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5 Ways To Navigate Adult Friendships


By Jenn Bovee, LCSW, CRADC, CCHt, EMDR Trained, The Mental Wellness Center

Navigating adult friendships can be difficult. They are often complex and don’t come with a “user guide.” We often describe adult relationships as being filled with complicated motives, hidden agendas, and mysterious metaphors that most of us are unable to decipher. If you’ve ever experienced any trauma that complicates your trust barometer, then everything changes. Suddenly things are measured differently than “normal” or non-traumatized human brains.

In adult friendships, there are unspoken rules about weird celebration things, but not others! As a person whose love language is gifts and words of affirmation, I am always confused about when it’s okay for me to tag someone in a Facebook post. If you gave me flowers, why can’t I tell the entire Facebook world what a fantastic person you are for doing such a great thing?! But apparently, there’s some secret set of written rules somewhere that arbitrarily records these things! However, in that same vein, if you say nothing publicly, that too might be wrong.

Not everyone is going to be happy about your success in life. Be prepared to lose people along the way! I don’t even share anything about The Mental Wellness Center with people because many of them simply can’t handle the reality of knowing that I am the founder and owner of a successful business. I have watched some people smile and pretend to be excited that I have dropped over 150 pounds, while I could tell they were actually filled with petty jealously or even anger inside.

It’s essential to evaluate if your circle of friends celebrates the good times, as well as the bad, with you. Some people are fortunate to have family members that are also friends, but for many, family members are people in their lives that only add an element of stress and obligation. How supportive are your friends? Here are a few examples that separated some people in my life: When Covid happened, I had several business owner friends. As a business owner, it was a terrifying time to own a business. I made a habit of texting each of them every day as we all worked from home. The ones that reached out to me made an impact on me. The ones that let me text them every day and never reached out? That sent a message as well.

Another “friendship test” is how easily do you ask your friends/ family for help? Very recently, my husband and I were both very ill, which was a rarity in and of itself. Neither one of us left the house for over 14 days. If it hadn’t been for my staff texting me to see how they could help, I’m not sure we would have survived. Let’s take that just a wee bit deeper because, as adults, many of us have had the experience of relocating or moving away. How skilled are you at asking for help? Do you have a circle of friends that you can and do ask for help?  And do friends feel comfortable asking you for help?

These are just a few examples that represents stories I hear every day from clients, friends, colleagues, peers, neighbors, community members, etc. If your relationships are not meeting your expectations, following are five strategies to maneuver adult friendships.

  1. Just Do It: Stop talking about it or thinking about it and do it—especially if you are a person who gets stuck in your head or gets paralyzed by inaction. Text or call the person and reach out already. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen?
  2. Acknowledge the Awkward: You are an adult reaching out to another adult to develop an adult friendship. You have two choices: continue to feel super awkward and let the uncomfortable continue to grow until it’s huge, or acknowledge it and allow it to dissipate instantaneously. My choice is to encourage you to call it out and take its power away.
  3. Let People In: If you have trust issues, you will have to own those and work through those. Regardless, you will need to make the conscious decision to let people in. Human beings can bang on the doors all day long. But if you don’t open the gates, they can’t get in. This is an excellent metaphor for trust.
  4. Be Consistent: If I have learned anything from my interactions with people, it’s that people crave connection. And they operate best if that connection occurs on a regular and consistent basis. It’s even better if they can predict the interaction because then they can count on it, and it builds trust, and the interaction becomes part of the consistency and the trust foundation.
  5. Have Fun: Set the “goal” of developing a friendship aside and just focus on having fun. Laugh, enjoy, and allow everything else to flow naturally. The more “fun” you have, the more things will shift with ease. Most adults have a scarcity of fun in their lives anyway.

There are many reasons why good friendships are important to your overall health and well-being. If you find you lack adult friendships or they are not forming the way you would like them to, it is worth the effort to remedy this situation.

For help with any relationship, or mental health issues, contact The Mental Wellness Center, Inc. at 309-807-5077 or Their offices are located at 205 N. Williamsburg Drive, Suite A in Bloomington and 405 N. Kays Drive, Suite A in Normal. They are invested in helping you return to or achieve—possibly for the first time ever—a state of complete mental wellness.