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October 15, 2019

Dr. Jess Talks Healthy Friendships & Relationships on The Morning Show

The benefits of healthy relationships are not only derived for your connection with your spouse and lover(s). The benefits of healthy working relationships and friendships are also well-documented, so investing in multiple connections will allow you to reap the rewards. Jess joined Carolyn and Jeff this morning on Global TV’s The Morning Show to answer a few questions about friendships and share insights on research in the field.

Check out the video and summary below.

Tina asks:

Help! My fiancé doesn’t have any friends. I have a big group of friends and they’re welcoming of him into our group. But shouldn’t he have his own friends too?

Research suggests that men have fewer friends than women and that their ties are less intimate. However, we are seeing change with younger generations — one small scale study found that college men rate their friendships as more intimate than their relationships with their sexual/romantic partners. Read more about the benefits of a bromance here.

It’s natural to be concerned, as strong friendships offer a range of benefits:

  • An increase in a sense of belonging.
  • Lower stress levels and fewer mood swings.
  • Boost in happiness and self-esteem.
  • Support through difficult times and trauma.
  • Healthier habits.
  • Positive mental health outcomes.

And having a partner who doesn’t have their own support network can feel like a burden — especially if they turn to you with the expectation that you should fulfill all of their emotional and social needs. Our friends play many roles in our lives as confidantes, entertainers, distractions, cheerleaders and even unqualified therapists; because we have multiple friends, the pressure is lower, but if you only have one partner, it can be a significant and unrealistic burden to bear.

However, not everyone needs a big group of friends for support. I suggest that you also consider his other close relationships — with parents, siblings, co-workers, cousins and neighbours. Not everyone structures their social support in the same way and he may derive benefits from different types of relationships.

You might want to ask him how he feels about his social connections to better gauge of his unique needs because you can’t apply your lens and expectations universally.

Sonia asks:

My best childhood friend and I have grown apart. We’re just so different. She has three kids and stays at home in the suburbs. I work long hours in the city. We don’t agree on politics either, so I feel like we’ve run out of things to talk about. After 25 years, how do I know if I should still invest in this friendship?

All relationships change over time. And friendships change significantly because you grow, move, and change lifestyles so often. One study that followed best friends over the course of 19 years found that participants moved an average of 5.8 moves over the course of nearly two decades. Our partners and families often accompany us on these moves, but our friends do not.

Only you know if you want to continue investing in this relationship, but I would consider how you feel about yourself in the context of this friendship. Even if you’re different, do you feel good about yourself when you do spend time together? Or does this relationship bring out a side of you that you’re not particularly proud of? Obviously the relationship itself isn’t responsible for your behaviour, but if you find that you don’t like yourself in their presence, it may be a sign that the relationship has run its course. If, on the other hand, you find that your friend helps to bring out the best in you, you might want to put your differences aside and invest in maintaining the connection.

You might also want to ask yourself what kind of friend you want to be. And you may also want to consider what types of friends you want to have. Oftentimes, we fall into relationships without thinking them through. Some self-reflection can help you to assess what types of relationships are worth preserving.

It can be difficult to break up with a friend, as friendships are not exclusive, structured or time-defined like most intimate relationships. But setting boundaries is an act of caring. It might hurt them to hear that you no longer want to spend time together, but showing up to go through the motions can be just as hurtful in the big picture.

Research suggests that happy childhood friendships have long-lasting positive effects. And you may want to consider that while our friends become fewer, less significant and more “grafted” (meaning they’re connected to other relationships like parents of your kids’ friends) in adulthood, their significance increases once again in old age when we have more time to spare — and less time in the grand scheme of things.

This takes me back to the 99 rule. How will you feel about this relationship when you’re 99 years old?

Listen more about the 99 rule here.