Healthy Aging Column – Adult Friendships

How many friends do you have? Have you ever lost a friend?

Let’s look at comparisons of adult friendships. The majority of us have three or more friends. Fifty percent of all adults have 10 or more friends. We usually have friends of the same gender. For non-romantic male-female relationships to work, the two usually have to see each other as equals, and their interactions are similar to what is seen in female-female relationships.  The gender difference found in adult friendships holds that women commonly confide in their friends and men do activities or discuss/practice special skills with their friends. Life satisfaction levels in adult women decreases if they have over 10 friends. Adults with friends rate their life satisfaction higher than adults who are socially isolated. Health and longevity increases when we have close friends.

Our longest duration of adult relationships is with our siblings. This long-term relationship does change from everyday interactions as children to a time of separation, followed by a renewed deeper relationship in later life. As young adults, we separate to establish our own identify, independence, pursue employment and establish a family of our own. During their middle age period and in later life, they re-discover the sibling bond. Life-changing experiences such as a loss or poor health can draw siblings back into a close relationship. As siblings, we put aside past hurts or rivalries in difficult times and apply the principle: "We’re a family, and a family sticks together in hard times."

Friendship does take effort and time, but we gain so much from these adult relationships. So what can you expect to personally gain in the relationship?


-Validate our feelings

-Give us a sense of belonging, competence and self-worth


-Faith that goodwill will ultimately comes out of bad situations

-Enjoyment and spontaneity

-Trust that friends act on our behalf and that we can confide in them a confidential matter

-Respect and understanding that we each have a right to our opinions, and we do not need to agree to be friends

-Mutual assistance – allowing a friend to help you

-Someone to share happiness with and other emotions

-Enjoyment of a friends’ happiness, regardless of our own life situation

Some adult relationships we start are short lived. The cause of friendship breakups may not be known in all instances. Yet we try to learn from the breakup of what we can do to be a better friend. Here are common friendship breakup causes to avoid:

-Breach of confidentially

-Invasion of privacy


-Loss of respect





-Too much analysis of the friendship

Friendships can often start due to shared similarities – same age, occupations, having children of the same age, or similar interests. In the beginning of a friendship we build a surplus of helpful gestures/actions, but as the relationship progresses, we start enjoying solely our friends’ company. It is true that "to be a good friend, be the friend you would like to have." Desirable qualities of a close friend include:

-Being a good listener in time of crisis

-Regular contact

-Allowed to express emotions

-Attentive to each others feelings and perceptions of situations


-Gives advice only when asked

-Sense of humor

-Equity (see each other as equals)

-Mutual positive need

-During a care giving crisis they offered to take over some of your responsibilities

If you have lost your friend due to death, relocation or from a misunderstanding, continue to seek out new friendships. Take an assessment of what qualities you have for being a friend, what behaviors you have to avoid and where you might look for a friend. Friends are good for your total health and can make life quite enjoyable.

Do yourself a favor and make time in your life for all types of adult relationships, as you will enjoy a happier and maybe even a longer life!

Additional information on Healthy Aging is available on the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Web site at under Family/Consumer.

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By Donna Liess, Family and Consumer Science Extension Agent

Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Weld County