The Friendship Bond: Tips to Nurture Your Relationships
You make a friend. That’s the first step. Pat yourself on the back. Although we’ve written about friendship in past blogs and touted some of the best books on the topic, the focus has been more on how to make new friends, even at an older age.
But how do you cultivate those friendships to keep them healthy and ongoing, sometimes despite hurdles?
We call this endeavor, The Friendship Bond. It’s similar to our Smile Project, which apparently put a smile on the faces of many and generated several comments on the blog. https://lifelessonsat50plus.com/blogs/news/when-you-re-smiling-the-whole-world-smiles-with-you-maybe
Since you may be smiling at more people on the street these days, we hope, some smiles have led to a friendship or two.
We crave human contract to obviate loneliness. Social isolation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can lead to serious physical and mental issues. According to The Celebrations Pulse, a platform for “sharing ideas, insight and interest points of view as we navigate expression, connection and relationships together,” many of us are lonely and suffering in silence. It goes on to state that one in three adults in the United States aged 45 and older feels lonely.
And isn’t it lovely to have people to talk to, walk with, do activities with, dine with, accompany you to a movie, lecture, concert, ballet, sporting event and even a doctor’s visit when you’re nervous or want someone to hear what the doctor says.
Friendships come in a variety of intensities. Some friendships have the one soul in two bodies intensity. Some friendships are based on goodwill or a long history that might date back to childhood. These involve an actual conversation maybe only once or twice a year. You seldom see each other but you have an instant connection and a blast when you do or talk on the phone. Some friendships are more intense—you see them or talk to them several times a week and sometimes it's more powerful on your side than theirs and vice versa. And some friends are really acquaintances. They’re fun to be with from time to time but aren’t part of your closest circle. You rarely would confide something troubling in your life to them.
We put our friendships high on our important scale and will give you some friendship skills we’ve found helpful through the years. Feel free to add some of your own. After all, we realize each of us has our own style when it comes to relationships. Here are 13 suggestions to maintain these friendship bonds.
- Call at least one friend every single day. Call two weekly. The goal is to nurture at least one each week, every other week, every month—you set the bar. Check on these people periodically if there’s some upheaval in their lives or even just to say, “I miss seeing you” or “How are you?” Decide to see one who lives nearby if they’ve had a loss or health issue. Perhaps they can’t meet you for lunch or dinner so bring it over to them.
- Be present and conscious of where the conversation is going. If it veers too much to the dark side, move the needle back with a clever story or something that the two of you did in the past that was amusing or fun. “Remember when…” If you are forcing the friendship because you feel sorry for the other person or if it’s toxic, it’s important to take the temperature of that relationship and maybe conclude that it’s “sick.” We feel friendliness is a charitable act if it’s insincere. Yet, at times you may be needed to commiserate or advise.
- Reconsider friendships that are challenging because they’re more often negative.If you have a good friend who seems negative or depressed and expresses their unhappiness, you might offer a different perspective and have them come up with options. Don’t get sucked into someone else’s stuff, however. Be direct about your feelings. You don’t need to take on helping all the time. You care about the person, but you might find your time together less and less appealing if they’re too needy or whiny. You end up giving more than receiving which is fine until it isn’t. Know what that tipping point is. In this case, we’re not talking about our closest friends, whom we need to be available to, of course, within reason.
- Set boundaries for yourself and don’t be too intrusive about their life. You might say in advance if asking a very personal question,” I have something I want to ask you about your husband’s behavior. Is that okay?” If they say “no,” then drop it. Don’t shut down if the friend gets too personal with you as well. Share how you feel, and you might say, “I don’t want to talk about that right now” or “I’ll get back to you; now isn’t a good time.” Respect their wishes and they may take clues from you and respect yours.
- When you get together, it should be fun. Try to be supportive and listen. Smile and laugh a lot. Make the friend feel both liked and appreciated.
- If you are uncomfortable in the relationship, don’t persist and expect it to get better.A friendship is a two-way street and ask yourself what you’re getting out of the relationship. If you feel it’s enough, then persist. But you shouldn’t be the only one reaching out by phone, text, email; communication works both ways. And sometimes removing yourself for a while may make the other person aware that it’s up to them to do their part.
- Friendships cannot be forced.Don’t push yourself on someone who is not that into you. Not everyone you meet or have a “first date with” will like you and vice versa. There is nothing wrong with saying to yourself, “This person is not a fit for me.” But we do believe in second chances. Perhaps, the new friend is having an off day or has something major going awry in their life. Try again but at some point, stop. Be prepared if they later want to pick it up again.
- Bag the criticismsunless asked, “What do you think?” Then, be kind and gentle. Temper your response. Brutal honesty can be unkind.
- Never betray a confidence. The person most likely will find out you spilled the beans and that may mean the death knell of any future friendship. Keep your mouth shut if it’s not your news to share.
- Be authentic. Don’t fake the same interests, exaggerate, boast about yourself—kids, possessions, achievements; don’t make promises you can’t keep, and never pretend to share your friend’s same views if they are, in fact, diametrically opposed to yours. This often takes time to decipher if it’s a new friendship. Wait and see is sometimes the best advice.
- Don’t gossip about or criticize their friends. Everyone is entitled to their choice of friends. Respect their choices; and it often will work both ways. If someone criticizes a good friend of yours, speak up sweetly and say something to the effect, “She’s (he’s) a good friend so I’m not going to say anything about her.” Honest, and conclusive.
- Learn to apologize. Rarely do good friendships go along without some bumps in the road. Know when to apologize or discuss an issue. That means listening well when your friend has a gripe about something you did or said; and the same goes for you. Learn to speak up if something has been gnawing at you. However, sometimes friendships will die but good friendships shouldn’t be tossed aside easily without doing some work to try.
- Share friends. Not everybody does; some people are very selfish and guard their friendships like they’re protecting expensive goods. Sharing represents a high compliment since you want different friends to meet. You don’t always have to do it but when you think the chemistry will work, why not? It’s a great way to add to your group of friends, too, if they reciprocate.
Now it’s up to you. A good friend with whom you share ideas and confidences, can be supportive of one another, even love that person and respect. And keep in mind always that trust is a gift that’s priceless and irreplaceable.