Relationship Friendship — 10 November 2003
How to preserve friendship throughout your relationship

Friendship is a word that evokes positive emotional response. Much has been written about the value of friendship between people. Not enough emphasis has been placed on the essential role of friendship in relationships.

The definition of friendship is: “a relationship of mutual regard; a feeling of liking and esteem.” Everyone knows the feeling of support, acceptance and love experienced with a friend. Emerson put it this way: “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of Nature.”

Cultivating a friendship with someone is an essential part of personal health and well-being. As social animals, we rely on each other for support, help, encouragement, self-esteem and practical survival. Much of our success in life is advanced through our connection with other people.

We thrive in our social, business and personal lives through the love and helping hands of our friends. A friendless person is a lonely, lost soul whose survival is fraught with great difficulties.

“So long as we are loved by others, I would almost say that we are indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend,” said Robert Louis Stevenson.

Being a friend affirms our usefulness and worth to others. Friendship provides us with connection and safety. In contrast, isolation is the worse punishment since it calls into question our value and our reason for existing.

Extensive research has shown that having friends is a powerful factor in sustaining physical health. People who have a good support system of close friends fair better in health matters than do those who are friendless.

Married men suffering from the same ailments are healthier than their single counterparts. Medical support groups have shown to help improve the quality of life of its participants.

Supportive groups offer the most promising help for recovery from a variety of addictions. The understanding, compassion, acceptance, caring and love provided through human connection serves as a major catalyst for health.

The value of friendship is documented in social connection and in health. It is mainly due to the emotional benefits we derive from mattering to another person. Psychologically, being accepted, liked and supported is the closest we get to feeling truly valued and whole.

All the doubts about our significance and worth temporarily evaporate. We may have an elated sense about life and ourselves. Feeling valued is intoxicating. It frees us from the need to prove ourselves, perform, justify our ways, or earn respect for our being.

All these are granted lovingly through true friendship. The sense of emotional oneness with another person is the epitome of intimacy. It is therefore, absolutely necessary in love relationships.

“We are just friends” is a phrase used as a disclaimer of intimacy. How ironic! The intimacy of friendship is the foundation upon which sexual closeness can thrive. Sex without connection is merely a physical act.

Relationships that lack friendship must be termed by other titles. They may be a space-sharing contract, a business, or a living arrangement of sorts, but they do not qualify as a committed love relationship. Without friendship, couples lack the necessary acceptance, respect and love between equal mates. Unless both partners honor, like and enjoy each other, their union suffers.

Most relationships begin with courtship; getting acquainted, sharing time enjoying each other, talking, clarifying values, goals and aspirations, stating preferences, developing fondness and admiration, exchanging appreciations, laughing and having fun together. As the ease of being together grows, the desire to share their lives with each other becomes evident. The friendship is in full bloom.

This wonderful start is preserved for many couples who keep the interest of their partners foremost in their minds and act lovingly in spite of all the changes and hardships that arise.

For other couples, the friendship is lost as disappointments occur. These frustrated mates lose sight of their friendship, of their love and admiration for each other and retreat to an individualistic perspective of seeing only their own unmet needs.

They perceive their mates as oppressors, offenders and non-friendly folks who need to be guarded against. The friendship is over; the opponents are at war. These couples may be well advised to reactivate their friendship.

To preserve your friendship throughout your relationship:

  • Remember that your partner is your equal even when he or she makes mistakes or disappoints you.
  • Realize that your partner’s behaviors that displease you are correctable actions, not a reflection of your mate’s worth.
  • Ask your mate about the motivation for his or her behavior before passing judgements about it.
  • Trust that your mate’s intentions are good and in support of your connection.
  • Remind yourself of the feelings, beliefs and comfort you felt with your mate at the onset of the relationship. It is still all there, but may need to be rediscovered.
  • Do as Emerson advised: “The only way to have a friend — is to be one.”

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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