What is it that makes female friendships so significant? Sure, we validate, support one another, bring the casserole to a friend in need, nod, laugh and listen. But what is it that truly makes a woman-to-woman relationship so strong? Chances are, since childhood, you can recall girlfriends who were dear to your heart. What made those friendships unique? Many researchers have studied this question and some have found that there is a special importance in the role of female friendships among women. The literature has indicated that these special relationships not only support a woman’s emotional development, but improve her physical health, too.
How is this possible? A Univeristy of Michigan study (June 2009) by researcher Stephanie Brown found that “dishing” with a girlfriend actually does wonders for a woman’s mood. When we feel emotionally connected to a friend, the hormone progesterone actually increases, which in turn helps to boost our feelings of well-being and has been proven to reduce anxiety and stress.
Gender communication also has something to do with why female friendships can be so significant. Women need women in their lives for a sense of support and empathetic listening, support without necessarily “fixing” the problem.
A woman typically collects details while processing information, whereas a man may tend to look for a solution.
Not all female relationships are comforting and supportive, however. There can be aspects of intensity and difficult periods in female relationships. According to author Terri Apter in her book, “Best Friends,” many females carefully negotiate their relationships with other females. There may be periods of intense competition, possessiveness, unrealistic idealization and envy. Some friendships cannot weather these storms. However, for those who choose to address these challenging aspects of a female-to-female relationship, great outcomes are possible.
As a psychotherapist in private practice, I specialize in women’s issues. Many of my female clients discuss their struggle with friendships and relationships. A common thread that I tend to hear is the need to connect with other women and develop lasting friendships and supportive nurturing relationships. Sometimes it feels like we surround ourselves with lighter, surface relationships, but it’s those deeper, trusting relationships that are more difficult to maintain. Many times, it’s because making ourselves vulnerable to another person creates a sense of discomfort we’re not willing to risk.
When you think of your friendships, imagine a bull’s-eye with our inner most friends next to us in the inner circle, and layers of friends extending outward all the way to acquaintances on the outer ring.
I encourage you to take an inventory of the meaning of friendship. Who do you let into your inner circle? Who are the friends on that outer ring? Think about your relationships and what type of investment you’re making. When we disclose and reach out, it creates a sense of trust in others to reciprocate that trust and confidence. Do we want to surround ourselves with lots of superficial or surface relationships, or find the emotional and physiological benefits of nurturing a few true friends?
Remember: True friends are those who know you in a special way that others don’t. Overall, nurturing true friendship is not only good for the soul, but is good for our health as well.