Evaluating Why You're Staying In Long-Term Friendships Could Benefit Your Health

When we think about our health, we tend to consider our physical well-being in terms of our diet, exercise regimen, and rehabilitation of any injuries we may have. What isn't as openly discussed is how friendships and social connections can affect our health, from our physical wellness to our emotional and mental well-being. Mayo Clinic reports that friendships can reduce feelings of loneliness and depression, increase healthy lifestyle behaviors, and create a sense of belonging.


Since human beings are social creatures, it isn't a surprise that our social interactions have an impact on our health, but determining which friendships we should be pursuing can be a conundrum. On television and in movies, it seems like everyone has a lifelong best friend, a core group of close friends who are ready to drop everything at a moment's notice, and a large cohort of friends to celebrate with glamorous parties for every milestone life has to offer. Unfortunately, real life isn't like the movies and actual friendships aren't as glitzy as the ones we see on screen. Especially in adulthood, it can feel like a serious challenge to try to make, let alone maintain, friendships while juggling work, family, bills, traffic, and a million other awesome things that come with adulting. Though social media may make it seem like staying in touch with your best friend from kindergarten is a breeze, the premise is once again a facade. It's time to evaluate friendships realistically and take a deeper look at your long-term connections.


Letting go of draining friendships can reduce stress

Given how sparse time can be in adulthood, you want to make certain that the friendships you're investing your resources in are making you feel fulfilled and nourished. If a friendship leaves you feeling drained and depleted, then it's time to take a look at why you're still investing in the relationship. Frequently, people will remain in long-term friendships because they feel in some way compelled to do so, whether because their friend is someone who has been in their life for a long time or because their friend was there for them during a difficult time. Especially when a friend has supported you through a tumultuous period in your life, there can be a lot of guilt and perceived selfishness if you find yourself wanting to dissolve the friendship. This can lead to stress and emotions that bring you down.


Emotional manipulation in friendships can happen in subtle ways or can be as explicit as neon signs, like if a friend constantly reminds you that they were there for you when you went through a difficult breakup or another major life event. This form of emotional servitude isn't the foundation for an authentic bond. Remaining in a friendship that is draining or preventing you from growing isn't worth the impact on your health, no matter the history you share. And chances are that if the friendship isn't serving you, then it probably isn't serving your friend, either. One-sided relationships aren't healthy.

Maintaining long-term friendships out of fear can impede growth

Staying in long-term friendships because you feel like you can't make new friends is a dynamic that prevents growth and causes stress. Long-term friendships can be wonderful connections to maintain if the friendships inspire both people to be their best. However, if you're remaining in long-term friendships that don't make you feel like the greatest version of yourself because you're convinced that you're too old, too busy, or too much of anything else to make new connections, this is a mindset that can harm your health. Many people adhere to ageist assertions that new friendships can't be made after a certain age. A 2019 study published in BMC Medicine determined that stigmatized beliefs can worsen health by increasing stress, provoking psychological distress, and impeding social connections. It can be easy to hold onto long-term relationships because they feel safe, but staying in them because you fear you can't make new bonds can be detrimental to your well-being.


There's no denying that it becomes more difficult to spend time getting to know new friends with the responsibilities of adulthood, but it's never too late nor impossible to make new friends, even if you feel like the busiest person on the planet. Evaluate if you're avoiding new connections out of fear and know you can always grow your social circle, regardless of where you are in life. The first step, and the best thing for your health, is to throw stigmatized narratives away ASAP!

Evaluate your confidence in friendships

When you consider why you're remaining in a long-term friendship, evaluate how you feel each time you think about reaching out to your friend. There can be confidence gaps in interpersonal connections that prevent authentic bonds from being able to flourish, and those gaps are often rooted in low self-esteem and negative assumptions. A 2019 study published by the American Psychological Association found that there is significant reciprocity between social connections and self-esteem, wherein having positive relationships with others can create positive self-esteem within yourself and vice versa. The two factors work in tandem, but be aware that they work the same way with negative relationships and low self-esteem. If you have friendships that drag you down, then taking a deeper look at the dynamics within the friendship may provide revelations about your self-esteem.


Self-esteem in friendships isn't limited to how you feel when you spend time with a friend. Self-esteem shows up in the confidence you have to reach out to friends with invitations. Frequently, fear of rejection will prevent people from reaching out to friends with invitations to get together. People assume that other people will be too busy or simply not want to spend time together, so there is a low or non-existent investment in friendships. If this sounds familiar, evaluate how confident you feel in your friendships. Similar to following ageist narratives, allowing fear of rejection to interfere with friendships can inhibit authenticity and growth.

Ending friendships with kindness is the healthiest approach

After taking deeper looks into your long-term relationships, you may find that you've been maintaining the relationships because you feel like there's an emotional debt you feel that you owe to your friend, you stay in touch simply because you've known each other for years, or you're afraid that if you end the friendships then you won't be able to make new friends. All of these experiences are valid, but they shouldn't stop you from making adjustments to your social circle that will benefit your health and overall well-being. Friendships should make you feel supported, be reciprocal, and encourage both people to grow into the best versions of themselves. Realistically, there's no such thing as a relationship that is positive and joyful at all times, but you should be able to rely on your friends and know that any conflict or difficult situation that arises will be handled with maturity and respect for one another. Remember that having positive social relationships can boost self-esteem and confidence.


Should you realize that long-term friendships no longer serve you, it's okay to dissolve them. PsychCentral recommends setting a time to speak with your friend when you won't be distracted and can speak openly. Let your friend know the positive memories you'll always cherish, be respectful of their feelings, and tell them in a kind, non-accusatory way that you don't feel that the friendship is right for your path moving forward.

Holding onto guilt isn't healthy

When you end a long-term friendship, one of the most common emotional experiences is guilt. Telling a friend you've known for a significant amount of time you don't want to be friends anymore can be a hard experience for both people, even if you know that letting go of the relationship is best for your well-being. Long-term friendships tend to have lengthy histories, so it can be easy to resort to feeling extra guilty when you decide to let go. However, feeling guilty is one of the worst self-punishments because it can lead to anxiety, depression, self-isolation, rumination, and a lot of stress. Guilt over ending a friendship can result in being overly self-judgmental and having an internal dialogue with yourself that is heavy on negative self-talk that can bring down your self-esteem and self-worth.


Though it may be extremely difficult, the best gift you can give to yourself is grace. Being kind to ourselves is commonly one of our lowest priorities. Ending a friendship doesn't mean forgetting your friend or the many positive memories from the friendship. You don't have to terminate all communication or negate the possibility of rekindling the friendship in the future if it becomes the right decision for both friends. Do what's right for you, prioritize self-care, self-kindness, and peaceful grace for yourself knowing that you're making healthy choices.