The past 18 months have tested not only our emotional health but also the health of our friendships, as we have seen them evolve. The pandemic stretched and changed the social web that has connected us and has forced us to change the way that we interact.
Friendships are one of the most important factors as measured by Maslow’s Hierarchy of basic needs. The feeling of belonging, emotional support, and connecting through shared experiences increases our life span, our standard of living as well as improves our health overall.
The pandemic has forced us to re-adjust our social circles and we have done a big edit from casual friendships, acquaintances, neighbourly friends, college buds, work associates, even the closeness that we had with our local coffee barista went out the window.
Instead, we were forced to choose a select group of people that would be our lifeline for the proceeding 18 months and counting. These people saw the good, the bad and the ugly as we faced the pandemic together.
How the pandemic has destabilized our relationships
The concept of creating a family bubble was quickly adopted by most people to ensure that the most vulnerable were protected, and that everyone could hold covid fears at bay. These systems quickly turned our social networks on their head.
An interesting new phenomenon has formed as we near the 1.5-year mark since the pandemic started: a lot of people are questioning whether they want to have such large groups of friends and acquaintances. Instead, many have grown to enjoy the emotional space that they have gained.
The idea of reducing our communities is fine if we are in a pandemic, but as we emerge from the restrictions the question left is “what does this mean for all the other relationships that we have put on hold? What do we do with them now? How do we reconnect, or move on?
As always, we have worked with our therapists and life coaches to bring you some deep reflection on the core of relationships and how to navigate this next phase that we are embarking on, whether you are preserving your close groups or looking for ways to reconnect with everyone that you were friends with.
As pandemic restrictions ease, how do we re-integrate people and friends back into our lives?
It is important to first keep in mind that just as much as you have had a big experience, so have everyone that you know, and have been impacted in their own way. They may be different from what you remember, stay open.
Communication is important in rekindling a relationship. Taking the time to reconnect and pay attention to what is new with them, share equally about what you have been doing and what you must share as new things in your life.
Also, be realistic and suspend judgment for the relationship. There is a chance that your old friend is really not who you remembered, or you have also changed enough that the relationship does feel quite different. That is ok, perhaps this can offer a new friendship or perhaps this friendship may be one that you will have to move on from.
You might ask yourself who did I miss? And who missed me?
These are some important questions to start with. Since the beginning of the pandemic, who are you still thinking about? Who are you missing? This will offer an authentic expression of an important bond that you might want to prioritize connecting with again.
Equally, who has reached out to you since the pandemic started? Who has shown you love and support during this time and has gone out of their way to reconnect? These persons are great indicators of people that you may want to reconnect with.
How to take a curatorial approach when it comes to friendship?
Taking an honest approach to friendship is a great place to start. This pause has offered us a lot of opportunity to self reflect in our personal lives about our work, our health, fitness, mental health. What about our relationships?
Identifying what makes a good friend is an important list to develop, these are our go to list for having an honest reflection:
- They make you feel better about the world and yourself.
- They listen to you, although they don’t always agree, they get you.
- They have a sense of mutuality and reciprocity, engaging and helping you.
- You both enjoy spending time together.
- You laugh together and find fun together easily.
Following the same exercise, reflecting on what is problematic in a relationship when we are reviewing our friendships:
- They are not genuine, especially when good things happen, they are not happy for you.
- They act boastful and self-righteous.
- They act prickly in conversation.
- They are fault finding.
- They always talk about themselves.
- They do not defend you or join in on conversations talking negatively about you.
After taking a quick look at these lists, you can identify where your friends would fall and determine whether that friendship in fact was one that was a positive and supportive experience for you, or instead brought you down and made you feel bad.
This is a great time to identify this and make some personal choices of who you would like to have around.
What if we are a bad friend?
Of course, there are also moments when we ourselves are not great friends. Is this a good time to do some self-reflection as to how we treat others and ask ourselves, “what kind of a friend am I for others?” and make some corrections as to the kind of friend that you would like to be.
Sometimes we hold personal traumas or anxieties that cause us to have co-dependencies, jealousy, and irrational behaviour. In these cases, it is important to ensure that we get the help that we need. Working with a life coach and/or therapist to help identify, manage, and cope with these traumas is beneficial and important.
No relationship is absent of conflict, but the question then becomes can the relationship withstand difficult times and work through difficult moments and misunderstandings?
A strong relationship is full of ups and downs, good days and bad. A relationship without conflict is rare and not necessarily one of closeness. The capacity to work through problems and misunderstanding is what indicates having a strong sense of trust, loyalty, and commitment in a friendship.
This is sometimes easier said than done, as communication can vary depending on the person and relationships are complicated. The thing to remember is to offer empathy when talking and suspend judgement when learning about all the details of the issue.
When conversations become heated and feelings start to feel out of control, taking a break, and walking away is a great tool to find another opportunity to resolve issues when feeling more settled.
Sometimes friendships end. You might grow apart as there were too many issues, or you simply grew apart.
This can happen in regular life and will happen during the pandemic. If you are determining that there are some friendships that you have moved on from, make sure that you acknowledge it and don’t ignore it and fall into old patterns. Everything has a cycle, and this is not a bad thing.
How do you determine how to disengage?
In some cases, you will find that certain friendships have simply finished their course, and it is ok to acknowledge that closure. In most cases the simple distance will help to form new friendships and adjust new social habits.
There may be some situations where a friend may feel closer to you than you feel about them and, in these situations, you may need to re-establish friendship norms and how you want to continue having this friendship.
What if you really like the emotional space from the quiet spell of isolation?
You may have found that the pandemic has given you a new lease on personal and emotional space, and you are enjoying having fewer social interactions. If this has been your experience then this is a great time to take stock of what you need in your emotional space.
Be conscious of not re-cluttering your emotional space and create boundaries so that this space is well protected and respected by others. The relationships that you have kept will be more enjoyable when you make these personal decisions.
If you are struggling with relationships, working with a life coach or therapist can offer you healthy tools to improve your experience. We are always here to help, feel free to reach out anytime. firstname.lastname@example.org