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How to have healthy adult friendships 

Growing and maintaining healthy adult friendships in a 21st century, post-pandemic world sometimes feels like an unattainable goal – forever at the bottom of an ever-growing to-do list. In theory, it’s easier than ever to connect with friends. Liking social media posts of your 500+ friends can feel like you’re present and engaged in the lives of many. But conversely, it’s easier than ever to let friendships go – for some of the same reasons. 

At the end of the day, there aren’t any shortcuts to maintaining genuine and thriving adult friendships. But you can have wonderful friendships as an adult with some time and effort – and it’s well worth it. 

The benefits of adult friendships 

According to research there are a huge number of emotional and physical benefits of friendships.  

Friendship is shown to: 

  • Give you a strong sense of companionship 
  • Mitigate loneliness 
  • Boost self-esteem 
  • Increase life-satisfaction 
  • Give you a greater sense of purpose and control over your life 
  • Help you have healthy behaviours 
  • In fact, researchers found that the more people prioritised their friendships, the happier and healthier they were overall.  

How many friends do you need? 

The number of friends we need isn’t set in stone. Instead, it’s the quality of those friendships that is important. One close friend who we feel able to share details of our lives with can often be more valuable than a wide circle of casual acquaintances.  

A key factor for you is to ask yourself if you feel you have enough friends or whether you feel lonely. If you are lonely, then focusing on obtaining one or more close adult friendships might be a great idea for your own happiness and wellbeing. 

How to make adult friendships 

You may find yourself in a situation where you either don’t have many friends, or feel that all your friendships are actually acquaintances. This might make you feel lonely and socially isolated. Sometimes this might be because you’re living somewhere new for your career, education, family, or financial reasons. Or you may be a new mum, feeling isolated at home. Or you might be entering a new time of your life (for example, retirement) and looking for new friends and new experiences. 

Regardless of the reasons, making friends as an adult can be daunting. This is especially true if you feel you need to ‘break in’ to already-established friendship groups. Finding someone to welcome you and appreciate your friendship is key. It can take time, persistence, and effort. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Take a class in something you are interested in. Once you meet some fellow classmates suggest meeting up for coffee afterwards to talk about the subject. 
  • Contact an old friend and reconnect. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed. Reach out and say hello. 
  • Introduce yourself to neighbours or people you regularly see at your morning coffee haunt. 
  • Reach out to someone you enjoyed chatting with at a work function or social gathering.  
  • Attend a community event. 
  • Volunteer your time or talents at your local hospital, museum, art gallery, church, community centre or charitable group. You may form a connection with fellow volunteers who share your mutual interest.  
  • Join a group or club for an interest or hobby. This may be an online group that also meets up in person. Or you could put the call out for an in-person meeting at a local café. 

How to maintain adult friendships 

Friendships can be taken for granted and prioritised behind work, family or caring for ageing parents. Physical distance can get in the way too, if you live far from each other. Here are a few suggestions for maintaining healthy adult friendships: 

Make regular contact 

Schedule time in your calendar to make contact with your friends. Write it down (or type it in), follow through and make contact. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation. A simple ‘I’m thinking of you, how’s your day going?’ shows you are prioritising your friendship and makes a scheduled catch up more likely to happen.  

Schedule a catch up 

Make catching up in person an event on your calendar. This can be a weekly, monthly or quarterly catch up – whatever makes sense and is achievable with your work and family commitments. But make the time and show up.  

Walk together, have a coffee, eat lunch, see a movie – whatever it is that ensures you see each other and connect. If you live far apart, schedule a Zoom or FaceTime and sit together over a coffee, taking the time to connect.  

Be a good friend 

Healthy friendships involve give and take, time and effort. To nurture your friendships, we suggest being a good friend, the friend you wish you had. Some practical examples of what this can look like might be: 

  • Actively listening and being engaged in the conversation, rather than listening just enough so you can jump in with your own story.  
  • Being trustworthy with anything your friend shares with you. Maintain their confidence in any sensitive information they share. 
  • Being reliable and accountable. If you make a plan to catch up, show up. Follow through on a promise to do something or be somewhere. 
  • Listening without judgement, or jumping in with solutions, when friends share their problems with you. They may simply wish to talk through a problem, and need you to listen.  
  • Remaining present when you catch up. Don’t be distracted by your phone, what’s happening over their shoulder or by what you need to do next.  
  • Having their back. Don’t engage in gossip or criticism of them. Be loyal and supportive. 
  • Being thoughtful. Make a note in your diary to send a card for their birthday, or text to say good luck for an interview or to check in about the outcome of a medical appointment. If you read an article or a book that reminds you of them – get in touch to let them know. Share the article or pass on the book as a tangible example of your friendship. 

Make the effort – friendships are worth it! 

At the end of the day, making and keeping friends is essentially the same whether you’re a child or an adult. But sometimes it takes grown-ups a little longer to overcome their own natural reticence. But, at the end of the day, adult friendships bring huge benefits to your life, and are well worth the effort. 

If you’re experiencing feelings of loneliness or social isolation, please call us on (07) 3857 0074 to book an appointment with one of our clinicians. Or send us an Appointment Request via this website and we’ll contact you as soon as possible to book a suitable time for you. 

Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network, and Counselling Psychologist.