our senses of humour, and in other friendships we share spiritual aspects that we connect over, Clucas illustrates.
“When we withdraw from that, we are at risk of being isolated, experiencing depression and increased anxiety, because it’s from true connection that our energy flows and grows.”
In fact, the Mayo Clinic details that having friends is good for your health, because they not only counter isolation and loneliness with companionship, but also increase the sense of belonging and purpose, give feelings of happiness, and could help with your self-confidence.
While the benefits are apparent, it could sometimes be more difficult for adults to form friendships as they age. In the “real world” grown-ups must figure out relationships without the convenience of large groups of peers found in school classes and lecture halls – or later through work. See the relationship as a child, and it’s just a little baby, it can’t handle too much.
“Relevance is everything,” Clucas says, explaining that people find connections in similarities they have to others. This can include shared interests, experiences and organisations. When it comes to finding new friends, Clucas recommends looking for relevancy and exploring where you may have similarities and like-mindedness with others.
“What’s relevant to you? Anything that you’re passionate about, get involved in that, because that’s where the next person who’s passionate about that will be,” Clucas advises.
“Join the hiking club, join the dance group, join the book club that’s in your area.
“And maybe it’s just a connection, but give it the chance for that seed to take and for something to grow. Relevance is the first thing, then take risks and seize opportunities.”
Once connections start to form, Clucas advises people to then take risks to deepen those relationships. However, she cautions, treat newer relationships carefully and respect that building them takes time.
“You need to be able to give what you’re hoping to get in return. See the relationship as a child, and it’s just a little baby, it can’t handle too much. It’s got to learn to crawl and then walk and then run. Often, people will give too much of themselves inappropriately, and the other person might feel overwhelmed or unable to reciprocate to that level. Sense where that person is at and try to be appropriate in the degree to which you give and will receive.”
Underlying healthy relationships is communication, Clucas says, since it is vital that individuals express their expectations in a friendship.
“A sign of good friendship is an ability to communicate, and being able to be vulnerable enough to vocalise when your needs aren’t being met,” writes Michelle Elman, author of The Joy of Being Selfish.
Healthy friendships are underpinned by healthy boundaries, which Clucas explains are “absolutely essential” in any relationship, and ensure that both individuals are operating in a space that is safe and comfortable.
“We learn how to trust through our most intimate relationships. As much as it may feel too ‘hardcore’, having boundaries means being able to say ‘these are my wants and expectations from our friendship because you matter to me’,” she illustrates.
Similarly, communication is just as important in both difficult and more comfortable situations.
“If you have a friend who you feel is letting you down, and you really feel that they matter, have a discussion with them,” says Clucas.
When navigating these difficult conversations, Clucas advises that people share their feelings, however vulnerable, and not just their perceptions.
“People connect when they know how you feel, not what you think. Tell them that you’re hurt, or that you’re disappointed or that you feel bad, or that you’re missing them,” she advises.
Next, follow that up with possible action points or solutions that you believe could help ease the challenging situation.
Of course, this goes both ways. As much as one expects the other to be receptive to their requests, it is important to respect the friend’s boundaries as well and to communicate when their expectations may not be met.
“You need to have the courage to speak up and a good friend will be able to hear that hard feedback and value it… and a good friend will also give you that hard feedback too, because they care,” Clucas says.
“Good relationships are worth fighting for.” DM