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Do You Have A Hard Time Maintaining Friendships In Midlife?

These five mantras can help.

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illustration of 2 woman holding umbrellas protecting themselves from the run, friendship mantras, advice
Cecilia Castelli
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Midlife brings its own unique set of challenges, and friendships are no exception. As we navigate changing lifestyles, priorities, and personal growth, friendships evolve too. In midlife, you can recognize, embrace, and adapt to these changes to maintain rich and rewarding relationships with old and new friends. But navigating the dynamics of mid-life friendship can be challenging when your girlfriends are squeezed between aging parents, kids with ever-increasing autonomy, and their careers. Here are five friendship mantras to keep in mind:

1. Prioritize People Who Prioritize You

Friendship, like any relationship, should be a two-way street. “Each party should feel valued, respected, and prioritized,” says Ian Jackson, a counselor and clinical program director at Recovery Unplugged, an addiction treatment center.

“If you consistently make more effort without reciprocation, it can lead to feelings of resentment, frustration, and emotional exhaustion,” says Jackson. “Therefore, focusing your time and energy on friends who reciprocate your efforts is not only emotionally satisfying but also beneficial for your overall health.”

He suggests reflecting on your friendships to ensure you feel valued and prioritized rather than always in pursuit. If you’re always the one to reach out, share your feelings with your friend. “They might be unaware of their actions, which could help them change their behavior.”

Spend more time with friends who make equal efforts and notice how this makes you feel. “Letting go of one-sided friendships can be challenging,” says Jackson. It's natural to feel a sense of loss or guilt. Remember, it's okay to feel these emotions. Empathize with yourself, knowing that it's a step toward healthier relationships. It's not about holding grudges — it's about prioritizing yourself.

2. Both Friends Are Equally Responsible for the Friendship’s Emotional Wellness

Regardless of emotional awareness, each person equally contributes to the overall health, direction, foundation, and happiness of the friendship, says Elizabeth M. DeVaughn, a conscious relationship/complex trauma psychotherapist.

“While the friend with higher emotional intelligence may be able to provide insight into creating a healthy, happy bond, she alone cannot create the friendship dynamic, nor is she responsible for it,” DeVaughn says. “The notion that one person can assume responsibility for a relationship is not only an illusion, as each person co-creates equally, but trying to do so is a sign of codependency.” Codependency is an unhealthy relationship dynamic whereby a person tries to take responsibility for another's emotional well-being.

A true friendship should be an equal relationship. There is no leader, no follower, and mutual respect for one another through differences or disagreements. Each friend must understand that she is only responsible for herself and her contributions to the friendship rather than the entire relationship.

3. Promote Your Acquaintances (Work Colleagues, Neighbors, Professionals) to Friends

“Promoting acquaintances to friends is a mantra I've often leaned into personally. It’s surprising how we often have potential friends hidden in plain sight,” says Tina Fey, a relationship expert and founder of Love Connection, an online destination for understanding and building successful relationships.

Look for friendships with people you share interests with. “When your work colleague mentions that movie they want to watch or when your neighbor has the same gardening passion as you, it's an opportunity knocking,” says Fey. Shared interests are the first sparks of deep friendships.

Break the professional barrier. “We spend countless hours with professionals like our hair stylists or accountants, and many personal stories get shared,” says Fey. Next time, ask your hairstylist about their favorite café and suggest a coffee date, or invite your gardening neighbor over for lunch.

A study by Hanne Collins of the Harvard Business School says a mix of weak and strong social ties, known as relational diversity, can lead to greater life satisfaction. The more diverse your social links are, the happier you’ll be. That means a day you have contact with a BFF, your hairstylist, a neighbor, a family member, and a professional acquaintance is well spent.

4. Make Intergenerational Friends

Having a close friendship with someone decades younger or older than you is another way to reap the many benefits of friendship.

“Intergenerational friends can greatly improve our emotional well-being, as they can provide us with perspectives, attitudes, and mindsets that we wouldn't normally consider,” DeVaughn says.

Opening ourselves to new perspectives that older and younger friends can provide is a valuable asset.

While younger friends have energy and a zest for life that can inspire you, older friends can come with a wisdom and relaxed attitude that you’ll appreciate in midlife. To make more intergenerational friends, try scouting local groups or activities that spark joy, particularly those you might not normally consider due to fear that no one will be in your age group. “Also, engage in conversation with people you feel drawn to, regardless of their age. We often close ourselves off from friends due to our preconceived notions that we can only have friends our age,” DeVaughn says.

5. If a Friend Comes to Mind, Contact Them

If you’ve ever suddenly thought of a friend you haven’t been in touch with for a while, you should reach out. Ryan Holiday, writer, media strategist, bookstore owner, and stoic meditation expert, author of The Obstacle is the Way, Stillness is the Key, and Discipline is Destiny, among others, told a story about his friend and mentor emailing him on a Wednesday telling him about a long-awaited column he wrote at the publication Holiday once worked.

Instead of replying how excited he was to read it and how much the mentor had helped him over the years, he marked the email as unread and figured it could wait until Monday.

On Saturday, his friend collapsed from a fatal heart attack, and he never got to tell him anything. He was reminded of Memento Mori in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

But beyond that, often, there’s a reason you suddenly think of a faraway or out-of-touch friend. It may be because they’re thinking of you, too. Close friends are known to have an unexplained psychic synchronicity. It may mean they need a chat right now, or it’s just been too long since the two of you caught up. Whatever the reason, if they come to mind, it’s time to connect.

Do you have friends of all different ages? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships