Lately I've been dealing with a difficult situation in one of my friendships. A friend of mine knowingly put me in a situation that had the potential to make me (and other people) very uncomfortable and unhappy. When I discovered that the situation was going to present itself -- and that she had been the catalyst behind it -- I was shocked. When she casually mentioned the impending situation to me the very night before it was to occur, my heartbeat sped up. My palms grew sweaty. Though no mirror was around, I could feel that all the color had drained from my face. My mind raced: How could she do this to me? Why would she do this? How could she think this would be okay? Though my mind was spinning with questions, I took a deep breath to steady myself and refrained from saying anything to her.
Though the next day arrived and the what-could-have-been-terrible situation didn't actually end up occurring (despite a day filled with worry and anxiety on my part), I couldn't help but wonder how a friend could do this to another friend. I couldn't help but wonder what a friendship really was. Time and time again, I've been faced with situations where friends have shocked me with their actions. Too often I've turned my frustration and sadness inward, accusing myself of picking the wrong people to be friends with. If that's true, I can't help but wonder why I continue to do that. And if it's not true, I can't help but then ponder: what really is a true friendship?
Though it might seem like something that might be easy, maintaining a good, true friendship can be very difficult, especially when you are in a phase in your life where a lot of things are changing (hello, twenties!). Over the past few years, I've developed a lot as a person and the changes I experienced in myself didn’t always translate very well when it came to friendships. I've tried to take a more positive route when it comes to my life's path and, oddly enough, that hasn't always impacted my friendships in a positive way. I do have some wonderful friends who have stuck with me, through thick and thin, and who have never done (and I imagine never will do) me any wrong. But then I've had some up-and-down friendships that have caused me just as much heartache and pain as any boy-related breakup.
One of the hardest things I've learned when it comes to friendships is that people change. You will change and your friends will change. Sometimes friends will change together and will have a life-long friendship. Other times, one or both of you might change and you might grow apart. As sad as that sounds, it’s okay. Some friendships aren’t meant to last forever. But what's really hard to deal with is the friendships you think are meant to last forever that don't. Just like a romantic relationship, sometimes it's hard to let go. Sometimes it's hard to know when it's over. Sometimes it's tempting to cling to a bond that just isn't really there (or, at the very least, isn't positive for one or both of you).
Because I've dealt with a lot of friendships -- both wonderful and heart-wrenching -- and because I'm currently struggling with understanding what the next step is going to be in this particular friendship that has been causing me pain lately, I've given some thought to three very important elements of friendships: (1) how to maintain them so they stay positive, (2) how to know when it's time to call it quits, and (3) how to recover from a lost friendship.
5 Ways to Maintain a Friendship
Friendships take work. While generally they are a lot of fun and such a great thing to have in your life, like any relationship, you have to work on them. To maintain a friendship, here are some things you should strive to do:
- Be a good listener. When a friend confides in you -- or even just tells you a tidbit about her day -- strive to be really present and really hear what she's saying to you. Our own thoughts and commentary can be a big distraction, but instead of always thinking about what advice or comments you can give her, try to really listen to what she's saying to you.
- Don’t judge your friends harshly. Judging people is normal and it's part of human nature, but it's a good thing to try to keep those judgments to a minimum when it comes to friendships. We're all human; we all make mistakes. When a friend does or says something you don't understand, strive to be open-minded and nonjudgmental.
- Find positive common bonds with each other. Friendships are often based on things we have in common with one another. However, the bonds we make with other people are not always positive. Often people bond over judging or putting down other people. If you want to have a lasting, meaningful friendship, focus on positive things that will bring you two closer together.
- Be open to trying new experiences. As people change and grow, their friendships can often become strained because one person seems different. If you want to maintain a friendship for a long period of time, you must be open to new experiences and perspectives. At her core, your friend is the same person so try to be open-minded when she changes -- and encourage her to do the same for you.
- Establish (and don’t break!) trust. Trust is the most important aspect of any relationship. It takes time to establish trust with people and it's essential that you make establishing trust a priority in your friendship. And, most importantly, once that trust has been established, don't break it. Once trust has been broken, it can be very difficult to get it back.
Doing these things will help to keep your friendship intact. It’s important to remember that friendship is a two-way street. You should be both getting and giving. If you’re doing all of the giving (or all of the getting!), the friendship may not be genuine; it may be time for you to reevaluate that relationship because a true friendship is always about give and take. In Part II, I will discuss how you know when it's time to end a friendship and Part III will cover how to recover from the loss of a friendship.
Stay tuned for Parts II and III coming soon!
Please feel free to share your comments about
maintaining friendships in the comments section below.