Friendship is good for your health. In fact, studies have shown that having stronger social relationships pays off in the form of less depression, better overall health, and longer lifespan.
But recent research suggests that many of us struggle to maintain these friendships. A 2018 survey by health insurer Cigna found that only about half of Americans (53%) have meaningful social interactions in person, such as having an extended conversation with a friend, on a daily basis. And spending more than a year “socializing” during the COVID-19 pandemic has kept many of us away from our friends.
So how can you nurture your existing friendships and build strong new ones? As the saying goes: “For to have a friend, you must to be a friend. ”Here’s what the experts are saying about how to be a good friend.
Introduce yourself and take risks
“Lately I’ve seen a lot of social media posts about ‘border culture’ and I feel comfortable telling people you don’t have the energy for them,” explains the psychologist and friendship expert Marisa Franco, PhD. “It’s good to set limits, but when you’re in close friendship with someone, you need to do your best to show yourself in their place, especially in times of emergency and crisis. It is a portal to deep intimacy.
Psychologists call this “risk regulation” – how people balance the goal of seeking closeness in relationships, which makes us vulnerable, with protecting ourselves and minimizing the likelihood of pain and harm. rejection. “If you always pull back and put your own needs first, telling your friend that you are tired and have no time to listen, it can sabotage your friendships,” Franco says. “When you introduce yourself to them and give them the benefit of the doubt, you make yourself vulnerable, but you also help the relationship. Good friends are people in pro-relationship mode rather than self-protection mode, and that invites your friend to do the same. “
Set realistic expectations
But being there for your friend, and expecting them to be there for you, doesn’t always mean you give up the second the other calls. “Sometimes in friendships we have unrealistic expectations of the other person,” says psychologist Markesha Miller, PhD, clinical director of Holistic Psychological Associates and adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina. “People can form friendships by expecting the other person to fill certain roles or fill in the gaps that they are experiencing in their lives. When the person is unable to do this, it can create a relationship breakdown. “
So if you want to deepen your friendships, think about what friendship really means to you: what you hope to put into the relationship and what you hope to receive in return. “If you value your friendships and keep noticing that the same thing is still missing, then you should ask yourself if the issue is an issue with a specific friendship or some expectations you have that are unrealistic,” says -it. .
Of course, there will be times when your friend needs you more and times when you need them more. Maybe they just lost their job, or maybe you are in the middle of a divorce. “Friendships aren’t always equally balanced at all times,” says psychologist and friendship expert Irene S. Levine, PhD. “But overall it feels like every friend is pulling their weight. A good friendship is mutual: it must be mutually satisfactory for both people.
Take the time to reach out
Friendships don’t usually end with a big bang, Franco says. They are much more likely to disappear. “If you want to maintain your friendships for the long haul, you have to be the one who reaches out and intends to make it a priority.”
When something is important to us, we schedule time for it rather than expecting it to happen. We book appointments in our calendar for work meetings, parent-teacher conferences and exercise classes. If you want to keep your friendships healthy, make time for them too. If you find that you are often too busy or distracted to immediately respond to text messages or calls from your friends, try setting a recurring appointment on your calendar for a few minutes every day or every other day to catch up on communication with your buddies.
It’s also a good way to make new friends, says Franco. “What’s really important for friendship is to have continuous interaction over time. A lot of times we meet someone new and say, “I’d love to hang out someday,” and it ends there. The person who meets in a friendship is the one who takes the time to follow up and ask the other person to meet up for coffee or come to their book club meeting.
Working through conflict
People who are good at cultivating friendships are also good at overcoming conflict, Franco says. “We feel like we have to deal with conflict in romantic relationships, but sometimes in friendships we ignore it and let small grudges build up. Raising issues you are having with a friend can provide a healing opportunity and show that you are truly committed to the friendship.
“If you feel like a friendship you hold dear is breaking down, do whatever you can to fix it. Be the first to extend the olive branch. Tell your friend about it, ”Levine nods.
So how do you do this? Franco suggests leading with the positive. “Say something like, ‘I like you so much. There is one thing I thought about that I thought would make our friendship even better, ”she said. “Don’t make it an attack on the person’s character. Once someone is put on the defensive it is difficult to communicate openly and people can lash out. “
Understand when it’s over
What if you’ve done all of this and the friendship still feels like it’s not working? “If a friendship is consistently exhausting and emotionally unsatisfying, it may suggest that the friendship is not good,” says Levine. “Friendships are voluntary relationships that should enrich our lives, not harm them.”
A simple question can help you decide if it’s time to move on: Does this relationship add more to your life than it takes? If the answer to this question is no, then investing in that particular friendship may not be worth it. “If you notice that more is coming out of you than what’s poured into you, that’s a wake-up call,” Miller says. If the relationship is harming you or hurting you in any way, then maybe it is a friendship you need to let go of.
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