retirement friendship

How to Have Better Friendships in Retirement

Frenemy Prevention in Retirement


Do you want to have more fulfilling friendships in retirement?

If so, and you are a bit of a nerd like me, you might want to know about your attachment style.

This blog is usually about wonky financial concepts. Though I’ve talked much more about the softer side of retirement since I retired, I usually like some data behind my softer blogs.

Since we’ve got the money part of retirement figured out, I’m working on how to be a better friend in retirement, and maybe this will help you, too.

So, how can you have better friendships in retirement?


Friendship and Attachment Styles

From our freshman psych classes, we remember (sort of) the attachment styles. You either have secure attachments and nothing but good relationships (if so, try and understand my blog on Roth Conversions since you don’t need to read the rest), or there might be room to improve your interpersonal skills by understanding attachment styles.

If you have any insecure attachment features (like avoidant or anxious), the good news is you can and should improve your attachment skills. Attachment styles are stable but plastic over time.

A little work can result in a better primary relationship, better relationships with your family members, and, equally as important in retirement, better relationships with friends.

After all, connection is important, and a sense of belonging predicts retirement happiness more than how much money you have.

So, do you have room to improve your friendships? Take this brief attachment quiz and see how you score.


How to Make Better Friends in Retirement

So, how did you do?

Since I’m a nerd (that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it), I did poorly. It’s hard for gunners to admit, but this is a test that we don’t do well on.

It doesn’t matter, though, because there are things everyone can learn about being a better friend.

But if you are curious, about 50% of people have secure attachment styles.

Beyond that, about 25% have avoidant, and 25% have anxious attachment tendencies.

Let’s dig into the two major insecure attachment styles.


Avoid or Anxious Friends

The avoidance dimension is approach (vs. avoid) interpersonal relationships. So-called “deactivation strategies” are used if there is stress in the relationship, which usually results in distancing and thought‐suppressing strategies.

On the other hand, anxious is unworthy (vs. worthy) of affection or rejection. During stress, “hyperactivation strategies” are used, which are clinging or coercive behaviors.

Lovely. Let’s dig in.


Avoidance Dimension

The avoidant style (25%) describes folks who withdraw from relationships when stressed, though their fears are frequently unfounded.

A word salad description of the avoidant attachment style might include:

Over (or under) confident, delayed intimacy, focus on minor flaws, remembering past stressors, hypervigilant, flirting, ignoring, secrets. Can’t take closeness or intimacy for granted. Feel suffocated when too close. Negotiate for space and independence. Dismissive attitude towards closeness.

Interestingly, the avoidant folks have the same cortisol spike with drama/stress, but they cover up their symptoms. With significant enough stress, they tend to devolve into anxious tendencies.

There are two different subtypes: dismissive-avoidant just cut off their emotions (like narcissists), and fearful-avoidant distrust feelings. Introverts sound a little like avoidance but have more to do with how you recharge rather than how you respond to stress in a relationship.


Anxious Dimension

Anxious attachment (25%) is also sometimes known as ambivalent. Here, you might be worried that friends will abandon you even if there is no reason to think so. You probably developed this style during infancy due to an insecure early bonding experience.

Here is a word salad description of Anxious Attachment:

Worried, overthink, take things personally, micromanage, project negative outcomes, mind games, manipulation, acting out, jealous, quickly bonds, idealizing, needs suppression. Craves intimacy but sensitive to smallest of threats.

Those with anxious attachment styles have the most to gain from a study of secure relationships.



How Attachment Styles Work in Retirement

Although attachment style is set in childhood, it also affects your relationships in retirement. Belonging is important throughout your life but becomes a focal point of socialization in retirement.

Loneliness is reaching epic proportions, so focusing on better relationships is important. The goal of understanding your attachment style is not to allow the attachment system to become activated and cause a cortisol response. This response creates drama, which further activates your system.

Some data show that in seniors, certain attachment styles had improved feelings of well-being or happiness than others. For example, secure and dismissive attachment styles fare better than anxious or fearful ones. If you read that sentence again, you will note that narcissists self-report feeling happy in retirement since they dismiss their emotions, whereas those who fear their emotions are less happy. Again, self-reported data.

Some risk factors for poor attachment style preference in retirement include:

  • External seeking of validation
  • Reluctant to ask for help, or on the flip side, constant need to be with someone
  • Lack of emotions, or on the flip side, oversharing
  • Abandonment anxiety

Quality of life is improved with improved attachments. Also, those with secure attachment styles had younger friends on average.

Finally, it is interesting for women to note that about 75% of mothers cite their daughters as one of the most important contacts in their life, which is predictive of retirement happiness. So, mothers, don’t let your daughters grow up to be cowboys.


How to Improve Friendships in Retirement.

Finally, we get to where the rubber meets the road: developing healthy attachment styles. For example, if you score strongly as either avoidant or anxious, you might want to look at specific resources for those styles.


Work on self-acceptance and self-love

Unfortunately, our generation was mistreated with bad information about “self-esteem,” and the idea that you should love yourself leaves a bad taste in some of our mouths. But the truth is you can only love others as much as you love yourself; ultimately, the only person you need to love is yourself. This is the gift you give yourself that allows you to express love to others and, thus, be loved by others.

Have strong boundaries (especially for toxic people)

Conversely, some people do not love themselves (or love themselves exclusively) and need to be excluded from your life.

Learn about your emotions and how to feel and express them


friendship in retirement

Learn to identify, honor, and express emotional needs. While there are just 6-8 primary emotions, our interpretations of what we feel overwhelm our physical feelings. Men, especially, need to focus on feeling emotions. And while you are numbing (we all numb), you lose out on both the positive and the negative emotional experiences. Emotion wheels are an interesting place to start when you want to describe what you are feeling in your body.

Start with family and go out from there

The family environment in which you were raised is like water to a fish. You will not understand who you are until you leave the ocean.

Heal past small “t” trauma (you are never too old)

Inner Child Work is important. Again, understanding the family system in which you were raised pays dividends for the rest of your life.

Work on effective communication

Be vulnerable about your feelings (in the appropriate setting). Understand and focus on your needs, and be specific, assertive, and non-apologetic. Listen and don’t blame.



Fewer Frenemies in Retirement

Some other ideas to have fewer frenemies in retirement:

Overdependence on spouses is common among those who are retired. Instead, focus on growing your circle of friends. Risk being authentic and direct. Don’t play games.

Respond rather than react. (Learn how cortisol affects your decision-making and ability to hear and interoperate information)

Mirroring someone with a secure attachment style is one way to get a head start.

Similarly, journaling your thoughts and asking what is true is important. But, unfortunately, not infrequently, we make assumptions that have no evidence in fact.

Think about it this way: while conversation might seem fresh and crisp in your mind, it feels as if it took place a week ago concerning the mind of others. Your version of what you said is remembered well, but what you “heard” from your conversation partner is as if you talked weeks ago. Conversely, what they said is fresh in their mind, but they “heard” you as if you talked weeks ago. What a setup for miscommunication. Especially since we usually are thinking of our response rather than listening.

Finally, remember what your attachment style is at baseline. Your goal is to stay out of the stress/danger zone where the smallest sign may become a perceived threat to the relationship.

If you are friends with someone with an anxious attachment style, remember that all it takes is minimal reassurance to return them to a good friend state.

Another good idea is that you might want to avoid the avoidant crowd if you are anxious. This relationship tends to become codependent, which might not serve either party well. Of course, we are all a little codependent in relationships as we influence the physiology of those around us, but





Summary: How to Improve Friendship in Retirement

In summary, to improve friendships in retirement, mean what you say, and do what you say you will do.

In other words, don’t be manipulative or overly self-centered. Instead, have empathy, confidence, and a strong self-identity and consider others in your decisions.

Honesty has no agenda. It does not have tactics or play games. Simple interactions are not misinterpreted or overthought.

If you feel like you are getting mixed messages, conflicting actions, or any push/pull or hot/cold from someone, or if your gut just doesn’t feel right when you interact with someone but aren’t sure exactly why, take your time in developing the relationship. Or find something else to do.


If you take the test and find you have avoidant or anxious tendencies, while your baseline attachment style will never change, you can learn social skills and improve your relationships.

The idea is to understand what it takes to have a secure attachment and model and mirror it.

To really dig in, think about what annoys you in other people. And then, understand that those are likely the issues you must most work on. That’s right; we tend to dislike in others what we need to work on ourselves.

So, if you can see faults in other people, those faults might be what you need to work on personally.


Fortunately, age is associated with fewer toxic relationships. But, of course, there are fewer relationships as we age, so work on the positive ones as you discourage the negative.

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