Family + Friends How To Be A Good Friend

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A good friendship can have incredible benefits on mental and physical health throughout your life. It can influence everything from your weight to your self-confidence, and even your ability to cope with trauma. But as busy adults, it can feel challenging to maintain solid friendships or even be a good friend.

Adulthood presents a unique set of friendship challenges that we don’t have while we’re in school. “When we’re in school, there’s almost a built-in source of friends,” Dr. Jessy Warner-Cohen, PhD, a clinical psychologist tells Woman’s Day. “The first challenge we face is leaving school, whether that’s high school, college, or grad school. You go from having a unified group of people who all have shared goals, to not having that system in place.”

And to add to the pressure, research shows that we lose friends as we age. “The average person hasn’t made a single new friend in the last five years,” psychologist Dr. Marisa G. Franco, PhD, tells Woman’s Day. “The positive side of this is that as we age, people become happier in the friendships they do maintain. There’s a pruning process where people get rid of those that they’re ambivalent about.”

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As with any relationship, communication is key in cultivating a good friendship.

Tom Werner

Here are five ways to foster the friendships that truly matter to you.

Focus on communication.

“Just like in a romantic relationship, you need to make sure you talk and compromise,” Warner-Cohen says. “You shouldn’t just tell someone, ‘I’m canceling on dinner you,’ without explaining that you’re doing it because of a work deadline. It makes a big difference. People hold friends responsible for their actions. Make sure you’re giving people the information they need to make their choices and react appropriately.”

In other words, don’t assume your friends can read your mind. Explain what’s going on so they can understand what’s happening in your life.

Emphasize kindness over charisma.

Being kind and showing positive emotions to others is what helps create new friendships, and maintain old ones.

“There’s a theory in psychology called the reciprocity of liking effect,” Franco explains. “Basically, it says that the secret to being likeable is liking other people. People think that being charismatic or intelligent will get people to like them. But it’s actually way more about how you treat them. Qualities like kindness, empathy, and loyalty, and how you show up for people, is what really counts.”

Show up at difficult times.

Real friends are present, even during challenging situations.

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It’s not just telling someone that “things will get better.”

Juanmonino

“Oftentimes as friends, we don’t like to see people we care about in distress. But hard times happen to everyone,” Warner-Cohen says. “Recognizing that sometimes someone just wants you to be with them, and understanding the difficulty of the situation can really go a long way. It’s not just telling someone that ‘things will get better.’ It’s really showing up for them, letting them know that you hear what they’re saying and that you’re truly here for them.”

Be vulnerable.

Although it may seem uncomfortable at first, showing vulnerability and asking for help when you need it can help strengthen your friendships.

“Vulnerability is what makes our relationships stronger and deeper,” Franco syas. “It can feel very hard as a friend to reach out when you need something. People think, ‘I don’t want to burden anyone.’ But asking for support makes friendships closer. It’s a myth that only desperate people ask you for things. In fact, the research finds that people with high self-worth ask for support more than those with low self-worth.”

Offer specific support.

If you notice that a friend is going through a hard time, don’t just offer them general or vague help. “Make sure to offer specific support. Don’t say, ‘hey, can I help you?’,” Franco says. “Instead, give a clear offer, like ‘Can I take over the grocery shopping? Can I pick you up some ramen since you’re sick?’ It’s very hard for people to ask for support. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to accept your help if they want it.”

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Making friends is easier as a kid. As an adult, you have to make more of an effort.

Tom Werner

New friendships won’t happen without some effort on your part. Warner-Cohen says that a big myth is that friendships happen organically.

“People think they don’t need to initiate or try,” she says. “It happened as kids, so why do they need to make an effort now? The fact is that friendships don’t happen automatically as an adult. You really need to take initiative and put yourself out there.”

By being open and vulnerable, and making friendships a priority, you’ll be able to create and nurture lasting relationships throughout your lifespan.

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