“A friend is one of the best things you can be and the greatest things you can have.”Sarah Valdez
As numerous studies indicate, friendship is essential for our overall mental health, and some even say, survival. A study done with 271,053 adults of all ages shows that friendships affect your health and overall day-to-day happiness. Good friendships can even make you live longer! In fact, friendships affect your health and quality of life much more than other relationships like marriage or even family.
Research has found that single people with good, supportive friendships are far happier than married people who don’t have good friendships in their lives. This is contrary to popular belief that people who are married or in long-term partnerships are happier than single people, overall. Also, those who actively pursued new friendships are generally found to be more content with their lives.
The time and effort you put into your friendships will determine the quality of relationships you create. You may have friends you’ve known for years or you may have recently met people you’d like to develop a relationship with. No matter the situation, there is always room for strengthening the bond and making sure your friendships last.
Here are a few research-based tips to improve your friendships.
Trust forms the solid foundation upon which a friendship is based. This means that if your friend gets vulnerable with you and shares something private, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your conversation remains 100% confidential. You could even explicitly let them know this so that they’re able to feel comfortable sharing personal information with you.
Learn to forgive
All relationships undergo periods of conflict — friendships included. People disappoint each other and you may not always be able to do for others what you really wanted to do. When this happens in your friendships, understand that it does not make you or them a bad person. Keep in mind that this is just one difficult moment in your relationship and not all of it. A good way to handle conflict is to talk to your friend directly and with kindness about how you feel. Try to figure out a way forward that is respectful of both people’s needs and feelings.
A big part of friendship is being available for your friend, both in good times and difficult ones. Even if you can’t be physically present, make yourself available by replying to their calls or texts. Failure to show up repeatedly lets your friend know that you are simply not as invested as them in the relationship.
Make your friendship a priority
It is important to treat your friendship with the respect it deserves. Sometimes, we can get caught up with our careers, families, or even a new romantic relationship. Of course, some of this is understandable. However, it is important that we recognise this and try to make an effort to prioritise our friendships. If you end up not speaking to your friend for months on end, try to keep to a more regular schedule. Since in-person meetings are going to be difficult at the moment, make sure you let them know via messages or calls that they are still very much a part of your life.
Be a good listener
One of the biggest gifts you can give to a friend is your attention. Make an effort to pay attention to what your friend is saying, especially if they’re not feeling great. If you can provide a safe space for them, where they can share their feelings and feel heard by you, you two are likely to feel closer to each other. Listen to your friend and validate how they feel by telling them that you understand that they are having a hard time. A great way to let someone know you are listening is to paraphrase what you have understood from what they have told you.
Don’t give up on them
Sometimes, when you are in a lot of pain, you may withdraw from the world and from those who are close to you. If your friend seems to be doing this, let them know that you are there for them, regardless of how they feel. Help them by pushing them to engage in enjoyable activities, even if it’s for a short amount of time. It can feel like you are imposing, but sometimes just reminding people that you are not afraid of their difficulties and pain can give them something to hold onto and move forward.
Remember important days
If you pay attention, you are likely to know about instances that are important to your friends. Things like birthdays, anniversaries, the day they broke up or got a pet, are likely to be important and meaningful to them. Remembering such times lets your friends know that you pay attention to their lives, and are involved in the relationship.
A great way to never take a good friendship for granted is to regularly take time to remember how grateful you are to have this friend in your life. You can also be vocal about this to them from time to time so that they too feel valued. A simple text message saying that you are thankful for what they bring to you, or even sending them a gratitude note on email can go a long way.
Just like any other relationship, maintaining a friendship requires hard work. When it comes to taking care of friendships, the only rule you need to remember is to treat your friends as you would like to be treated; the rest will automatically follow!
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