zenhabits : breathe

A User’s Guide to Fabulous Friendships

A good friend is a connection to life – a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world. - Lois Wys

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Kelly Rigby of SHE-POWER.COM.

In our teens and twenties, our friendships are everything. They define who we are, what we do and even what we buy. At the time, we assume it will always be this way. Then life races forward. Careers take off. People get married, have children. Others move away. We struggle to manage our time and responsibilities, and slowly our friends get pushed down the priority list.

This is not necessarily what we want. Few people would dispute the benefits of friendship. The problem seems to be how to fit our friends into an already overcrowded life. Friendship is like a marriage. It cannot be created once. It must be created over and over again. People and priorities change. What worked yesterday may not work today. We must nurture our friendships so they may flourish with us through our changing lives, and that’s where this guide comes in.

Choose friends wisely. Focus your energy on people who make you feel good.
We all know the saying, “you can’t choose your family”. So, make sure you’re smart and choose friends who are worthy of your valuable time and attention. It sounds harsh, but you cannot keep every friend you have ever made. No one has the time and energy for that. If you don’t consciously choose which relationships to focus on, you’ll spread yourself too thin and you’ll have less to give to those who deserve it most.

Do not be fooled by glamour and street cred. A person’s behavior is much more important than their words or how they represent themselves. Surround yourself with people who reflect the person you want to be. Choose friends you are proud to know, people you admire, who love and respect you. People who make your day a little sunnier, simply by being in it.

Treat others how you want to be treated.
This is one of the first lessons my mother taught me, and it is probably the most important. You may have heard of the law of attraction, which states that what we project to the world will be sent right back to us. This means you must decide what qualities are important to you, because you cannot receive what you do not give.

Personally, I don’t think you can go past honesty, loyalty and integrity as a foundation for choosing friends. Be considerate. Don’t make plans you won’t keep. Be a safe haven for your friends, someone they can rely on. What qualities rank highly for you? Do you just want some laughs every now and then, or people who will be there for you when life throws you a curve ball?

Make time. Prioritize Relationships.
If you have to really think about the last time you were in contact with a friend, then it was too long ago. Life can run at a crazy pace. We may think of people, then something comes up and we never call them. The month ends, another comes along, and again that call is never made. This is how relationships peter out. It starts to feel easier to walk away than struggle back through the neglect.

Don’t fall into the habit of thinking I’ll “try and find the time”. It’s a cop-out. You cannot find time. You make time. Every day you decide where to put your attention, and those activities will in turn create your day, your week and eventually your life. Be mindful of where you focus your time and energy. Does this match your values and how you want your life to be? There’s no use saying “my family and friends are the most important thing” if you work 80 hours a week and never see them. Be conscious of how you spend your time and choose to prioritize the people in your life.

The easiest way to make time for friends is to organize future gatherings while you are all together. Make time for that first meeting, and then work out the timing of the next one. That way you’ll manage to regularly see each other and there is less stress all round. The reality is most of our relationships need work. Make the time to send an email or give a quick phone call to show your friends they matter. Otherwise how will they know?

Have fun. Share rituals. Laugh Often.
Any long term relationship, friendships included, can fall into a rut. Take the time to have fun, maybe do the activities you loved when you were young. You may not be 21 anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes get a little silly. If life isn’t fun, then what’s the point? Misery shared is still… well, misery. Focus on joy and laughter and your friendships will stay a positive presence in your life.

Hold onto rituals. They connect you with your friends and your youth. Shared memories help define our life and how we see ourselves. Don’t throw them away just because they’re getting harder to manage. The key is to negotiate. Maybe you used to have weekly poker games, but now you have three kids, so what do you do? Have the poker games once a month, and let your partner also have a night out to re-connect with their friends. You’ll both benefit.

“A friend can tell you things you don’t want to tell yourself.” - Frances Ward Weller

Accept people the way they are. Suspend judgment.
Some people are good with phone calls, others are not. Some people always know the right thing to say, others seem to have a knack for getting it all wrong. The key with managing friendships and reducing conflict is to accept people the way they are. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Fighting your friends’ natural personality is a losing battle. We cannot control other people, and frankly, we have no right to try. The sooner we accept this, the easier all our relationships become.

Another tricky area to navigate is when we disagree with people’s choices. There is a fine line between having an opinion and caring about someone’s wellbeing, and sitting in judgment on their decisions. There is no easy answer here, but if your friend is not hurting anyone, they have a right to tread their own path and make their own mistakes. It would be impossible (and boring) to only have people in your life who you agreed with 100% of the time. Focus on what you love about them. If they weren’t a good person, why would you be friends with them?

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.” - Anäis Nin

Respect boundaries.
Don’t criticize your friend’s partner, children, parenting style or family. This is always a no, no. We may all like to rant about our loved ones, but we do not want to hear anyone else do it. This is a golden rule. Stencil it on your forehead if you must.

There will be disagreements. Stay calm. Don’t make mountains out of molehills.
Drama is a part of life, but we don’t have to wallow in it. Things happen, ugly words can be exchanged. This is the nature of human relationships. Before you react to a hurtful situation with a friend, always stop and breathe. Try not to react in anger. Express your feelings honestly, but calmly. I’m not saying that it’s easy, but it is the best way to minimize conflict and angst in life. And bottling up feelings doesn’t help either. They just fester and we stay angry and are unable to move on.

Most of the time, the people we love don’t mean to let us down. So if someone has disappointed you, but overall has been a great friend, then this is the time you forgive and forget. Be empathetic and choose to see this as a temporary slip-up. It’s how people treat you MOST of the time that counts. We all can be selfish and behave badly at times. There’s a good chance you’ve let someone down before and thought you deserved the benefit of the doubt. Don’t act like a martyr because now you’re on the receiving end.

Accept that friendships change and sometimes end.
Although I’ve had the majority of my friendships since I was a teenager, there are times in life when people change enough as to have nothing in common anymore. Sometimes this is temporary, other times it’s not. Either way, the best thing you can do when a relationship falters is to let it go. That doesn’t mean immediately deciding not to see each other anymore. Letting go means choosing to see the friendship as it is now, and releasing the need for it to be something else. Relationships have an energy of their own. They can ebb and flow. Sometimes you’re not quite clicking, other times you are. Petering out friendships can be very stressful, but change is a part of life and relationships which do end can still be treasured for what they brought before. They don’t have to be a mistake. And every time a gap appears, life will usually move in to fill it. Maybe this will be in the form of a new friend, or a even better relationship with yourself. Keep an open mind and an open heart, and wait and see

Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and others will do the same.
This is probably the most important point. You cannot be a friend to others, if you are not a friend to yourself. Have you ever noticed that some people are taken advantage of by everyone. They attract users and frauds like honey. This is not a coincidence. If you want other people to treat you with respect, then you need to be the first person in line to respect yourself. Being a good friend does not mean being a doormat. The kinder you are to yourself the happier you will be. The happier you are, the more you have to give to others. It is one big merry-go-round of happiness. Join the ride.

Now you might be wondering if I follow all these guidelines myself, and the answer is most of the time. Like anyone, I can get caught up in my own dramas, but overall I understand what it takes for friendships to endure. Through twenty years of life’s thrills and tumbles, my girlfriends have provided comfort, inspiration and joy, and I would not be nearly as complete without them. I hope this article has resonated with you and can help enrich your life, as my friends have enriched mine.

Kelly Rigby writes about life, relationships, personal development and inspiration. Check out her blog at SHE-POWER.COM, or subscribe to her feed.

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