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This Is The Worst Type Of Friendship For Your Health

Published by Daniel Brooks Moore on

What is it with the internet and romance bias? It feels like there are tonnes of studies, articles, and TikToks analysing the physical and mental tolls of our love lives, but friendship woes seem to get swept under the dusty discourse rug.

If (like me) you reckon we should have far more buddy studies alongside our romantic research, you’re backed up by scientific findings.

“Social Ambivalence and Disease (SAD): A Theoretical Model Aimed at Understanding the Health Implications of Ambivalent Relationships” looked at how “relationships characterised by both positivity and negativity (i.e., ambivalence)” affected participants’ health.

They found that sort of “meh” relationships, such as that between frenemies, were especially harmful to your health ― and they’re not the only study to have done so.

Stressful friendships can affect your heart health, blood pressure, and more

The SAD study found that uncertain scenarios, like those found in hot-and-cold friendships, could well be the most damaging to our health, affecting everything from your ticker to your blood pressure. 

It doesn’t take much relationship uncertainty to damage your health, either. One study asked friends to give speeches to another pal, who would then give them feedback.

Without the participants’ knowledge, the friend had been randomly assigned to give positive, negative, or ambivalent feedback.

“Adjusting for baseline, heart rate reactivity and anxiety was significantly higher among those assigned to ambivalent friends relative to those assigned to supportive friends during the stressor task,” they found. And yes, the effect was worse than the negative criticism.

OK, but… why?

It might seem odd that conditional friendships, rather than straightforwardly negative relationships, are harder on your health. But some suggest that the unpredictability of the scenario is uniquely hard to navigate. 

“The most intuitive reason is that ambivalent relationships are unpredictable. With a clear enemy, you put up a shield when you cross paths. With a frenemy, you never know whether Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde is going to show up. Ambivalence short-circuits the parasympathetic nervous system and activates a fight-or-flight response. It’s unnerving to hope for a hug while bracing yourself for a brawl,” say the New York Times.

You’re also more likely to spend time with a frenemy than an outright foe, and the longer we’re in a stressed-out state, the worse the health outcomes are. Sucks that most of us have about as many ambivalent relationships as supportive ones, then, right?

How can I spot a frenemy?

Relationship coach Tiya Cunningham-Sumter told Bustle that a true friendship is supportive of your wins. “When you get that promotion or become engaged, for example, if they don’t seem genuinely happy for you, that’s a sign,” she said. “If they can never seem to show up to any of the events that celebrate you, he or she is your frenemy.“Other red flags include feeling as though the relationship is conditional, friends talking behind your back, constant negativity, a sense of competition, passive-aggressiveness, self-centredness, taking advantage of you, and lying to you.

One study found that “study participants conceptualise the term [frenemies] as a relationship, often negative, steeped in situational ties and shared social connections that outwardly appears friendly, but is fraught with underlying competition, jealousy, or distrust.”

So, if your pal is only friendly with you when you’re doing “worse” than them in a particular area, if you feel like sharing good news with them would weaken your bond, and if you struggle to relax around your so-called friend, then it might be time to re-evaluate your relationship ― for the good of your health. 


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