Ten Strategies for Cultivating Friendships

This is part 2 of The Importance of Female Friendships in the Digital Age article, in which we talked about how vital friendships are in the digital age. Healthy friendships emerge from mutual affection and form the social fabric of our lives– good friends regard each other as special and irreplaceable. But when we find ourselves lacking positive platonic relationships, how do we go about reaching out to old friends, becoming closer with current acquaintances, or cultivating new relationships? Each friendship matters and has a particular and unique place of value in our hearts.

randy and friend
randy and friend

Whether it is with friends, family, a therapist or a support group, women find it healing to tell their stories. We want to talk about our emotional experiences as well as process what has happened and what we might do going forward. If friendships can enrich our physical and emotional lives, the question becomes, why do so many women find it challenging to nourish them? Ruthellen Josselson, author of Best Friends: The Pleasure and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships, explains that when we get busy with our work and family, the first thing we do is push away our friendships due to a lack of time or energy. We lose sight of the strength we provide each other and the healing benefits we derive from our friends. As the research suggests, we need to build and maintain these important bonds to protect our physical and emotional well-being.

Strategies for building friendships:

1. Be pro-active. Be willing to take a risk and make a new friend, and make building and strengthening friendships a priority.

2. Make daily contact with one or two friends or potential friends. Google or Facebook old friends or contacts, and reach out to someone you want to get to know. Allow frequent digital communications to be the glue that holds your friendships together, but not the foundation. Make in-person plans and dates.

3. Take a class doing something you love. Join a gym or book group, check out a local community center, or volunteer for an organization. The most natural way to make friends is through sharing a common interest, so re-evaluate your hobbies and make more room for them in your life.

4. Surround yourself with friends who bring you a feeling of joy or connectedness. Pay attention to which friends leave you feeling uplifted and which friends bring you down.

5. Treat a new friendship like a “courtship.” Don’t be overbearing, but also don’t neglect a budding relationship. Match a new friend’s affections so the friendship grows at an even pace.

6. Listen thoughtfully and with compassion. Articulate your truth clearly and authentically. Good communication is the key to all relationships.

7. Plan dates with someone you like outside of your routine setting. The more diverse your circle of friends, the more value added to your life.

8. Practice reciprocity, flexibility and compromise.

9. Moderate your expectations of others. Know that no relationship is perfect.

10. Practice loving kindness. When you are disappointed with others be quick to forgive and assume the best when possible. And show gratitude when you are feeling the love.

Something to consider is that when a friend consistently leaves you feeling worse after spending time with her, it might be time to reassess the value of that relationship. Perhaps it makes sense to lessen contact with that person, or, in extreme cases, you may need to press the delete button. As difficult as that may seem, sometimes it offers the best alternative and could positively influence your self-esteem. Also, in general most of us need a support system, or a variety of friends. We are all multifaceted and complex in terms of our needs and interests. ‘Team’ friends that support us in the many ways in which we are unique, help us feel connected and an integral part of a greater whole.

What do you do to strengthen your friendships?

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