How to keep friendships that last
We’re all looking for the secret to longevity, aren’t we? Well, it is hypothesized that good friendships and strong social networks are key to living longer, according to an Australian study about friendship1 among the elderly. Friends give us a reason to go out and interact with others. They teach us, make us laugh, listen to our problems and triumphs, and tell us theirs. Our bonds with friends can be stronger than our bonds with family members, because friends are like family who we choose for ourselves.
Friendships form naturally for kids. They meet in school or on the playground, they share their love of sports or books, and suddenly they’re besties. As we age, however, it becomes harder to make new friends. We get busy with family and work, and we’re less likely to be with a like-minded cohort of classmates, year in and year out. So, it’s vital to maintain and nurture our established friendships, creating friends for life instead of just friends for now.
Here are five tips to help you and your friends keep the bonds strong – and the laughter flowing – as time goes by:
- Stay in touch. This sounds obvious, but we don’t always do it. You may cherish a friend and think about him or her, but unless you actually communicate with them, they won’t know how you feel. Paul Sanders, author of Get the Friends You Want, estimates that staying in touch with friends is about 80% of the work in maintaining friendships.2
- Be present. Social media, text messages, emails and phone calls are all good ways to stay in touch, but they can’t compare to in-person visits. Try to visit your friends who live near you a few times a year, at least. You don’t just have go to for dinner or a coffee: plan a hike, go to a museum or cook a meal together. For friends who’ve moved away, make a special effort to get together when they’re back home. And for friends you’ve moved away from, let them know when you’ll be near them, so you can arrange a visit.
- Embrace change. People (and friendships) change. That’s especially true if you’re friends with someone for years or decades. When your friend is settling into a new marriage or starting a family, her priorities might change. When his father passes away, he might become more introspective. But if you’ve got a strong friendship in place, you can trust that your relationship will continue to evolve and grow, despite or because of changes.
- Make habits. Once a habit is formed, it’s hard to break. So, form good friendship habits that help your relationships grow. For instance, plan an annual brunch together the week of her birthday, agree to watch the Super Bowl or Wimbledon together, or make sure you play one golf game together every summer. After a few years, these commitments will seem like second nature and you’ll look forward to them all year.
- Deal with conflicts. If there’s a problem between you and your friend, don’t ignore it. Little issues can turn into big issues that could have been nipped in the bud with some common-sense communication. Remember, this is someone you really care about and want to have in your life for the long run, so don’t let misunderstandings or minor menaces cause big problems.
Remember, your friends make you happier and healthier, and you do the same for them. Don’t take your friendships for granted – invest in them – and they’ll pay you back many times over.
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