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Why Enjoying Friendships In Midlife Is So Tough

Fortunately, here are four surefire ways to make and keep connections.

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illustration of three women sitting at yellow table drinking coffee, friendships
Monica Garwood
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Most middle-aged women know what it takes to have a true and lasting friendship. As we grow older, we develop a deeper awareness of the kinds of friends we want and need. Every friendship can be so different, depending on the nature and purpose of the relationship. Some friendships last through the years, and no matter how things change and what we go through, we stay devoted to each other. These long-term friendships require a special kind of effort and intention to endure life’s unending challenges and the fluctuating terrain we all trudge through as we age. 

Our lives often change in unpredictable ways that can uproot our old patterns of communicating and shift the dynamics of our friendships drastically. We all face various circumstances that affect our physical health and well-being, our lifestyle choices and personalities, and even our values and views on certain things. The list is long, full of tragic and traumatic experiences from divorce and loss to chronic illness and unpredictable diagnoses. We will also enjoy many exciting opportunities that affect our friendships, such as second marriages and career changes, moving to a different location or pursuing new dreams. Oftentimes, what we go through will add new challenges to how we nourish and maintain our friendships. So far, I’ve learned four ways to do this, and I’m so grateful I have friends who do the same for me.     

Adapt to the needs of your friends during life’s big changes.      

As we get older, we will all experience life-altering events that affect our relationships and require new adjustments from our friends. The old ways of relating to one another might change drastically depending on the severity of the situation. It’s so important that we try to understand and acclimate to our friends’ developing needs when this happens. I have friends who’ve suffered devastating losses and others who’ve endured debilitating medical diagnoses or serious injuries. Those friendships shifted from what they used to be because their lives changed significantly. I offer my compassionate presence and help when I can and will expect nothing in return from them for as long as they need. I have also received much-needed unconditional support during my own substantial hardships.   

Know when to speak up and when to keep quiet and simply support.      

When our friends are going through really hard situations or moving through major transitions, they might want our honest input or only our unwavering love and support. I’ve learned the best way we can be there for our friends is to simply ask them what they need from us and how we can help. It’s so important we respect their wishes no matter how strongly we feel about their situation.      

I have a few friends struggling in their marriages and others dealing with stressful parenting issues. I wanted to clarify what they really needed from me before I offered my own opinions. There are times it’s obvious what my friends need, but when it’s not, I don’t want to assume they’re seeking my advice. I appreciate the same careful caution from my friends when I’m going through hard things. I’ll shut down if a friend immediately tells me what to do instead of listening and validating how I feel. 

It’s okay if friendships pause when life pulls people away.      

We can be so inundated with our busy lives or immersed in such difficult circumstances that we just don’t have the energy or time to connect with our friends. It happens to us all. Nothing negative occurs in the relationship that causes this pause. One or both friends simply go silent for a while until they reach out again after weeks, months or even years. We’ll pick up where we left off, with a mutual understanding that our friendship will last no matter how much time has passed.      

Some of my closest friends are those I don’t see regularly due to our busy lives and lifestyle changes. We can go a long time without communicating, but we are both flexible and patient with one another and trust that in time we’ll get together again. When we finally do connect, we’ll spend hours catching up on everything we’ve missed and truly enjoy all the unique aspects of our steadfast friendship.    

Accept your friends as they change over time.      

We are all markedly transforming through our aging process and life circumstances. The friends we met years ago are not the same people they were, and neither are we. We might love all the ways our friends grow and change but there might be times we don’t agree with their decisions or struggle with their new ways of living. This might take a lot of grace and acceptance on our part, and we may even need to set new boundaries to preserve our own health. And if the changes we see in our friends are destructive to us or to them, we can assert our concerns or end the relationship.      

Over the years I’ve had friends make major changes in their lives and some who are not at all who they used to be. I always try to support and respect what they do and how they live because I love them unconditionally. Most often, it’s exciting to watch my friends grow and change as I have done the same over the years. But there have been a few friends I just had to leave because their choices and behaviors were affecting me negatively. This is a personal decision that everyone needs to take into consideration through the different developments in their friendships. Ultimately, we must take care of ourselves while also caring for those we love. Friendships that last will always honor both.      

How many close friends would you say you have? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships