What would we do without our friends? Near and far, young and old, our friends seem to brighten the day, help carry the load and take our sour lemons to make lemonade for us. Good friends make this life livable and lovely, with just enough hope to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
But friendships aren’t without their struggles. For as much support friendships give, they also can challenge us in ways we don’t expect. Because our friendships are close to the heart, careless words and misunderstandings can cut deep. Close friendships make us consider our own actions, our motives, our values. They make us look inside and see our differences. And if we follow those challenges all the way through to the other side, we find a good deal of gratefulness for the challenges our friendships provide.
Friendships often come naturally, and sometimes even easily- like slipping on a pair of your favorite jeans. However, life-long friendships take work- relationship maintenance work. Those favorite jeans get holes and need some mending from time to time. Here are some steps to keep your friendships fresh as a daisy.
• Positivity: You can keep the relationship climate positive and upbeat by avoiding criticism, gossip, and negativity. Some friendships bond over complaining about a thing or person. They feel intimately connected because they share a similar complaint. However, a lot of negative energy is produced in a friendship like this, so it’s best to dial back the temperature to positively cool.
• TMI or JRI: Making sure there is appropriate (Just Right Information as opposed to Too Much Information) is a skill and a dance. Friends don’t often know what is “just the right amount of information” until after the information is put out there. Using self-disclosure in appropriate ways to gain closeness and depth is essential for friendships. Sometimes you don’t know “how much” is “too much” but the important thing is that you are paying attention to yourself during the sharing process, not feeling silly or embarrassed about sharing, and checking in with your friend about the Disclosure Temperature. There is no perfect way to talk about your life or yourself, but experimenting with self disclosure will help you gauge your own level of comfort.
• Beat the Bush: What should you do when there is something IN the friendship that needs to be talked about? Women in general take a less direct path when communicating about the relationship, and sometimes “beat around the bush” when something is bothering them. But this passive approach can cause even more trouble. Talking DIRECTLY about the nature of the relationship and disclosing your personal needs and concerns helps the friendship grow in meaningful ways.
• Giving Assurances: Letting your friend know that she is important to you is important, too. If you are like me, my busy To Do list gets in the way of me reaching out to my friends as regularly as I want to. Thank goodness for hands-free calling while I’m driving to work, and Facebook Birthday Reminders, and video texts when I’m struck with a funny and just have to connect. Giving assurances that you are thinking of your friend, even if miles and schedules and time zones separate you, can be enough to keep you close.
• Being Keen on Kin: Have you ever had a friend that remembered your parents’ names, or your childhood nickname, or your child’s birthday? And you wondered, “how could they remember that?!” Do you remember the way it made you feel? Special, right? You probably know things about your close friends that no one else in the world knows. It’s easier than ever now to quickly reach out and remind them that you care. We can’t remember and care about every little detail of our friends’ lives, but we can find the thing that we DO remember best, and be keen on doing that. Being invested in each other’s friends, family and loved ones helps us share life.
• Baring the Burden: Helping one another take care of life’s chores and obligations is sometimes the good stuff of life. Walking through life with our friends, lifting the load of medical appointments, driving kids around, troubled marriage, parental deaths, and job loss are some of the most meaningful gifts of friendship. Leaving just enough margin in your life to help carry each other’s burdens is the gold of life.
• Retirement Plan: Investing time, resources and heart into the friendship is like saving for retirement. A little bit of time and talk grows exponentially over time. By reaching out over the miles, sending a text about a shared interest, spending gobs of money to fly to a wedding, or calling out of the blue even though it’s been 10 years- these are all examples of friendship maintenance.
I think you’ll find that you don’t have to be perfect in “relationship maintenance,” you just have to be mindful. It’s never too late to reach out and say you care.
This Blog Goes Out to My Friends: God certainly had some perfect little tricks up his gold-lined linen sleeve when he put certain friends in my path. He picked Becky for Singing and Joanna for Dreaming and Jen E to be Family and Jen R to keep me real and Gen for Rants and Shannon to make me feel funny, and Rox for Prayer Power and Amy for Resale Crushes and Tara for forgiveness and Suzanne for Nantucket and Laura for Missions and Heidi for HELP! and Shay for Perspective and Susan for life-long and Jill for the Memories and Iesha for Personal Paradigm Shifts and Elaine for full-bellied laughter, and Laura R for the Swift Kick, and Bel for laughter, Lee Ann for the hand-written Letters (I was always jealous of your hand writing) and Gina for Bags and and and…oh, I’m lost in the revelry of friendship moments that have peppered my life with kindness and joy.