a group of casual acquaintances chatting and catching up

Why Ignoring Our 'Peripheral Relationships' Can Cost Us, According To A Psychologist

Weak ties contribute to our lives in surprising and meaningful ways.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | January 11, 2024

We often underestimate the role strangers play in our lives. While our closest relationships with family and friends are undoubtedly vital, it's important to recognize the unique contributions of those we encounter briefly but repeatedly in our daily routines. These individuals may appear as casual acquaintances or fleeting connections, but they mean much more.

Peripheral relationships are the people we come across at places like coffee shops, gyms or neighborhood parks—who, despite being relative strangers, have a noteworthy impact on our lives.

Extensive research reveals that these seemingly minor interactions play essential roles in our health and well-being. Here are three ways peripheral relationships benefit us and why embracing these interactions can enrich our lives.

1. Peripheral Relationships Broaden Our Perspective

Our beliefs and perspectives, largely shaped by our upbringing and experiences, can sometimes limit our understanding of the world. Peripheral relationships open doors to unfamiliar worlds. For instance, striking up a conversation with tourists can give you insights into their culture and experiences that you may never have gained otherwise.

In addition to igniting curiosity, encouraging empathy and challenging our preconceptions, a study suggests that having diverse relationships promotes tolerance and open-mindedness.

2. Peripheral Relationships Boost Social Well-Being

Our social connections significantly impact our well-being. While close friends and family offer invaluable support, interactions with strangers can also boost our social health. Even brief exchanges with strangers can create a sense of belonging and community, helping combat loneliness and isolation.

A 2022 study suggests that loneliness is not just a desire for close relationships but also a longing for the social settings and everyday social interactions that may seem mundane but contribute to a sense of belonging. This is where "weak ties" play a strong role.

For instance, if you live alone in a city away from your family, sharing smiles with café regulars or exchanging friendly nods with neighborhood park joggers may help bridge social gaps. These seemingly trivial acts serve as a reminder that we're part of a larger social fabric and are not as lonely as we might think.

These small interactions add up, reducing feelings of isolation and contributing to feelings of connectedness.

3. Peripheral Relationships Facilitate Personal Growth

While close relationships are essential for survival, research suggests that peripheral ties can also enhance quality of life and personal growth. Weak ties provide information, resources, novelty and diversion, playing a vital role in our journey of self-discovery and improvement. Additionally, they can serve functions similar to close relationships, shaping our identity and offering a sense of familiarity.

Moreover, these brief encounters present opportunities to step out of our comfort zone, practice social skills and build confidence, helping combat social anxiety.

Research also indicates that individuals with a rich network of relationships, including those on the periphery, tend to experience better physical and mental health. For instance, a study showed that diverse social connections can boost the immune system and increase life expectancy. Peripheral relationships provide the support and strength necessary for overall well-being.


Peripheral ties may not seem significant at first, but they offer emotional support, fresh perspectives and enhance the diversity and resilience of our social network. Acknowledging the value of these casual connections can lead to an improved, more fulfilling social life and well-being. So, next time when you come across a familiar face in an unfamiliar place, remember the potential for enrichment and connection.

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