How to Have Healthy Adult Relationships

How to Have Healthy Adult Friendships

After the divorce or death of a spouse, our worlds are turned upside down. And our friend circles change. We may have lost a lot of friends, and as single parents, we may feel too needy. Sometimes we fear that new friends won't accept us because they don't want to deal with our baggage. We feel it's too much work to find and keep friends with all that we have going on. But having healthy adult friendships is important. So, what do we do?

We're going to cover three main points. Number one, we're going to talk about overcoming our friendship fears. And number two, the type of friendships to cultivate in our solo season. And three, we're going to share some practical relationship skills that you can develop to be a good friend.

Adult friendships, especially after the divorce or death of a spouse can be so hard. What are some fears that you have encountered, especially adult friendships?

There’s the feeling of already feeling rejected and I didn't want to go through rejection again. To make a friend means you have to be vulnerable to someone.

There’s the fear that married women are suspicious of me because I'm a single mom after her husband. And then there’s all the insecurities— am I interesting enough, is what I have to say important enough to you? Especially how deep can you go in conversation with certain people? It’s almost like dating. How to slowly get deeper and deeper versus jumping right into eight feet and scaring them off.

It's also learning something new. When I became a single parent, I was working full-time. It's a different kind of relationship when trying to hang out with neighbors or old friends who are stay-at-home moms. And I'm working eight to five, plus being a single parent. There's a completely different dynamic. There’s a lot of fear of missing out. There's this whole culture that I felt like now I no longer fit into. Where am I going to find friends now who actually understand what it's like? It’s hard to need adult friendships, but also to have so many responsibilities.

Sometimes people actually avoid single parents. There's some science behind that because they don't know how to engage, and they don't want to feel bad. On my end, frankly, I'm tired of telling my story of what happened with my marriage. And then they offer me pity and that’s not what I’m looking for from them.

They ask me how I am doing, but where do I draw the line? Well, how much do I share? How much do I not share? I've got all this baggage and then everyone's trying to have a good time at a party and I'm here bringing everybody down. It's more complex than people know. It's true when divorce or death happens, it feels like friends are there immediately but then they scatter because the dynamics change. The couple groups that you're in evaporate because they don't know if they should invite you anymore because you're not a couple. And if they do invite, who do they invite? The wife or the husband? People get stuck and then don’t invite either person.

It's really important to identify that it's normal to be afraid of friendships because we've been hurt. We don't know who to trust and we feel needy.

Maybe some of you have worked past the fears and you're at this place where you're exhausted. It takes work to make friends. We're going to talk about the types of friendships that we all need, but first I want to remind everyone that friendships are worth it. Research shows over and over that friendships are essential for emotional and mental well-being and correlate with the enjoyment of life. We’re relational beings who were meant for relationships.

Let's talk about some of the types of friendships we need in our solo season and beyond.

Reciprocal relationships are the type of friendships that we need in our solo season. These are relationships that are vulnerable and there's give and take.

I look across the vast span of my friends, whether just to have dinner together or go on trips together or record podcasts together, all of them fulfill a different need or a different role in my life. I have some that I can get super vulnerable with, that I can cry with. I can tell them my deep dark secrets. I can show up with my really horrible shadowy self. I can show up how I need to.

There are also friends that you may not go deep with but they have a great sense of humor and make you laugh, which lights up your life and fills your cup. You don't have to have an exclusive friend group that meets all of your needs.

There's even one more kind of friend and that's those friendships where rather than having reciprocity, they need something from you and ask you for three things before you ever ask them for anything. You never know when you are going to get more out of a relationship because you can serve them with love and let them be who they are.

We're called as Christians, to serve others like Christ serves us. We are built for reciprocal relationships, even fun relationships. But the other kind of relationship that you're talking about is really pouring ourselves out. To be a safe place for someone else that needs it. It's important to see the value of your relationships, but we should avoid measuring them all the same way. There are different kinds of healthy relationships that serve different needs and bring something different to the table.  

We've talked about the fears behind starting new friendships and we've talked about the type of friendships we need in our solo season. Let’s talk about some practical relationship skills. Because when you are in a couple, you're not necessarily pursuing new friendships. You may have gotten out of practice finding new friends.

We want to be true to who we are and authentic, but there are skills that we can develop. There’s a famous book written in 1936 by Dale Carnegie called, How to Win Friends and Influence People, which is a great resource for learning relationship skills.

The book is filled with principles. We'll just cover a couple of them today. One principle that’s outlined in the book is giving honest and sincere appreciation to others. When you're meeting someone, you can give them honest and sincere feedback. For example, “You look nice. Are you going to a business meeting?” This creates a rapport between the two of you.

Sometimes single parents don't know or feel that they have something to give. Within the right framework, know that you do have something to give. You can give words of affirmation and appreciation. You can practice this anywhere— the post office or anywhere. You’ll learn you can have good conversations. There are no strings attached and it leaves somebody else feeling good. It’s a win-win situation, which is what a relationship is supposed to be. You don't have to see them again to have had a quality interaction with them or to pour into their lives.

Offering appreciation may seem simple but it’s a skill. We can get lost in our own world or our own insecurities. We may feel we don't have anything to give or that it is not going to mean anything to them, but it almost always means something.

The second principle is to become generally interested in other people. This isn't a shallow interest that first I'm going to ask you questions and then I want to talk about myself for the next three hours. Instead, it means being more interested in others than interesting. People aren't going to remember that you had 17 Arabian cats. They are going to remember that you listened to them talk about the three cats that they have at home and how much those cats mean to them.

One of the things that Carnegie points out in the book is that people love to hear their names. So, use their name when you’re talking to them. Another one is the power of questions. There's so much you can learn by asking questions and continuing to prompt them. There's also a technique with questions that if you want to get people to do something rather than barking an order, you ask a question. For example, “Wouldn't it be really nice if we did something like this?” You may get a lot more positive responses.

For those of us that feel like we don't have anything to offer, showing appreciation and asking questions are really good ways to build a relationship because both of these things are reciprocal. And they're putting the other person forward, and you build a better rapport.

Do you think men and women can be friends?

They are different than friendships when you are dating or in a relationship for sure. Are they advisable though? For example, the “When Harry Met Sally” storyline? You can't do it because there's always a romantic angle to it. As a single mom, how do you look at that?

I cannot be a single mom and not talk to men because my kids need male influences. But you have to have very clear boundaries. You have to be careful. If they are married, one of the things I always try to do is I'll text both of the husband and the wife even for the weirdest thing.

When both parties are single it can be hard, especially if one has hopes that the friendship may turn into something more. It can be really bad to navigate when you disappoint a man who is interested in you or a woman who is interested in you.

Relationships with men that I have had have been very healing because it was very clear there was no romantic interest. But those relationships have been rare.  

But that’s one of the things the Solo Parent co-ed groups can do for you, give you the opportunity to have male relationships in a group setting, which does make it a little less intense. You do have to have some accountability in making sure that whoever you're in a relationship with has done their work.


Recognize that maybe fear is holding us back from friendship and we need friendship.
We need healthy friendships. So, acknowledging the fact that we might be scared of something, just be honest. So much of what we talk about here is self-awareness. Like, what's going on, being in tune with what's going on in your head and, and in your heart. That's the first thing. The second thing is there are different kinds of relationships.

No one size fits all. It can be just a fun relationship. It could be a reciprocal, deep vulnerable relationship, or it can be a relationship that you are investing in where you're pouring into someone else's life.

There are skills that we can learn to be better at relationships.

Listener Question

Hi, this is Evan, a single dad. How do you navigate having a child who does something that really challenges everything you believe or taught them?

This is so tough. Above all, Evan is pray, pray, pray, pray, pray. Kids do come back, they come back to the way you raise them, but they have to find their way. The hardest thing to deal with as a parent is waiting.

Second, respond out of love instead of reacting out of fear. Look inside yourself and become really aware of what is motivated by fear versus what's motivated by love. And then it's not reacting to everything that comes up out of that fear.

Think about the story of the prodigal son. It says the dad waited for his son to return, which tells you a little bit about the dad. He yearned for a relationship, he yearned to love his son. He yearned for his son to know how much he was loved. And so, he waited and eventually, the son came back and the dad accepted him with unconditional love.

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