Modern-day technology and social media make it easier to stay connected with friends and keep up with their successes, interests and status updates. But busy lifestyles, superficial communication, false intimacy and even neediness make it harder to develop and keep real friendships.
If you have good friends who enrich your life, bring you positive energy, boost your well being, and serve as trusted confidants, these 10 tips can definitely help you keep them:
1. Make time to connect.
In The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, author and palliative nurse Bronnie Ware reveals that one of the common regrets of the dying is, “I wish I had stayed in touch with friends.” She notes that among the people she cared for, “There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.”
Cultivating durable friendships involves building a solid foundation, resolving disagreements and misunderstandings, and showing appreciation for the person’s presence in your life. These all require staying in touch with your friends, not just online but offline as well.
When you’re dealing with deadlines at work, attending to your family’s needs, traveling the world, or pursuing hobbies, it’s challenging to connect with friends. But making time for friends is essential if you want to keep them.
Staying connected includes spontaneous telephone calls, quick emails, and online chatting just to say hi or to touch base on challenges and successes in life. It also means making time for face-to-face meetups, which are key to creating and maintaining a close bond.
While inviting them to parties and happy hours are part of staying connected, you want to include one-on-one and small group meetings to have quality time together. Set a date to get together, whether it’s for a Saturday brunch at the neighborhood restaurant, a coffee chat before work, or a bowling game on a Friday evening. Then show up and treat them like a VIP.
2. Set and respect boundaries.
When your friend is going through a tough time or facing a crisis, let her know how and when to best reach you for support. If you answer telephone calls only during certain hours, respond to text messages on your lunch break, or check your emails only once or twice a day, inform her of these habits. Likewise, don’t call your friend at odd hours (unless you have explicit consent from her) or expect an immediate reply from her (unless you have a mutual understanding) to hash out the latest drama and dilemma in your life.
Constant complaining and venting can undermine the long-term viability of your friendship, no matter how close it is. While revealing your frustrations and disappointments to good friends is natural and healthy, you also want to avoid relying on them for free therapy. Setting and respecting healthy boundaries are critical to maintaining real friendships.
3. Communicate mindfully.
When you’re talking with a friend, it can be tempting to chime in and give a comment here and there. You might even interrupt and finish her sentences because you know her so well.
Of course, communication is a two-way street. If you repetitively pepper your friend with questions and sit quietly, do no revealing yourself, or have no response to her stories, the interaction can feel like an interrogation rather than a conversation. Back and forth banter and selective listening are very common among friends. But it can also stop you from forging a strong connection and true intimacy.
Checking your voice mail, eyeing your text messages, or otherwise being distracted might seem acceptable when you’re with good friends, but it could turn them off from spending time with you. If you are interrupted and need to attend to something else, briefly explain why and re-direct your focus as quickly as possible.
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When it comes to meaningful conversations, the best friends are those who are able to listen deeply, without giving endless commentary or unsolicited advice. They know how to hold off on speaking when a sympathetic ear or calm space is really what’s needed.
Deep listening allows you to be completely present with the other person and to develop empathy for her emotions and experiences. Feeling fully heard and completely understood are some of the greatest gifts your friend can receive from you.
“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” — Karl A. Menniger
Mindful speaking is also necessary to keeping good friends. The words you speak can be pleasant (such as when you pay a true compliment) or painful (like when you offer unnecessary and unkind criticism). Your speech influences your environment, shapes your reality, affects others’ perceptions, and makes or breaks friendships.
Be deliberate about what you say, when you say it and how you say it. Knowing when to speak up and when to stay silent has ripple effects on the quality and sustainability of friendships.
4. Be open to feedback.
Asking for your friend’s comments, thoughts and opinions on your latest project or a decision you have to make is a huge compliment to them. If you solicit their feedback to help you build self-awareness, create new habits, and make positive changes, this shows how much you value their insights. Whether they have similar or different backgrounds, beliefs and philosophies, good friends bring a unique perspective to your life.
5. Keep them accountable.
Healthy friendships are built on equality and respect, not co-dependence and obligation. Hold your good friends in high regard and expect them to keep their promises and act in alignment with their values and ideals.
While being non-judgmental goes a long way, you can gently ask your friend questions to help him become more self-aware and conscious of his choices. This is not about telling your friend what to do, but reminding him of his own capabilities and desires. Although your friend might be defensive and embarrassed at first, he will likely thank you later for helping him grow and stay true to his commitments.
6. Get to know them personally.
If you want to keep good friends, show up at their celebrations, including birthday parties, graduation shindigs, weddings and baby showers. Even if it’s just for an hour, your putting in face time at special events will be remembered and appreciated. You get to capture touching photos and make lasting memories of a shared experience and unique occasion.
Create or take advantage of opportunities to meet their significant others, spouses, children, cherished family members, and other friends. Develop common hobbies and mutual interests or learn about the activities they enjoy and what makes them come alive. Being a part of your friends’ community will help to strengthen your personal relationship with them.
“”Doing all we can to promote our friend’s happiness is better than to continually drink to his prosperity.” – Minna Thomas Antrim
7. Give them space.
Being too needy or clingy can drive good friends away. When your friend doesn’t call you back, return your email, or reply to your text message as quickly as you’d like, don’t make it into a big deal.
Good friends have full lives and personal responsibilities of their own, so don’t be surprised if their world doesn’t revolve around you. Explore your own interests, form a strong network and community, and savor solitude so that you can give each of your good friendships room to breathe.
8. Build trust.
Disclosing your likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and failures and successes encourages your friend to reciprocate and build a true connection with you. When a friend shares personal information with you, consider it as a step further into cultivating an authentic friendship, not as a means to gain leverage, content for gossip, or social power.
Practicing honesty and transparency, keeping confidences, and showing genuine interest in your friend’s well being are key to establishing trust. Do what you say you’re going to do. Keep your promises or renegotiate if you can’t keep them.
9. Resolve disagreements in emotionally mature ways.
Get through conflicts by expressing what’s on your mind instead of allowing resentment to fester. State your preferences and point of view to create clarity and encourage dialogue, instead of making arguments to try and coerce your friend into agreeing with you. Attempting to instill fear, obligation and guilt or using any type of emotional blackmail are no-nos if you want to keep a good friendship.
10. Be a positive force.
Although good friends can inspire you, you want to avoid obsessive comparisons that might bring you down or drive you to constant one-upping. Making negative comments, finding fault, and passing judgments are major turn-offs.
Instead, be a vocal witness to your friend’s best qualities and most joyful experiences. Notice when your friends are most excited and energized — whether it’s when they speak about their latest work project or make progress on a creative hobby — and share your observation with them. They will enjoy being your friend when you remind them about what’s working for them and when you feel good about your own life.
No matter what you do, some good friends will naturally drift away as time passes or when circumstances change. But applying these 10 tips will help you keep more good friends for many years to come (and even for a lifetime).