The ‘need’ for friendship

by Paul Goodchild on June 15, 2009

While at university a decade ago I met some really fantastic people, some of which I’m still in regular contact with today, most of which however I’m not.

It was at this time I had a friendship that was both wonderful and tragic all at once, that taught me things about myself and about friendships in general.

The most overriding lesson I learned, which has stayed with me even now, is the principle of need that underwrites any relationship we ever have in our lives.

Even now, I have yet to be persuaded that this principle isn’t sound.  Sometimes it’s not very clear to pick out, other times it’s obvious, but it is there.

So what is a need exactly?

You can define it how you will, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going with:

A need is something that is either required, or so deeply desired to such a degree that its lack gives us the feeling that something is seriously missing from our life.

Anthony Robbins refers to his 6 Human Needs – needs that when any one is sufficiently lacking, we act/react purposefully to it making it a powerful driving force in the actions we take.  They are:

  1. Comfort and Certainty: this is the idea that we like what we know.  We are comfortable with habits, patterns and things that are familiar.  We know how to deal with these situations and principles and we like the feeling of security that comes from that.
  2. Variety and the unknown: in opposition to 1. we crave things that are new, interesting and unknown to us.  We don’t watch the same movie repeatedly, or read the same books (unless they’re really something we can enjoy again and again and take comfort from) because once we’ve experienced them, repeated exposure gains us nothing.
  3. Connection: show me someone who is a pure isolationist and has no friend-/familial- connections, and I’ll show you an unstable individual whom I have little interest in meeting alone in a dark alley any time of the day or night.  We all crave connections with people, places and things.  We need to feel that we are valued and love, important in peoples’ lives… that if we weren’t there, our absence in the community would be missed.
  4. Significance: again in contrast with another need (3.) we need to feel that we stand out from the crowd, that while we want to be same as our peers and fit-in, that is be connected, we are different and unique enough to be noticed.  It helps give us meaning and that we matter to people out there.
  5. Growth: if we don’t grow and learn, we stagnate.  We become obsolete and I can hardly imagine anything worse.  It can fall under many categories and be significant in different ways for different people.  I’m all about ‘Personal Growth’ as this blog hopefully illustrates – working on our minds and prying apart our paradigms keeps me ticking 🙂
  6. Contribution: partly related to (4.) but a little more specific we want to feel that we have helped the world become a better place.  We want to know that by doing what we do, and being who we are, we have contributed somehow to improving the lives of people, however that may be done.

This should help break down what need is in general.

But in terms of relationships, I hope you can see how any relationship fulfils 1 or all of these categories.

Try it yourself – take one of your closest friendships as an example and examine each one of the needs above in turn and see how that person fulfils these needs in your life.

Likely, if it’s your partner, or a particularly close friend, most or all of them will be met.  I know that for me I can think of several relationships that meet all 6 of them.

What is a relationship?

So what am I saying…?  That our relationships are basically a mechanism to fulfil some or all of our basic human needs?


That’s a little clinical sounding, but seriously, I have yet to see an alternative.

An easy example of how this principle plays out is in romantic relationships.

Have you ever taken time to wonder why exactly when two people become romantically involved that the number of friendships and close relationships they have dwindles leaving both partners with far fewer friends than they started with?  It’s a combination of the inability, or the lack of motivation on the part of the partners, to make time either to cultivate new friendships, or maintain and nourish the ones they already have.

Why?  Because their needs are being fulfilled by their partner.  They don’t need those old relationships quite so much – they get all their comfort, variety, connection, significance, growth and contribution in one place!

Why do supermarkets do so well? Because they offer the convenience that individual green-grocers, butchers, and bakers, etc. cannot offer – one place for all your needs.

Regardless of how you look at it, any relationship you have is based on the fulfilment of 1 or more needs on some level.

For me, the needs that drive me most in my relationships are connection, growth and contribution.  There are others and I am aware of them, but really, those 3 are at the core.

I crave that deep connection and love with people that only time and dedication may elicit – everything else is background noise.  I need to feel that I am contributing to the growth of my friend, helping him or her see things in a new way and perhaps expand their thinking beyond the limits of their current perceptions.

Reciprocally I also need to grow through the relationship – I need new ideas, challenges, safety, and advice to me that forces me to think outside the proverbial box.

Out with the old…

It’s a fact of life that as we grow, we grow into and out of relationships, even those that at the time feel would last a lifetime.

The worst thing you can do is resist this pattern… it typically results in a breakdown of the relationship altogether, for one superficial reason or another.

I don’t like it as much as the next person, but I’ve become quite sensitive to the signs when the process begins to unfold.  Perhaps I’m a little fatalistic in my approach to this and it’s probably something I could do better with.  But my approach is to not fight it… I will do my best to maintain the connection as much as I can, but you cannot force someone to recognise you and your value in their lives – that’s their responsibility.

Perhaps you have grown in another direction and learned new things, had new experiences recently and someone in your life now represents a connection to someone you once were. Alternatively it is they who have changed significantly enough so that you don’t represent their new perspectives and priorities in life.  Either way, it’s natural and easier, to accept and allow this natural growth, than to deny and resist.

There is much more to elaborate on here and I’ve only really skimmed the surface.  As always, comments are welcome… let me know how far off the mark I really am…

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