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Stand by Me: How to Grow Your Friendship

A good friend can serve many different purposes in a person’s life. They can be a connection to the past, a guide for future decisions and a shoulder to lean on in the present. People who have a social support system tend to not only live longer, but they handle life’s challenges more effectively and experience more satisfaction throughout their lives.

When friendships form in childhood, the people you connect with are mostly geographically convenient; they grew up in your neighborhood, went to your grade school, or were involved in your favorite community organization in some way. The people you have come to know as children may not grow with you as you make your way through your life, but they can if you both make the effort.

THE LONG HAUL
It can be beneficial to keep long-term friends in your life, as they will remind you where you came from. Your goals for the future may change over time as you change your location, course of study and mind about where you want to go in life. As you accomplish more and more, you may lose sight of your original goals, and your true friends from back in the day will be there to remind you of what you wanted for your life.

REACH OUT
Make the effort to keep people in your life you who want to be there for the long term. Keep in touch through regular phone calls, text messages and comments, as opposed to likes, on social media. Never underestimate the value of a greeting card or simple snail mail. Taking the time to handwrite a note and throw a stamp on an envelope shows your friends that you appreciate their presence in your life, and you want to keep them there. Additionally, when it comes to getting on the phone together or enjoying some one-on-one time, ask them questions about the things going on in their life. Take the time to follow up on an issue they may be experiencing, or even an amazing trip they just took, and listen; give them the gift of your undivided attention.

“Spending time with a friend in person has been found to calm the nervous system, release feel-good endorphins in the brain, and lessen depression.”

GET FACE-TO-FACE
Putting in the effort to keep a friendship thriving requires quality face time. Spending time with a friend in person has been found to calm the nervous system, release feel-good endorphins in the brain, and lessen depression. Committing to spending time with people has been known to draw people closer together, and help individuals better handle problematic situations they may experience in their lives.

CELEBRATE MILESTONES
Sharing in each other’s lives includes both the ups and the downs that come our way. While good friends will make the difficult times easier to get through, do not forget to share in the celebration of the good! Getting together for birthdays, graduations, promotions or simply because you have survived another week will bring you closer together and create memories that will bond you in the years to come.

WORK IT OUT
When it comes to any longterm relationship, issues and disagreements will inevitably arise. Work. It. Out. A healthy and long-lasting friendship is worth salvaging, no matter how great the misunderstanding— and when it comes to true friendship, issues are often truly simple misunderstandings. Keep your communication open, honest and mature. If a difficult conversation is required to solve an issue, go for it. Take turns expressing your feelings (no interrupting) to come to a mutual understanding. Apologize when you are in the wrong, and forgive when an apology is offered to you. Then, leave the issue in the past, not to be rehashed.

The kind of invaluable connection that comes from a longterm friendship takes time to cultivate. Staying in touch, marking milestones and keeping up on each other’s lives forms an irreplaceable and beautiful, support system.

Kerry Hart, LLMFT is a couple and family therapist in private practice. She is located in both East Lansing and Grand Rapids. www.kerryhartcounseling.com

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