New research on how social connections can impact indiv..." /> New research on how social connections can impact indiv..." />

Effects of Strained Friendships Outweigh Quality Connections

Sad girls sitting on a benchNew research on how social connections can impact individual health is supporting the long-held belief that friendships are good for you. However, the findings also suggest the type of friendship can be an important distinction.

Previous research has shown social isolation can lead to serious physical and mental health issues. What is unique about the new research is its involvement of several key factors, including a broad range of ages, locales, and varying types of social relationships.

Association Between Social Connections and Health

The study’s authors took special interest in the quality of social connections, suggesting consistent support and positive companionship make more of an impact than the number of friends. Social connections in the study were not limited to a strict definition of friendship; significant others, spouses, and family members were all included.

The authors reviewed existing data sets on nearly 15,000 total subjects. They explored social connectivity alongside medical histories, but also adjusted for the subjective quality of each person’s combined relationships.

Where data on the quality of relationships was available, the researchers attempted to distinguish relationships offering genuine support versus those that cause strain. Those who perceived having a quality network of friends had better health outcomes overall, including lower instances of hypertension, inflammation, and obesity. However, the findings from strained relationships showed harmful effects on a larger scale. This suggests the benefits of a good friend may be outweighed by the potential harm a strained relationship can cause.

The association between social connections and health began in adolescence, but became weaker in mid-adulthood. Researchers say this may be due to middle-aged adults building strong networks around work, parenting, and community involvement. Social isolation also had varying future health effects based on when a person experienced the isolation. Adolescents who felt isolated were more likely to become obese later in life, while isolated older adults were more likely to experience hypertension.

Quality Friendships May Increase Life Expectancy

According to the authors, their study sheds new light on how social relationships can physically affect people. They say these findings provide a solid scientific basis to promote stronger relationships for increased quality of life and greater life expectancy.

The conclusions support several previous studies, including a 2010 report examining data on more than 300,000 individuals compiled from nearly 150 studies. That study found strong social connections can increase life span, while the absence of strong social connections can be as detrimental to overall health as smoking.


  1. Sapolsky, R. (2016, September 8). Friendship is good for you—unless it is strained. Retrieved from
  2. Sohn, E. (n.d.). More and more research shows friends are good for your health. Retrieved from
  3. Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T., & Layton, J. (2010, July 27). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLOS Medicine. doi:10.4016/19865.01
  4. Yang, Y. C., Boen, C., Gerken, K., Li, T., Schorpp, K., & Harris, K. M. (2016). Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(3), 578-583. doi:10.1073/pnas.1511085112

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  • Bailey

    September 15th, 2016 at 12:56 PM

    All I know is that my friends are my rock and I know that I would be nowhere in life without them

  • Olivia S

    September 17th, 2016 at 9:17 AM

    I would rather have one or two great friends than many many fake ones.

  • Tianna

    September 19th, 2016 at 2:17 PM

    If the best descriptor that you have t=for the friendship is strained then does that really count as a meaningful friendship at all? I mean, friendship should bring you happiness and joy, not stress and anxiety. Those are the two things that would more naturally go hand in hand with a relationship that is strained or maybe even forced.
    Nope that is not the negativity that I need in my life.

  • oatmeal

    May 25th, 2021 at 7:48 AM

    Lately, I’ve felt really strained around two friends I’ve had for a few months or so, and I just don’t know what to do. I care about them deeply for sure, and would never want anything bad to happen to them, but the more I hang around them the worse I feel. I used to ignore it and toss it aside as ‘my own selfishness’- but now I’m wondering if the friendships I hold between these two people is actually good for me? One constantly speaks of suicide, which scares me so much- and the other i think the other is talking bad behind my back (for reasons I won’t name). I’ve already blocked the one whom I think is talking bad about me, rather than confronting them (because I don’t think either of us even want to see each other at all), but the one who constantly speaks of suicide remains in air. I’m concerned, really! But what do I do? I want to help them, and any solutions like therapy isn’t even an option for them where they are. I can’t quite remember why.
    Anyway, thank you for this article, I guess it’s opened my knowledge a bit on my situation.

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