• Other Friendship Advice

Friendship Research: Having a close confidante helps keep us healthy

Published: June 9, 2014 | By | 7 Replies Continue Reading
New friendship research confirms the positive health effects of having a close confidante.

A recent study about to be published in the journal Health Psychology, Who Needs a Friend? Marital Status Transitions and Physical Health Outcomes in Later Life, confirms what many in the psychological community have already suspected: Having close confidantes in later life has a positive effect on our health.

A team of researchers at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania and Fordham University in New York followed 747 people, mostly older women, between 1992 and 2004. They examined the differences in physical health between those who had a close confidante and those who did not. The indicators of physical health studied included somatic depressive symptomatology, self-rated health, and number of sick days during the preceding year.

Significant findings included:

  • Those who were widowed without a confidante spent an average of 12 days sick in bed vs. two days for those who had a close friend.
  • Close friends cut down the depressive symptoms by about 40 percent, 6 symptoms per month for those with confidantes versus 10 for those without.

Having family support from relatives did not show the same positive health benefits as did having friends.

“Greater ambivalence may be experienced about a family member who is a confidante than a friend who is a confidante, making the former emotionally more complex than the latter,” says Jamila Bookwala, the lead author of the study.

“And this may explain why having a family member to confide in resulted in no protective health benefits for those whose spouse died but having a friend to confide in did,” she adds.

Another reason friends provide more support than family members is that peers in the same life cycle stage often have had or anticipate shared experiences, and are more empathic and helpful than family members who are experiencing the same loss at a different age from a different perspective.

The study also suggests that widowhood may cause a decrease in one’s existing social networks if the couple socialized together with other twosomes.

“Family- or community-based efforts could implement novel means to facilitate contact between those who become widowed and their existing friend-confidantes such as via increased video-based opportunities for social interaction and communication, the provision of prepaid telephone cards, or the availability of community volunteers to offer transportation for visits with these confidantes,” says Bookwala.

Social media such as Facebook groups or message boards may also be resources to provide confidantes for those who are physically isolated from or who lack close friends.

The take home message: Friendships don’t just nurture our hearts and mind; they also help our bodies through difficult times.

To read the entire study, click here: Who Needs a Friend? Marital Status Transitions and Physical Health Outcomes in Later Life.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Research on Friendship

Comments (7)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Jen says:

    I can absolutely see that. I’m a 50 year old divorced woman, and I know that after a dinner or even a quick chat with a close friend I feel very good, and if I had been getting a little “down,” that feeling is lifted as I talk with someone who shares some of my same life situations.

    But – I’ve been meaning to write in and ask about this anyway – I find that I feel betrayed if I find out that this confidant has talked about me to her other friends or relatives. I don’t mean vicious stuff, but just telling someone else, “Oh, Jen is having a hard time since…” To me, if that other person wants to know about me, they can talk to me herself. And I find that I’m sticking to more general, “repeatable” topics with women who I had always considered close friends.

    How much discretion can we expect without having to say, “Now this is just between you and me?” each time we say something? Or am I just being old and cranky? 🙂

    • anonymous says:

      It really depends on the motive of the confidante. Is your confidante talking about you because you’re affecting her and she’s seeking advice? Is she seeking advice for you? The worst case scenario is that she wants to spread gossip which is very unlikely, if she’s a confidante.

    • anonymous says:

      Another possibility is that your confidante was concerned about you. I’ve seen it happen quite often.

      • J says:

        (I had meant to say the below as a reply – but my comment ended up at the top – sorry)! 🙂

        With two of my friends I think they just do this all the time. They often tell me all about various ups and downs of their other friends and family members, yet I had foolishly assumed that they didn’t tell tales about me!

        It doesn’t seem to be done from a motive of wanting to spread gossip in a vicious way, but I do think it’s entertaining for them or somehow they enjoy sharing like that. And sure, telling tidbits about others makes us the center of attention for a moment, I get it – but how much can we reasonably expect people to keep their mouths shut without having to specifically tell them?

        • anonymous says:

          Some people have knack for gossip. You can’t reasonably expect your friends to shut their mouths. If they enjoy it, they’ll likely share, whether or not you specifically tell them not to. Once you tell your friend something, that information becomes hers. The worst offenders are the ones who don’t know how to filter information and they use it the wrong way. When a friend demonstrates to me that she breached my trust, I will stop telling her my private thoughts.

          • Jen says:

            I agree. It’s sad though. I often feel so alone, even though I have some otherwise close friends, because I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that anything I share may be shared with others. It keeps communication more superficial than it could be.

Leave a Reply