Friends are so important. They’re there to share a laugh. They’re your shoulder to cry on when things are hard. In fact, they are so important, that a Harvard study found strong relationships with friends improve health and result in a longer life.
But friendships need attention and work to thrive. And that’s tough with a busy schedule! Friendships can easily fall by the wayside as work, family and other life obligations pile up.
Have you found yourself liking something a friend posted on Facebook and realizing that you can’t remember the last time you spoke to them? Do you miss the easy connections you had when you were younger? Do you worry that you are losing touch with the people you love the most but don’t know what to do? Do you worry that your life will soon be permanently underscored by “All By Myself“?
Don’t give up! Especially because you don’t want to ruin Celine Dion songs for yourself (that woman is a national TREASURE). With these five simple tips, you’ll be able to sustain and strengthen your friendships this coming year.
1) Schedule Your Check Ins
You schedule your doctor’s appointments and time at the gym, so why not schedule time to check in with friends?
It may seem a little unnatural at first to book calls or texts into your calendar, but being organized doesn’t mean that the feelings aren’t real. Scheduling in regular friendly check-ins means you won’t lose track of your friends, even when you’re very busy or going through a tough time (something I have been very guilty of in the past).
2) Listen Like You Mean it
When you hang out with your friends, do you find yourself checking your phone constantly or interrupting their stories with a story of your own?
Hey, everyone does it. And sometimes it’s fun to all hang out and have a phone party. But if these habits are happening all the time, they could negatively affect your friendships. If possible, turn of your technology for at least part of the time you’re hanging out.
Really listen to your friends and ask them genuine questions about what they are talking about. Great questions include “how did that make you feel?” or “then what happened?” or “what do you want to do?” Making your friends feel heard is essential in building strong friendships.
Also, don’t offer advice unless it’s asked for. Literally no one is naturally good at this. People love to give advice and try to help, especially their friends. But the truth is, a lot of times advice is basically an uninformed opinion wearing a cool hat. It’s much better to listen, especially when your friend is going through a tough time. It’ll give them space to figure it out on their own with all the information you can’t possibly have access to. Cool hat though!
3) The Power of Remember When
Shared memories are a fun and simple way to connect with pals. It doesn’t have to be a long, sentimental Facebook post, since sentiment divorced from tone (as it is on social media) can come across false or even slightly sarcastic (especially if you don’t normally talk like that).
Instead, do something simple and fun. Text them that funny picture from the vacation you took a few years ago. Send them a YouTube video of your favourite shared karaoke jam. If you’re a big Facebook person, post a link that makes you think of them or something you’ve done together.
4) Let Them Know You See Them
When you’ve known someone for a while it is easy to forget to notice all the amazing things about them that made you want to be friends in the first place.
Consciously think about all the wonderful things that make your friends so special. Don’t be afraid to give them a compliment about those things. There’s no need to be fake about it, because all you’re doing is telling the truth. Do you admire a friend’s forthright way of speaking, the way they care about people, their amazing sense of humour? Let them know! It is easy to start taking friends for granted and allowing the relationship to stagnate. The Golden Girls theme didn’t “thank you for being a friend” for no reason. It is important to let people know you appreciate them.
PRO TIP: For some people their “love language”* is such that compliments make them very uncomfortable. If this happens, I highly recommend shrugging and saying, “I mean, you seem okay.” It takes the pressure off of them. Now, update your mental Rolodex to remind yourself that compliments are not the way to interact with them.
5) People Change and That’s Okay
Friends change over the years. Ally, who used to stay up until 2:00 am every night partying, is now a quiet mother of two. Denise, the quiet and anxious girl who you met at Bible Camp, is now a lesbian social worker who runs a substance-free rave every month.
This means that your friendships will change too. Expecting people to want and enjoy the same things forever is reducing them to a plastic figure in a snow globe. And WHOA is that boring.
And try not to take offense if your style of friendship changes. Your friend who was recently got sober is not going to want to hang out in bars. Your beloved pal who works night shifts now might be a person you can only chat with online.
If your friendship has come to an end, that’s okay too. Try to appreciate the times that you had in the past and the joy they have brought to your life. And, who knows, maybe in the future you will be friends again.
*For more information on “love languages” check out this great article by the wonderful Audra Williams.