Sisterhood and Friendship in Older Adulthood

Sisters may revel in rivalry in their youth, but it's a special relationship!

Posted Dec 08, 2015

Sisters may revel in rivalry in their youth, but it turns out that the bond between sisters can be the most enduring relationship for the long haul. Sisters are wonderful candidates for deep and satisfying lifelong friendships.

Research shows that sisters have the strongest and closest bond among siblings and they are more likely to maintain contact – and deep friendships – through the years. Thus, the strong sisterly bonds that weather the decades often provide the most treasured friendships for older adult women.

Strong Sister-ships Benefit you During the “Rest of your Life”

An indisputable connection exists between healthy friendships and family relationship and a rich, satisfying life. If you are getting wiser with age, you will also want to stay social as you grow older. While each person’s need for community or social interaction may ebb and flow over the lifetime depending on life circumstances, having at least one good friend is essential as we move from the middle years into older adulthood.

Friendships during the “Rest of Your Life”

Entering the “rest of your life” can be accompanied by significant upheavals in virtually every sector of your life – social, professional, geographical, personal, and even familial, as the loss of loved ones frequently becomes an inescapable part of growing older. It’s no wonder that having a social support network in place is extremely important to your emotional and physical well-being in older adulthood. Sisters share your early history and can understand appreciate the mature woman that you have become.

As we grow older, life events often affect the size of our friendship circles and they tend to grow a little smaller as we age. Our friendship circles undergo the greatest amount of transition during this final third of our life, as a matter of fact. Luckily, however, this is a case in which size doesn’t matter. Whether you have just one good friend or one hundred friends, positive relationships will positively influence health and welfare. Also true is that smaller friendship circles yield fewer opportunities for conflict or unsatisfactory relationships. And if one of those friends is one that you consider your best friend, you have a little added natural protection against emotional depression and compromised well-being. Just knowing that you are a part of a social support network enhances your self-esteem. A sense of belonging, at any age, is key to feeling that you matter and that your life has value.

Older adults are generally wiser in their social relationship decision-making than younger people. They expend energy on relationships of value, let go of non-essential relationships, and solve relational issues more effectively with age. The “oldest old” tend to rely on friends for physical, social, and emotional support whereas the “younger old” engage in discussions with friends regarding such concerns as financial matters, spiritual concerns, or emotional issues. As we age, we also value more strongly those friends who are similar to us in terms of beliefs, morals, and spiritual practices. We prefer to be in the company of those who share our stories.

Following Your Sisters and Following Your Friends?

Also valuable are friends who have experienced transitions that we may soon be facing. Befriending someone who has already transitioned from his private residence to a new group community or establishing a friendship with those who have been caregivers for their partners as they dealt with end-of-life issues are excellent investments of social energy. These friends can provide understanding and emotional support that others might be able to offer. Further, in regards to caregivers, it may be helpful to “force friend” these dedicated, compassionate individuals as they might not feel free to take time for themselves. Unfortunately, just feeling that you lack social support can lead to increasing levels of depression, so prevention is key.

Closing the Circle

There’s a saying that “Old Age is Not for Sissies,” and this is probably universally true. As we move into the third act of our lives, we face significant, often painful developments in our health, our mobility, our relationships, and those about whom we care. As one highly independent 94-year-old woman shared when asked if she wished for a larger number of friends, “I miss having my family, my children close by, but I wouldn’t wish my age on anyone! Friend or foe!” She went on to declare, “I am not just getting older -- I am becoming fossilized!” She also acknowledged that social support was essential to her being able to maintain her independence and the death of her sister two decades earlier was one of the most difficult losses she had faced in her life.

If you have a sister with whom you have fallen out or feel that the relationship is not where it should be, be willing to mend the fences and re-build the relationship! Finding space for friendship with your sister is one of the easiest ways to preserve your emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and physical well-being over the lifespan!

References

Antonucci, T. C., Lansford, J. E., & Akiyama, H. (2001). Impact of positive and negative aspects of marital relationships and friendships on well-being of older adults. Applied Developmental Science, 5, 68-75.

Gurung, R.A.R., Taylor, S.E., & Seeman, T.E. (2003). Accounting for changes in social support among married older adults: Insights from the MacArthur Studies of Successful Aging. Psychology & Aging, 18, 487-496.

Research Study: Are your SIBLINGS causes of joy or sorrow for you? Share your story for a research study on adult sibling relationships:

Please follow the link to an online survey where data is being collected to help shape the content of an upcoming research project: https://niu.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_bxRhMxu1g1hZ0jP