By Heidi Goehmann
There was a time I thought friendship began with slumber parties and secrets shared in sleeping bags. I also thought friendship began on athletic fields and during recess or at the lunch table. I thought they were easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.
I thought I must have been doing it wrong because it wasn’t so easy for me.
Then I grew up, and friendships got easier in some ways and harder in others. And whether it’s because I’m a therapist, or because I work with youth a lot, or because I like coffee shops and conversation, or just because I’m interested in noticing things, I have noticed this:
Friendship is a struggle at any age. It’s a good struggle, but it isn’t something that will ever be easy in our lives.
- I have yet to meet one 9-year-old who hasn’t struggled with friendship.
- I have also yet to meet a 15-year-old who hasn’t struggled with friendship.
- And I have yet to meet a 40-year-old who hasn’t struggled with friendship.
Finding friendship is hard and growing friendship is hard. These are good things, but they are not easy things. I think our culture puts a certain amount of pressure on children to be good at relationships immediately, with very little effort, and little teaching, guiding, or helping. We each have an internal drama-avoidance meter as well. When my kids have friendship drama at school, I feel incredibly put out. I want it to be their problem, not mine. I’m exhausted by the idea of more relational challenges in my life. Why? Because I have my own relationship issues to deal with.
What if I saw my kids’ challenges with friendship and my own challenges with relationship differently?
WHAT IF RELATIONSHIP STRUGGLES WEREN’T DRAMA, BUT LEARNING?
Relationships are hard work and we don’t come out of the womb knowing how to be good at them. Some of what we need to know we learn from our families. Some of what we need to know we learn through the fire of trial and error, making mistakes and trying again.
Don’t get me wrong: we don’t need drama for drama’s sake, but friendship struggle in a child’s life is fodder for much learning. Relationship struggle in our own lives, whether in friendship, family, or marriage is an opportunity for much growth for each of us.
Intimacy is a developmental phase. We all go through it. It is most prominent. according to Eric Erickson and other developmental theorists, during our young adult and middle adult years, from about 19 years of age through age 40. Intimacy is the center of authentic relationship; without it, it’s just two people existing simultaneously. In this way, kids develop intimacy, but it’s not fair to expect them to develop it in the way we do when we are 19 and older. They are working through other stages – exploration, building a voice, finding creativity and independence, and developing their sense of self.
We each must lay that identity formation foundation before we can truly be intimate with others. We can give kids grace and space to get to know who they are before we push them into knowing and understanding too much about others and about how relationships are supposed to work. We can also give them skills, a listening ear, examples, and guidance as they encounter their own struggles for intimacy, because it isn’t quite their time yet to “get” it. We are all a work in progress, and that’s a good reminder we can share with them.
Here is the crux:
While we each must lay that identity formation foundation before we can truly be intimate with others, as we grow, we each must also be willing to be intimate in order to understand ourselves better.
This is how development works – in layers and repeats, rather than the simplistic phases I think we’d like to see. As we work through the challenges of friendships and relationships, especially with a desire to grow and a lens of progress not perfection, we will root out the parts of ourselves that need growth and also be able to see the places we have grown. This gives us a clearer picture of who we are and who we’d like to be.
AUTHENTICITY + CONNECTION + INTIMACY = REAL RELATIONSHIP
RELATIONSHIP + CONNECTION + INTIMACY = A MORE AUTHENTIC VERSION OF ME
Friendships take time, energy, investment, work, forgiveness, and a fair amount of awkwardness, but the outcome is glorious.
We are always growing in relationship.
This article was first published at https://heidigoehmann.com. Used by permission.
Look for more on friendship and intimacy in Heidi’s upcoming book, Finding Hope: From Brokenness to Restoration available in April 2021, wherever books are sold.
Join Heidi and special guest Dr. Kim Marxhausen for Mental Health Monday Live, the third Monday of each month at noon CST, on the Heidi Goehmann Writes Facebook Page. If you are not available for the live discussion at noon, subscribe to the Heidi Goehmann Writes YouTube channel to watch the videos anytime.
Tune in to The Coffee Hour Podcast from kfuo.org to hear more from Biblical and psychological research on what builds relationship and intimacy and what hinders relationship and intimacy from infancy to adulthood.