Being in relationships—romantic or platonic—with people who make us feel seen, heard, and loved is one way to satisfy our needs as human beings. But if we aren't open about what those needs are, we can't expect the person on the other side of a given relationship to fulfill or even understand them. That's why communicating our needs in a friendship or romantic relationship is crucial; when we do so, we're using our words to cultivate intimacy as well as repair ruptures.
This kind of vulnerability is just as essential for maintaining platonic friendships as it is for upholding romantic relationships. Much like the latter, friendships are relational bonds that allow us to grow as people, helping us shape who we are and cultivate things like connection, belonging, and community care. And yet, we tend to focus our efforts toward communicating and advocating for our needs on romantic relationships alone.
Why? Our culture places a higher value on romance than friendship—period. We are taught that romantic relationships give way to families, and the family unit is the backbone of our society. The subtext of such messaging is that there's more value in being a partner than in being a friend. This can condition us into believing that friendships are insignificant or disposable, leading us to not invest emotionally and communicate our needs to our friends in the way that any good friendship warrants.
It can be hard to understand how we are supposed to show up in our friendships, what we’re allowed to ask for, and what we are willing to tolerate.
Even the connotation of the term "dating" cements the societal importance of romance over platonic connection. In the context of a monogamous structure, this term lets us know when two people are getting to know each other in an intentional way to potentially build a future together. And from there, marriage goes on to legally define a relationship. But where does friendship fall into this picture?
The reality is, friendship doesn’t have common rules or guidelines; there is no term like "dating" or "marriage" to structure friendship, and the ways people define friendships are extremely nuanced and deeply personal. As a result, it can be hard to understand how we are "supposed to" show up in our friendships, what we’re allowed to ask for, and what we are willing to tolerate. In some cases, we may even neglect friendships because we are taught to fight for our romantic interests but not to put in that level of effort for our friends.
Why communicating your needs in a friendship is just as important as it is in a romantic relationship
The most important thing to understand about healthy relationships of any kind is that they aren't magically formed; they're built. In order to build a healthy relationship, we have to be willing to be vulnerable enough to communicate and express ourselves so that the people we are in relationships with—both partners and friends—can learn to understand us and, in turn, to support us in the ways we need to be supported. Reserving communication and advocating for our needs for only our romantic interests will take away our ability to foster healthy platonic connections that give us the tools to thrive in life.
When you communicate, you are inviting someone into your life and inner world. You are sharing vital pieces of information that can help them understand what your emotional needs are, including what makes you feel seen and supported, what makes you feel annoyed or sad, and everything in-between.
Overall, communicating your needs in a friendship helps you:
- Build emotional intimacy
- Combat loneliness
- Learn about the health of the relationship
- Learn about yourself and other person
- Gain emotional support
- Build your confidence and self-esteem
- Build tools needed for romantic relationships
If you're struggling to find the words to effectively communicate your needs to a friend, start by investigating what those needs are and what may be missing in the relationship. Often, it's easier to identify that second part—the problem—and work backward from there to figure out the need you have and how you might be able to convey it.
Here are a couple of examples:
Problem: I don’t like that I only communicate with my friend over text.
Communication script: “Thanks for always chatting with me via text when I need you, but I would love to talk with you over the phone or have a FaceTime call. I miss having deeper conversations with you that I find are hard to have over text. Are you able to make some time for that?”
Problem: I don’t like that my friend is dismissive when I tell them personal stories.
Communication script: “Thank you for always listening when I’m going through something. I do want to admit that sometimes when you make 'x' comments, it feels very dismissive and makes it hard for me to share personal things with you. Is there something happening with you that I should be aware of?”
If it feels tough to communicate in this way, try journaling some of the things you’d like to express to a friend and develop a script that is clear, direct, and kind. (This way, you can be sure that you are problem-solving instead of problem-dwelling.)
Ultimately, it's important to trust that you can work through the initial discomfort of open communication and that it will be worth it in the long-term. Like any healthy romantic relationship, a healthy friendship can't just sustain itself. It will require effort, intentionality, respect, trust, and reciprocity in order to truly thrive.
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