Friends for Life: 7 Little Known Things Lifelong Friends Do to Stay Connected

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The secret to how to keep friendships for life

If there’s one thing you need to know about friendship, it’s this: Making and keeping friends (especially in adulthood) isn’t automatic. 

It’s true. Sometimes (rarely) two strangers connect in nearly instant friendship. The chemistry is clear. It’s “like at first sight,” if you will. But most of the time, it takes time and repeated interaction to truly bond.

And, here’s the heart breaker: To actually maintain friendship (not just over years, but over decades) takes actual work.

Yes. You heard it here. Life is not the movies. And sometimes, friendship equals work.

It’s easy to hit a busy stage of life and just let your friendship coast on auto-pilot for a while, for example. Maybe someone has a new baby or someone takes on a demanding new job, and your face to face interactions decrease dramatically. Sure, your friendship is still “understood” during this stage of life, but–and this is an important but–it won’t stay solid for years at this rate.

You have to make ongoing investments to interact and communicate on a regular basis again (even if it’s less often) if you want to keep your connection strong. You might think of this as “routine maintenance” that’s not unlike the way you must continue to invest in a healthy marriage in order to keep it functional.

Here’s some examples of “best practices” for keeping a good friendship going:

Don’t believe the myths.

Some are fond of saying things like “People come in and out of your life for a reason” or “If they don’t return your message, they don’t deserve you.” While it may be necessary sometimes to adopt this kind of logic when relating to a truly toxic person in your life, it’s not helpful to rationalize writing off your friends that easily. If someone has become a genuine friend, that is a rare find that shouldn’t be easily discarded. Especially if we had to invest a lot to get them in the first place.!

See your friendship as one of your most valued possessions, something you are proud to have, and you won’t lose hold of without a fight.

Keep the communication alive.

Life gets legitimately busy, and our responsibilities often grow as we age.  It’s ideal to maintain regular face to face interaction–whether it be a monthly dinner with a local pal or even a yearly visit with an out-of-state friend. But, that’s not always possible. If you hit a stage where you just can’t wrangle much face to face interaction with an important friend, though, it’s a mistake to just give up and let the communication trail off.

Even if you intend to pick the friendship back up eventually, being “out of touch” can too quickly become the new normal and lead to friends never reconnecting.

The good news is today’s technology allows us more options than ever before for staying connected during busy stages. You can pick up some of the slack and express ongoing care by calling, skyping, texting and even snail mailing a friend during this stage.

Try to keep it a two way street. 

Sometimes, as a friendship ages, it can become temporarily (or permanently) one sided. One friend may be bogged down with other responsibilities, or just less intentional, leaving the other to take all the initiative. The initiating friend may suggest outings or offer invites to their house or to events, for a while. But if the other friend never recovers from their busyness, the relationship is likely to trail off. The initiator will get tired of always being the one to extend themselves, and they may back burner the friendship so they can focus on relationships where the other person seems equally invested.

Whether you’re the initiative taking friend or the busy friend, it’s important to talk about your current dilemma or stage of life. Put it out there that you know things are tough right now, that things are a bit one sided, and express that you don’t want it to stay that way. Brainstorm together how you can both invest in the friendship, even if it’s in different ways or quantities.

Be generous with each other.

Everybody changes over time. And change should be seen as a healthy and natural part of life. But sometimes our friends change in ways that disrupt our bond or make it feel like we have less in common with them than we originally did. And in some cases, they even change in ways that feel harmful or destructive to us or to themselves.

If you’re concerned a friend is changing in ways that sacrifice their own well being or damage your friendship, look for a private moment to express concern. Rather than accusing someone of ruining things, of course, a better approach is to talk about how much you care about them and care about the relationship and how you want to do anything you can to support them and preserve your relationship.

If a friend is changing in other ways–their lifestyle, their habits, their religious or fitness practices, for example–try to release them from the prison of how you remember them. Remind yourself that it’s unrealistic to expect people to be the same year after year after year, and that your friend is entitled to explore new paths they enjoy. Look for things you like about the new traits your friend develops, or dig in and try to understand the new hobby or practice they’ve become passionate about. You may find you come to appreciate the new layers of your friend!

Don’t track each other’s shortcomings.

When you’re first developing a friendship, the relationship often won’t take off unless your friend is willing and able to do simple things like return your call or remember your birthday. But, over time, as marriage or family or job responsibilities come into play, and as your interactions perhaps become less frequent, it’s normal if friends don’t reply as quickly to your texts, for example.

If you truly value your friendship and sincerely want to keep it for the long haul, you both have to determine you’re going to give each other the benefit of the doubt permanently. This doesn’t mean you can’t be honest about disappointments or concerns, but it means you’re going to choose to believe the other person does care even if their actions make it appear they’re less devoted at the moment. Resolve not to keep track of who invited who to do something last or who called who last. Instead, seek to be generous and adopt a gracious filter that allows your friend to be overwhelmed, sick, busy, or even unhappy without you rushing to conclude they don’t care anymore.

It may even help to verbalize your commitment. “No matter what happens, or how much we see each other or how busy we get, assume that I always care, I will always be here if you need me, and I want to stay friends in whatever way that makes sense as life evolves.”

Don’t let conflict go unresolved.

Your friendship may have endured for many years without any hiccups. But if you stay friends long enough, the imperfections in you and the imperfection in them and the imperfections in the world will eventually create conflict or tension. This isn’t an if, it’s a when. Bad feelings between adult friends can be especially troublesome, though, because the tensions can easily become an excuse to let the distance creep in.

When conflict does surface, call it out immediately (or as soon as is realistic). Again, try to use language that isn’t blaming. “I don’t feel good about where we left things. This isn’t how I want things to go between us…” is a great opening line.

Be their biggest fan.

Even if you can’t manage frequent face to face interactions in certain stages of life, make a point to be one of the biggest believers in your friend. Be a consistent voice of encouragement, rooting for them as they take on challenges and reach goals. Celebrate their wins, even if you can only do that in small ways. A quick phone call, text, or card from you carries more weight than it would from one of their acquaintances because what you say or write is backed with years of history with them.

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  1. Ben Metts

    I’ve never really stopped to think about whether people who have lifelong friendships are doing anything different than anyone else. I have a lot of friends I’ve had since elementary school and it hadn’t occurred to me that not everyone does. A lot of these points do make sense though and I think most of them are true for me even if I didn’t know I was doing them.

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