Six things friends can teach you about relationships

Having a good mix of friends can be useful for many reasons. As well as being there for you, friends can teach you valuable skills which could help you in your romantic relationships.

So, put your phone on flight mode for three minutes and take a look at these six relationship lessons you can learn from your friends.

1. Who’s out there

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way: having a diverse group of friends means you’re more likely to meet a suitable romantic partner and you can also rule out the types of people you’re not interested in. Even if you prefer to stick to just a few close friends, you’ll still have access to friends of friends through recommendations and introductions [1].

2. How to interact with your partner

Our first social lessons usually come from watching our parents and other adults interacting. As young children, we start to pick up helpful (and not so helpful) information about how relationships work. As we get older, the focus of our social lives switches from family to friends, but the lessons continue [2]. Observing your friends’ interactions can help you develop emotional maturity [1] and learn how to interact in romantic settings [3].

Notice the way your friends behave with each other and the reactions they get. How do they offer support and build trust? How do they make each other laugh, or get over disagreements? These subtle lessons can be invaluable in your current and future romantic relationships.

3. What to do when things get tricky

Friends may not always have the best advice, but they are often the first choice for emotional support [4]. You can be honest with friends and they can be honest with you – sometimes just having a good sounding board can make it easier to find solutions to problems, or even just to decide whether you want to date someone in the first place [1].

4. What you already know

Friendships are a safe place to experiment with social behaviour. As you figure out who you are, you’ll also learn how people respond to you [2]. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t – if a friend texts you, do you ‘keep them keen’ by waiting three days to reply, or do you text back straight away to continue the conversation?

You know way more about relationships than you might think you do, so instead of thinking of your romantic partner as some mystical creature to try and impress, just inject some of the friend version of you into the dating version of you.

5. How to express commitment

Think of the gestures you’ve made to express how much your friends mean to you – buying them gifts, cancelling plans to spend time with them, or just being considerate and talking positively about your friendship.

These are all clear signs of how committed you are to a relationship. Remember, though, that the importance of these gestures can be magnified in the context of a romantic relationship – forgetting to buy a birthday present for a friend might blow over pretty quickly but forgetting to buy a present for a romantic partner could be disastrous! [5]

6. Managing arguments

Disagreements are inevitable in friendships and romantic relationships. The best way to resolve them is not by trying to win, but by listening to each other, trying to understand each other’s perspectives, and looking for solutions together. Hopefully you won’t have had too many significant arguments with friends but the social skills you’ve picked up from the people closest to you will help you navigate difficult relationship conversations without them getting out of hand [6].

So, as a young person exploring your first few relationships, it’s worth taking a look at your group of friends and seeing if you’ve got a good mix there. Exposing yourself to different social interactions gives you a chance to see how things work and figure out what sort of a partner you might want to be in future relationships [3].

References


[1] Zimmer-Gembeck, M. (2002). The development of romantic relationships and adaptations in the system of peer relationships. Journal of Adolescent Health, 31(6), 216-225.

[2] Cavanagh, S.E. (2007). The social construction of romantic relationships in adolescence: Examining the role of peer networks, gender, and race. Sociological Inquiry, 77(4), 572-600.

[3] Connolly, J., Craig, W., Goldberg, A. and Pepler, D. (2004). Mixed-gender groups, dating, and romantic relationships in early adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14, 185–207.

[4] Ha, T., Overbeek, G., De Greef, M., Scholte, R. and Engels, R. (2010). The importance of relationships with parents and best friends for adolescents’ romantic relationship quality: Differences between indigenous and ethnic Dutch adolescents. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 34(2), 121-127.

[5] Yamaguchi, M., Smith, A. and Ontsubo, Y. (2015). Commitment signals in friendship and romantic relationships. Education and Human Behavior, 36, 467-474.

[6] Farley, J.P. and Kim-Spoon, J. (2014). The development of adolescent self-regulation: Reviewing the role of parent, peer, friend, and romantic relationships. Journal of Adolescence, 37(4), 433-440.

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