Over 40? Why Your Relationships Matter More than Ever

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As human beings, we’re wired to connect with other humans.  This is something that has evolved over the thousands of years that we’ve been roaming this Earth.

Historically, and evolutionarily, speaking, we needed strong connections to survive.  Whether it was to ward off invaders or to rely on family and neighbors to raise children (it takes a village!), we, as humans, have a reliance on others.

Today, we may not have a strong need to fight off invaders, and we pay doctors and day care centers to help raise the kiddos, but we still need solid human connections to thrive.

As we move through life, we enter (and leave) phases where we develop and cultivate these relationships.  Our college years are ripe for developing friendships, seeking out romantic partners, and making the time needed to build and sustain these connections.

But, as we settle into life, our careers blossom, and priorities shift due to children and other responsibilities, our ability to build and maintain strong connections feels more and more challenging.

As we enter our 40s, we notice our circle of friends is likely smaller, and our romantic partnership is either going stale, breaking apart or completely non-existent.

While it’s normal for our social circles to shrink as we get older, we feel alone, and we crave more meaningful connections.  

So, what’s going on here?  To put it simply, as we get older, we get wiser.

As we age, we begin to value quality over quantity, so we sift through our relationships and let many of them slide.  It’s not that we don’t care for the person, it’s simply the relationship is no longer serving us.

But, despite the tendency to sift, sort, and release, we still crave connection, but what we’re looking for is deeper, more meaningful ties. And with good reason: strong interpersonal connections can be the key to longevity, better health, and greater life satisfaction.

But, how do we find those connections we desire?  How do we deepen the connections we have?


THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF STRONG SOCIAL TIES

Before I dive into the ‘how’ of developing stronger relationships, let’s pause for a moment and take a look at why it’s so important to put in the effort to develop stronger connections.

There is a host of evidence that shows how positive social relationships boost our health, improve our moods, and allow us to live longer lives.

From a health perspective, having meaningful relationships with others lowers stress levels.  When our stress is lowered, our blood pressure drops, our heart rate stabilizes, and it can even reduce our cholesterol!

Studies have also shown that these positive relationships and strong interpersonal connections help us keep our memory strong as we age and retain better cognitive skills.

The absence of strong, positive, and supportive social relationships leads to loneliness, isolation, and possibly even depression.


Having good friends, and a supportive partner is just as crucial to our health as avoiding cigarettes, excess sugar and fat, getting exercise, and limiting alcohol.

What it all comes down to is that the support and validation we get from these relationships builds our confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth which plays a vital part in the overall boost these relationships provide to our long-term health.


WHAT’S BEHIND OUR LACKLUSTER RELATIONSHIPS

When we’re younger, making new friends and cultivating a romantic relationship is relatively easy.  We’re in environments that foster those connections, and everyone else is looking to create these ties too.

But, as we move away from our younger years, life throws in more roadblocks and those ties that bound us to our friends, start to snap.

A big deterrent for maintaining our friendships is time.  We have demanding jobs, and our families start to snag all our available time.

Our priorities shift so what once connected us in the past, no longer provides a strong enough tie.  

Socializing becomes a luxury.  Even within marriages and long-term partnerships, familiarity breeds distance as we turn our attention to more pressing matters.

When we do decide to do something about it, we hit a wall because unlike our younger selves, we tend to stick with the same social circles, so we don’t meet as many new people, and we have less new options for making fresh connections.

Sadly, many of us rely on social media to stay “connected” with our friends, but for most people, in spite of the ability to remain constantly connected via our phones and tablets, we feel more disconnected than ever.

So, armed with all of this information, what do we do?  How can we change all of this before it’s too late?


HOW TO BUILD MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS AND RELATIONSHIPS

To create and build a thriving and rewarding relationship, several aspects must be present:

  • The opportunity

  • The desire

  • The time

The Opportunity

In order to meet new people - for dating or friendships - we have to find new people to meet.  We’ve likely exhausted our normal circles, so we have to create opportunities to meet new people.

And, since we tend to be pickier at this stage of life (ahem, quality over quantity), we have to cast a wide net to meet as many new people as possible.

Regardless of whether you’re looking for a hot new partner for a romantic connection, or some new friends for laughing over the latest Rom-Coms, we have to insert ourselves in places we haven’t gone before to meet people we’ve never met before.

Some options for meeting new people include:

  • Join clubs

  • Volunteer

  • Attend local meetups

  • Change churches

Even if you’re not in the market for meeting “new” people and you want to reconnect with those already in your social circle, you still need to create the opportunity to meet in person and connect.

Some ideas for reconnecting with old friends, or your partner:

  • Set a recurring coffee date with a friend

  • Start a monthly potluck with a group of girlfriends (and rotate homes to share the work!)

  • Establish a standing date night with your spouse/partner

  • Plan a weekly chat with a friend on the phone

The Desire

The desire piece is not just on your part, but must be present from those you seek to build a connection.  

And, while we can’t make anyone want something they don’t desire, the key here is to look for people who do desire the same as you.

A lot of times, by engaging in activities aimed for social interaction (i.e., meetups.com, local clubs, etc.) you’re already circling with people who are raising their hands for these types of interactions.

But, if you’re volunteering, or attending a new church, you may not know who’s in the market for expanding their social circles, so you have to be brave and ask.

If you’re looking to reconnect with old friends, be honest with them and tell them what you’re seeking.  That gives them the chance to either agree or to say they don’t have the time. That’ll save you time and effort in the long run!

The Time

Here’s the thing about establishing deeper, more meaningful, and rewarding relationships:  we have to make the time for them.

We can’t expect to occasionally show up, or settle on sharing a text or two, to make a relationship work.  If we barely showed up for work, what would happen? We’d lose our jobs.

The same applies to the relationships we want to cultivate:  we must put the time and effort into building and sustaining them.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Human connection is the basis for our health, happiness, and life fulfillment.  We need social interactions, just like we need 30 minutes of cardio three times a week!

But, for many of us, our busy schedules and excuses keep us from putting in the time and effort to extend a hand and build a stronger connection.

But, to ignore this desire, and skip the social interactions means we are setting ourselves up for a life that is lonelier and emptier.