Friendships are wonderful things to be a part of. However as I was struggling with not yet diagnosed social anxiety and depression, I was overwhelmed by the size of my university and was disillusioned about the meaning of friendship by the fluidity of the relationships I experienced during that time. Because of this upsetting experience, I did a lot of research on friendships and learned how to sustain them which I will share with you.
1. Talk and Listen
The core of any healthy relationship is communication. Friendships are no exception. Whether it’s getting to know the other person and strengthening your bond or voicing concerns and resolving conflicts this shows trust toward the other person. Ask questions about your friend’s life and then share your personal experiences that are similar. Then ask more follow-up questions. This shows that not only do you want information on their world, but you are listening and understanding. These actions also demonstrate that you remember significant moments in their life. For example if a friend has a job interview coming up, ask them about it and if prompted, give them advice. Then ask how it went and listen.
A significant portion of communication isn’t the actual talking, it’s the listening. Listening demonstrates your interest in this person’s life. This creates intimacy which in turn shows their importance and value in your life. You can demonstrate to your friend that you are listening through eye contact, body language, and brief relevant comments and questions, such as “That sounds like it was fun!” and “How did that make you feel?
2. Be Open
To love is to be vulnerable and in friendship it is no different. To form a deep connection with another person you must be open to sharing your thoughts and feelings, which can be understandably nerve-wracking. The better they understand you the other person can more easily hurt you, but the reward is worth the risk. When you are not open with your feelings you may seem withdrawn, causing confusion and tension in your relationships that could lead to the end of them. When you express your true feelings, problems are solved and generally life is easier as you and your partner know exactly where the other stands.
Reciprocal giving is more important than receiving and this act of giving insight and information about your life strengthens the trust and bond between you and your friend. This makes your friendship more meaningful which will improve your general emotional health and resilience during hard times.
3. Be Kind
Everyone will become angry with their friends at some point, but it is better to do what is right than to be right. One thing you may be tempted to do is to ghost them. This is where one person simply stops talking to another person without any explanation. I’ve experienced this and it is not fun. You may not know how to approach your friend or you need time to cool down and those are understandable issues. But total silence is rude, especially if your friend is trying to make amends. You don’t have to forgive them right away or ever, but you need to tell them how you are feeling.
Your friends are human, so mistakes will happen. Therefore it is important to empathize with them and let them know your valid feelings. Once you are ready, approach them calmly and with a willingness to forgive. Allow your friend to explain themselves and to apologize. Then it is up to you to decide to salvage the relationship or move on. Regardless of the outcome, at one point you cared for this person, so it would be best to treat them that way.
Also during the good times it is prudent to carry a sense of grace towards your friends. Try to focus on their positive attributes and face their negative qualities with compassion, as I’m sure you hope they do for you.
4. Be Honest
The easiest way to damage a friendship is by lying. Honesty helps to avoid conflicts and it helps in resolving problems when they arise. Admit your feelings about an issue and admit when you are wrong. In turn make your friendship a safe and open space for your friend to be honest with themselves as well to admit their mistakes. This reciprocal openness for each other demonstrates respect and trust for each other and will strengthen your bond.
5. Make Time to Be Together
Busyness is a staple of modern life. However in order to maintain your friendships you must see your friends. Regularly do activities of mutual interest letting you reaffirm your connection and talk about your lives while having fun! Friendships are forged on mutual respect and affection, but it is also about spending time with people who make you feel happy and comfortable.
Time with people whose company you enjoy reduces stress, improves your self-worth, and helps you deal with traumas. Making time for your friend also demonstrates your investment in the relationship. If you keep postponing appointments or neglect to even make them, they may start to believe you are upset or wish to end the friendship. If you are struggling with physical or emotional issues that prevent you from spending time with someone, tell the person. More than likely they will understand and try to find a way to connect. If they are your friend they will want to spend time with you too.
6. Show Gratitude in Friendships
Reminding your friends you are happy that they are there is as important as spending time with them. Gratitude shows appreciation for your friendship and the role your friend plays in your life. Gratitude is a great method for maintaining a positive outlook in life. When deciding on how to demonstrate your gratitude, consider their passions and temperament.
For example on my 24th birthday my friend planned a day for us to spend in Ann Arbor. She had researched all of the places which gave free food items for someone’s birthday. It was just the two of us walking around a beautiful city with good (and mostly free) food. As I am introverted and a lover of free food, it was an awesome way to spend the day. Don’t think you need to make grand gestures. Often the little things in relationships hold the most sway.
Firestone, L. (2013, January 22). 5 Ways to Maintain Lifelong Friendships. Retrieved September 22, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201301/5-ways-maintain-lifelong-friendships
Friendship and mental health. (2015, November 25). Retrieved September 22, 2017, from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/f/friendship-and-mental-health
Goldsmith, B. (2013, November 04). Don’t Bury Your Feelings. Retrieved September 22, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-fitness/201311/dont-bury-your-feelings
The health benefits of good friends. (2016, September 28). Retrieved September 22, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860?pg=2
Making Relationships and Friendships Meaningful – Interview with Dr. John Amodeo. (2017, June 01). Retrieved September 29, 2017, from https://psych2go.net//making-relationships-friendships-meaningful-interview-dr-john-amodeo/
P. (2017, April 14). 5 Ways To Care for Your Introverted Friend. Retrieved September 29, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlCpU3BzMyQ