The Challenges of Adult Friendships

Photo by Hannah Rodrigo on Unsplash

I do a lot of clinical work with middle school students. Friendship is a major component of life in middle school, and in both my clinical and personal experience, friendship at this stage of life is usually accompanied by a LOT of ups and downs.

There are dramas, fights, hurt feelings, competition, mean-spirited rumors, cliques, people who are best friends one day and enemies the next. Friends who slowly fade away. Friends who are not sincere. Research suggests that one half of middle school friendships will last less than one academic year.

I talk a lot with the middle school students I work with about learning what makes a good friend – how to recognize one, and how to be one. Oftentimes, this handout, Cactus & Flower Friends by, serves as a really helpful guide to starting a conversation with students about this topic.

It’s almost a given that preteen and teenage friendships are destined for choppy waters.

But by adulthood, we’re supposed to have put all (or at least most of) the interpersonal drama behind us and learned all the ins and outs of healthy friendship. Our younger years were supposed to be rife with unstable and tumultuous friendships…not our twenties, thirties, or beyond.

Still, many of the adults I’ve worked with have shared that they continue to face challenges in the arena of friendship. Less often due to rumors and cliques, and more because of issues such as:

  • limited time for friends due to work
  • limited energy to invest in friendships
  • partnership and/or kids consuming time that could otherwise be spent cultivating friendships
  • being new to an area and not knowing anyone
  • feeling that they’ve outgrown existing friendships
  • feeling that by adulthood, everyone already has their friend group “set” and aren’t looking for new ones

Friendship-related challenges DO continue past adolescence and into adulthood, they just have a different appearance.

It’s important for us to talk about the challenges of adult friendships and how to overcome them. After all, just because you aren’t a teenager anymore, doesn’t mean friendship ceases to be an incredibly important part of a fulfilling life.

If you’re reading this and wanting to take inventory of your current friends situation, I recommend starting with the same handout I use with middle school students. You can use it to begin an objective conversation with yourself (or maybe…a friend?) about healthy and unhealthy friendships. Share any insights you had while doing this exercise in the comments below.

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