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Love & Relationships
November 9, 2022

The Difference between Lovers and Friends

Post By:
Shahla Nikpour, LCSW-QS, LCAT
In-House Contributor
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Phoenix Thriving Therapy LLC
Guest Contributor:

Friendships: the new relationships? Controversial, I know. Ultimately, our goal as humans is to find a mate or partner to spend the rest of our lives with… right? But that just may not be the reality anymore. The world has changed, and our mindset needs to shift, too. And you can start by shifting towards nurturing your friendships. 

In 2022, the divorce rate is expected to be at least 44.2%. We know that half of marriages sadly end in divorce, and the mounting stressors of our current world negatively impact people in committed relationships. Yet, we continue to put unrealistic pressures on the longevity of a relationship-- and relationship status in general. Many of my clients talk about how the simple glance of a social media post showing a “happy couple” can make them feel completely alone. Some believe the key to their happiness is tied to marriage or finding “the one.” We forget that finding a partner does not rid our life of problems, of sadness, and dare I say, loneliness.

Despite a world rewritten by a global pandemic, we still operate from the rom-com ideology of achieving happiness through finding the partner of our dreams. As a society, we continue to place our value on whether or not we can sustain a romantic relationship. It’s hard to dismantle this reality, but the truth is our friendships can actually be the most important relationships in our life. 

Through this shared pandemic experience, we have finally begun to learn that the supportive people in our lives are the true currency of connection. Perhaps the key to happiness lies in nurturing these relationships? Let’s explore.

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Let me ask you a question: how many of you still have some lingering resentment or unprocessed feelings around a friendship that held a lot of meaning to you? Perhaps the other person ditched you after they started dating someone? Maybe they relocated and you grew apart? Maybe they had children and their lifestyle changed? 

I have experienced this, and I am sure plenty of other people have too. How did that experience make you feel? Sad? Empty? Unworthy? Alone? You might question the authenticity of the relationship. Now, let’s raise the stakes. How many of you experienced this distance in a friendship, but once the person’s circumstances changed, found yourself offering your friendship to them again? 

There is nothing wrong with being a forgiving person, but this can also be an indication that there are deeper issues with intimacy that need to be addressed. 

Many times, the safest and most stable relationships in our lives can be our true friendships. Of course our romantic relationships can be safe and stable as well, but sometimes, friendships can have a better probability of longevity than marriages or romantic partnerships. Yet, we tend to idealize “the one” and agonize over finding him or her.

We often fail to see that friendships provide many of the same underlying principles we want in a spouse or life partner. Friendships cultivate intimacy, connection, adventure, trust, affection, and support. The right kind of friendship is also one that feels organic and fluid, and you feel free in your body and in your emotions. Friendships can experience a deeper love at times-- perhaps because there isn’t the same pressure on the relationship.

Building meaningful, intentional friendships can create the community and social support we need to thrive, whether we are in a romantic relationship or not, whether we have a family or not. Friendships are vital for support through some of our most challenging times and some of our greatest times. As humans, we are hard wired to thrive in community.

For those who have significant interpersonal trauma history, with key caregivers or partners, nurturing safe friendships is an especially important investment for you. Society pressures us to prioritize romantic relationships, but so many still need to heal in order to be able to achieve successful committed romantic relationships.  A community of support can be a beautiful and incredibly empowering path to healing. 

We’re in the midst of a mental health crisis; it is disrupting marriages, partnerships, relationships and families. One of the key aspects I explore when I first begin working with a client is exploring their support network. And too often, they report not having meaningful friendships with people outside their marriage, relationship, or family. There is a correlation between those struggling with mental health, and a lack of social support. It is necessary to invest in these relationships. And just like any romantic relationship, marriage, or domestic partnership, these relationships take time and effort too. 

For all of these reasons and more, it’s possible to break intergenerational trauma simply by shifting our focus towards nurturing our friendships. Our friends are people that we invest in because they hold the same values and interests as we do. In those meaningful, loving connections, we may just find our soulmates in our friends.