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Being a Friend at Fifty-Plus

Being a Friend at Fifty-Plus
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BY NINA MALKIN

When you’re raising a family or launching a career, friendships can play second fiddle. At midlife they regain importance for social activity and as a support system. Your network of friends may be your best source of close and lasting relationships now, says psychotherapist Tina Tessina, Ph.D., author of The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty. Here, how to truly be there for a buddy who is going through a tough time or dealing with a daunting transition. If your friend:

Is facing divorce: Anger, sadness and insecurity are just some of the emotions likely to pour from someone whose marriage is over. Don’t denigrate the ex or push your pal to do anything, especially date. Your main role is to listen and validate. In other words, provide a sturdy shoulder to cry (or vent) on. Simply saying, ‘You have every right to feel that way’ is beneficial. Other than that, an ego boost may be welcome now. Admire a new haircut or outfit, or offer a sincere, Hey, you look great!

Gets bad news from the doctor: A difficult diagnosis is upsetting. You fear losing your friend while being smacked by your own mortality but do your best to put these feelings aside. While the medical establishment is at odds when it comes to the benefits of positive thinking on disease, a good attitude surely can’t hurt, so strive to buoy that. By the same token, If your friend wants to talk about pain, fear or frustration, be willing to listen and sympathize, says Tessina. Pray together, if you have that in common. And be sure to lend a hand perhaps by providing pet care or preparing healthy meals while your pal is laid up.

Is mourning a spouse: Compassion is paramount when a friend loses his/her life partner. Acknowledge the death rather than avoid the subject, and encourage your friend to share his/her feelings. Not everyone expresses grief the same way, so someone who doesn’t wish to talk may find enormous comfort from your quiet, sympathetic presence. Sitting in silence can be wonderfully supportive, says Tessina. Make yourself useful, too: Pitch in on errands, housework, et cetera. Ongoing support (visits, phone calls, texts and emails) is crucial. Busyness and shock keep grief at bay, so your friend will need you most after everyone else has forgotten, throughout the first year after the loss, says Tessina. Every holiday and special occasion faced without the partner for the first time is challenging. See if your friend needs company or wants to talk at those times.

Has taken a career blow: Whether it’s a matter of downsizing, early retirement or a plain old pink slip, losing a job can be crushing. There is the lack of income, of course, plus feelings of uselessness that your friend might be too embarrassed to admit. So keep your buddy busy in a relevant way, suggest a volunteer activity you can do together, for instance. Ask for help or advice on a project to sustain your friends self-worth. Be sensitive when it comes to pricey restaurants or shopping sprees your bestie might not be able to afford now. On a practical level, Tessina suggests: Offer to help with updating the resume, strategizing the job search, perhaps even working out a new budget.

Suffers from empty nest syndrome: Dads as well as moms may feel sad, bored and irrelevant when the children move on. A friend might need help thinking about himself/herself instead of always about the kids,says Tessina. So step in, urging them celebrate their independence while building your bond. Suggest a hobby, class, club or trip you and your friend can share. Encourage your pal to reward himself/herself for raising great kids in a fun, spirited way (if a sports car isn’t in the budget, maybe a makeover or a new wardrobe). Inquire about the kids, but limit that conversation to change the subject to current events or entertainment so your bud won’t obsess.

Is moving to smaller quarters: Any of the above situations can be a catalyst for a move among the top five life stressors. Go pad-hunting with your pal, making sure to point out the positive aspects of a smaller space (less to clean, a cozier feel). Sifting through half a lifetimes worth of stuff can be tough, so help your friend decide what to keep, what to store and what to donate. Once the move is made, suggest a housewarming. All those great friends coming together will remind everyone that it’s not the size of your home but the size of your heart that matters!

 

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